Last night’s Warriors win over the Jazz has had me at a loss for words for nearly a day. How to characterize this win? It was an ugly win, to be sure. Curry had one of the worst games of his career. David Lee was lackluster, on the back-to-back. Vlad Rad was horrid. Udoh was OK, but gassed on his first road back-to-back at altitude. Several non-shooters were brought off the bench, which for long stretches made the Warriors offense look like it was running in mud. Only great shooting nights from Dorell Wright and Reggie Williams, and a legitimate superstar performance from Monta Ellis kept the Warriors in this game, and ultimately got them over the hump.
After mulling it over for most of a day, it hit me. This is how good teams win on the road. This is how The Favorites win. I noticed back on November 5, after the first Warriors meeting with the Jazz this season, that the Warriors are now a better team than the Jazz. My pronouncement, which I was absolutely sure of, but expected to be taken as radical, was met with silence. Most of my readers probably took it with a grain of salt, figuring it to be typical feltbot hyperbole. I know no media members took it seriously, because they still feel as if it’s an upset when the Warriors beat the Jazz.
Let me reiterate: it is not an upset when the Warriors beat the Jazz. Not at home. Not on the road. This Warriors team is a much better team than this Jazz team, now and for the forseeable future, and you can carve that in stone.
Keith Smart: Smart coached a brilliant game, in my book. He got the matchups right, all game long. He went small at the appropriate times (basically, whenever feltbot screamed at the TV: “Go small!”). He went big at the appropriate times. He adjusted his first quarter offense to find Monta and Curry some early shots. He found a way to cover for Curry’s absymal performance. And he even found a winning role for Brandan Wright.
I would have brought Curry back much, much sooner with 4 fouls. But you can’t argue with success. Smart got his best lineup on the floor with 3:37 left to play. Lee at 5, DWright at 4, Reggie Williams at 3, Curry and Ellis. They went +5 the rest of the way to close the game out.
Monta Ellis: This was one of the best games of Monta’s career, particularly given the fact that he drew the assignment on Deron Williams for much of the game. Except for his profound unselfishness, he is beginning more and more to resemble Kobe Bryant at key moments of games. His closing ability is where he has taken the greatest leap this year, with his playmaking ability coming a close second.
He had a genuine superstar moment, in my mind, when he drew that foul at 3:23 when face-guarded, by dragging his arms up through Earl Watson’s for the And-One. When Monta realizes that he can close teams out at the free throw line, ala Kobe, the Warriors will take another big leap forward.
But that’s his only weakness at this moment, isn’t it? And I’m not sure it can improve, unless he changes his form at the line. Not enough leg and arm, too much wrist. It would be nice if he spent as much time working on it as he does his over the shoulder three pointers.
Stephen Curry: It is hard for me to get too down on Curry when I could only really tell that one of his fouls was legitimate. Some will say that Curry needs to stop reaching, but those quick hands are part of his genius, and the only thing about his defense that is intimidating. He just had a rough one.
Andris Biedrins: Not a terrible performance on a road back-to-back. His rebounding edge against Jefferson and Milsap is real, which is a big reason why the Warriors are better than the Jazz.
He is genuinely panicked on the free-throw line. I wish I could spend one hour with him. I think I could get him back to 50% in one month, teaching him a couple of things that Mark Price never dreamed of. (And Joe Lacob thinks he can be the GM.)
Have you noticed that he no longer jumps center? I have a theory about that. I think it is to avoid injury. I believe that Biedrins has a chronic abdominal/groin injury, which may or may not be osteitis pubis. This means two things: First, that he will never again be the Biedrins of three years ago, and the Warriors need to get reinforcement at the center position. Second, that the Warriors will not get what they need by trading Biedrins.
Because he’s untradeable. Live with it. The Warriors will have to go over the cap to get a big man.
Dorell Wright: Where would the Warriors be without Wright this season? Along with Monta Ellis, he has been an iron man. He never seems to get fatigued.
He is also one of the big reasons why the Warriors should be one of the fastest teams end-to-end in the league. He is always aware of where the ball is on defense, which allows him to get great jumps when Monta or Curry generate steals. He reminds me a little of James Worthy on the break.
Reggie Williams: That right to left drive, which Don Nelson found for Reggie and Keith Smart is only now beginning to emphasize, is well-nigh indefensible. Reggie is a quintuple threat: Pull up for the three, drive and pull-up for the mid-range J, drive and hit a runner, drive and get to the rim, or drive and dish. His offensive creativity and elite finishing percentages rival Monta’s and Curry’s on this team, which is really saying something.
He is an elite playmaker. The sooner he is made to realize that, and given free-rein in this offense — and MINUTES — the better.
David Lee: Lee had a better game than it looked, one game after battling David West. He forced Milsap outside, which drew him away from the boards. Milsap hit most of his jumpers, but that’s not Lee’s fault. Those are the shots the Warriors want to give Milsap. Lee did his job. Milsap got nothing inside.
Udoh, of course, is able to pressure Milsap’s outside shot. But that’s another story…
Ekpe Udoh: This was a tough game for Udoh. The announcers noticed that he was gasping when he came off the floor. It is a little perplexing for me that Udoh is still suffering conditioning issues. Some of it no doubt has to do with guarding bigger players. There is a big difference between Udoh’s 240 and Lee’s 250 isn’t there?
