Cleat Geeks

All Quiet on the Western Front

Now that the dust has settled from the trade deadline frenzy, it gives us a chance to look around the league at the aftermath. Who are the winners? Who are the losers? Miami certainly made the biggest splash in acquiring Goran Dragic. However, the Heat are currently 7th in the East plus, Bosh is out for the year.  Now for them it becomes is Dragic really a difference maker? Let’s be honest, outside of the top 4 teams in the East, no one really figures to be much of a threat come playoff time. Atlanta and Toronto stood pat. Chicago was my preseason pick to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals. But the Bulls just found out that they have now lost Derrick Rose for at least 4-6 weeks. Even if he can make it back in time for the playoffs, how effective will he be? The Cavaliers have been reshaping their roster all season. LeBron has been working the phones and should be in consideration for GM of the year in addition to MVP candidate. Most importantly, the pieces seem to be coming together, and Cleveland is finally playing some good basketball.

What about the mighty Western Conference? Most of the playoff teams in the West were pretty quiet at the deadline. The Grizzlies, Rockets, Clippers, and Spurs all let the trade deadline pass without a peep. Portland added a potential perimeter threat in Arron Afflalo. We will have to wait and see if the space that Damien Lillard and the offense creates will help him regain his stroke. Dallas made their move earlier this year, acquiring Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics. Rondo is an upgrade defensively on the perimeter, and is a fantastic passer. It remains to be seen whether he and head coach Rick Carlisle can coexist. The Mavericks were efficient on offense at a record pace pre-Rondo. However, his inability to hit a jumper has already slowed the Mavs down about 10 points per game. Oklahoma City was definitely the most active. But with Kevin Durant in and out of the lineup with injury, the Thunder stand a real chance of missing the playoffs altogether. They currently cling to only a ½ game lead on Anthony Davis and New Orleans for the 8th seed.

And the team that is currently the best in the West?

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers

With two-thirds of the season in the rear-view mirror, the Golden State Warriors (45-11) sit atop the conference by 4 ½ games. They are 24-2 at home. And they’re not just padding their record by beating up on the weaker East – sporting a 27-7 record against their conference foes. When asked about the lack of activity surrounding the deadline for his team, head coach Steve Kerr said that:

“The continuity of what we have is more important than any trade deadline deal we could make. I’m thrilled that we stood pat. We’ve got a team that we like, we have the best record in the league, we have great chemistry. There’s no reason to disrupt that.”

In fact, the biggest move that the Golden State Warriors made was, the one that they didn’t make. They refused to include Klay Thompson in an offseason deal with Minnesota that would have netted them Kevin Love. Love, of course, ended up being shipped to Cleveland for phenom rookie Andrew Wiggins. In return, Klay has matured into an All-Star and one of the best two-way players in the game. He and MVP frontrunner Steph Curry have become a deadly backcourt tandem; one that former coach Mark Jackson called the best shooting backcourt in league history. They’re not just beating teams; they’re outdistancing them by a league best +10.4 points per game. This includes a recent 110-99 victory over the reigning champion Spurs. But can they continue this success? More to the point, can they translate it into a run in the postseason?

splashbrothers

Because of the Warriors’ proficient offense, I’ve heard many compare this team to the Mike D’Antoni/Steve Nash led Phoenix Suns teams. The “seven-seconds-or-less” offense ran teams off the floor in the regular season. Nash earned back to back MVP honors. I can sum up the difference between the two teams in one word. DEFENSE. Individually, Curry leads the league in steals per game. As a team, Golden State ranks 4th in that category. They are also tied for 2nd in blocks, are 7th in defensive rebounding, and allow the lowest field goal percentage in the entire NBA.

Ultimately, I believe that the Warriors postseason success will depend largely on their ability to stay healthy. Last year, their hopes took a big blow when center Andrew Bogut was lost late in the season with a rib injury. This season, Steve Kerr has made sure to give Bogut ample rest in order to preserve him for the playoffs. His toughness on defense and as a rebounder will be crucial.  Stephen Curry has missed one game with a sore ankle. While he seems to have conquered the ankle injuries that plagued him early in his career, you can be sure it is a situation that the Warriors will be monitoring on an ongoing basis.

Much hype has surrounded the Dubs loss on Thursday in Cleveland. LeBron James had 42 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and even threw in 1 block for good measure. Meanwhile, Curry and Thompson combined for only 31 points. The duo shot 33.3% from the floor, their 4th worst combined performance of the season. My takeaway? Sometimes, the best player in the world just has one of those nights. At this point, I see no reason for a drop-off in their performance down the stretch. And with their ability to create turnovers and convert those into points at a high rate, they will be a tough matchup for anyone in a 7-game series. Not to mention that they hold arguably the greatest home court advantage in the NBA. Of course, anything can happen in sports, which is why we love them, and why we watch the games.

Thank you for your time, talk to you soon!

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