He got steamrolled a bit on the boards, but that had a lot to do with his defensive responsibilities, and being paired on the floor with Vlad Rad. Vlad suffered a complete failure in boxing out.
But did you notice Udoh’s defense against Al Jefferson? I think Jefferson got one bucket against him, on a put-back. Every single time the Jazz went to Jefferson in the post Udoh turned him away. This is a bigger veteran player, and one of the most accomplished low-post players in the league. Extraordinary.
Memo to Keith Smart: Please stop double-teaming when Udoh is posted up.
Vlad Rad: Miserable game. Many of his worst attributes were visible in this game: Dreadful mid-range J, wild layups, non-existent on the boards.
So what do you make of his team-leading +12? To understand this you will have to realize that Vlad was used at power-forward, and go back to the game tape to see:
Just how open Monta Ellis and Reggie Williams and Dorell Wright were while Vlad was on the floor.
Brandan Wright: Provided a real lift in this game. He was fed a few bunny hooks, which he had no problem converting over Utah’s undersized front-line. Got a few energy rebounds.
On the negative side of the ledger, when Smart tried posting him up on the right box, he again turned the ball over. Which will happen when you have no strength, no J, no handle, and no vision.
And on defense, D-Will started to make hay in the lane while Wright was in. Wright is world’s away from Udoh in being able to defend the lane.
Here’s hoping that this showcase will hoodwink some hapless GM out there.
Jeremy Lin: The announcers and media types were effusive in their praise of Lin in this game. And rightly so, I suppose. He was terrific defensively, which is his calling card. He is really tough-nosed on defense, which I admire.
But the Jazz, and particularly Earl Watson — who is no longer the Earl Watson of old — really let Lin off the hook. There is simply no way that you should let a player with no jump shot and no left hand beat you by driving right. No way.
And there is no way that a point guard with no jump shot and no left hand can play in the NBA, which will be made quite obvious to Joe Lacob and whomever else it needs to be made obvious to, if Lin is given regular minutes and starts getting scouted. No way.
Joe Lacob, fix this bench.
The Playoffs: The Warriors head into the break at 26-29, with 27 games remaining. They are currently 4 games behind Utah and Memphis for the 8th seed, but only 5 games in the loss column behind Portland for the 5th seed!
This is why I believe the Warriors are a playoff team this year:
Schedule: The Warriors’ perpetually pessimistic and unfailingly conventional-minded beat writers are making much of the fact that the Warriors play a disproportionate number of games on the road in the second half of the season. But nothing is being made of the quality of teams the Warriors have left to face. Many of the Warriors road games are against terrible teams. How many of their road games against MIN, IND, WAS, CLE, NJ and SAC do you expect the Warriors to lose? The fact of the matter is that the Warriors have one of the easier schedules going forward. Looking at the schedule, I forecast them going 17-10 over the rest of the season, and finishing at 43-39.
Will that be enough to get them into the playoffs? In past years, of course, it wouldn’t get them close. But I think this year could very well be different, because the teams on the bottom of the ladder are blowing up. Beginning of course with:
Denver: The Warriors are only 4 back of Denver in the loss column, and if they wind up trading Melo and Billups, that should change in a hurry. Denver is also heavily rumored to be marketing Nene, who will be a free-agent.
Portland: Roy in, Roy out, Roy coming back. Camby in, Camby out, Camby coming back. This remarkable team never quits no matter what adversity hits them. They are heavily rumored to be interested in trading Andre Miller, possibly for Devin Harris, however, and may move Camby and Pryzbilla as well. Can they survive that too?
New Orleans: The Hornets are in the middle of a horrendous 2-8 run with Okafor out. He will be back, but I continue to wonder about Chris Paul. I have caught a couple of games recently where he fell on that bad knee and stayed down in obvious pain. And the drop-off in his performance lately has been marked. This is a very under-reported story. Remember where you heard it first.
Utah: This is a very over-rated team. Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap are not a playoff front-line. There’s no hope for Okur this season, and now Kirilenko’s suffered his requisite ankle sprains. Only the brilliance of Deron Williams and Sloan’s discipline have held them together so far this season, but now Sloan’s out, and Williams is a target in Salt Lake. I sense implosion.
Memphis: They’ve been playing good ball, but yesterday’s loss of Rudy Gay for 4 weeks should destroy them. And their schedule in March is murderous, which may have finished them off anyway. I see them dropping.
Houston: 2 games behind the Warriors in the loss column and difficult to forecast. They have underachieved so far this season. But they are also facing an injury and chemistry problem with Aaron Brooks, who has lost his starting job. And they are heavily rumored to be active in seeking trades.
If I had to flip a coin, I would guess that this tough veteran team will stay in the hunt.
Phoenix: Currently 2 games ahead of the Warriors, and I expect them to rise and make the playoffs. So that’s one spot taken away from the Warriors, with three remaining.
Clippers: No prayer.
The All-Star Game Boycott: I’m not going to watch the all-star game. I’ve never been much of a fan, anyway, but after this year’s unconscionable snub of Monta Ellis, it would be unbearable for me to turn it on.
This is of course a small and ridiculous gesture. But when I consider that the sole reasons that David Stern picked Blake Griffin and Kevin Love over LaMarcus Aldridge and Monta Ellis were RATINGS and MONNAY…
it seems just right.