NBA Playoffs 2013: Warriors need to find right combinations after losing David Lee

Doug Pensinger

The Warriors come into Game Two against the Nuggets with a number of questions after losing David Lee for the remainder of the season in Game One. If they can just find a rotation that shows some signs of working tonight, that might be a victory unto itself.


#6 Golden State Warriors (0-1) at #3 Denver Nuggets

NBA Playoffs Round 1, Game 2

7:30 p.m. PST

Pepsi Center - Denver, Colorado

TV: TNT (National)/CSNBA (local)

Buddy blog: Denver Stiffs

So often it's easy for us as fans to underestimate the importance of the intangibles in basketball: team chemistry.

And when a team loses a major piece of their rotation, it's not always as simple as plugging in someone who can make up that production statistically - it's about how well all the pieces fit together and figuring out what adjustments to make if things don't come together as desired right away.

That's the coaching challenge for Mark Jackson in Game Two of the Golden State Warriors' first round matchup with the Denver Nuggets tonight.

The big question we've all been dying to know is how the Golden State Warriors will move forward without David Lee, who sustained a season-ending injury in Game One. And we've already had threads discussing the various tradeoffs of just about every lineup under the sun - it's not an easy thing to figure out when all of the lineups that have proven to be effective this season include Lee.

But the big question is not so much who they start, but what the rotation looks like and how they play once whatever lineup is on the floor. And the problem is as much about the intangibles as it is about the strengths and weaknesses that we can see on paper.

Andrew Bogut, for example, was great in Game One, but he has also only played 32 games, sporadically, with a limit on his minutes in many of them. It was obvious even on Saturday that the team is still trying to establish that chemistry with him on the floor and now they'll have to continue that process with him likely needing to be an even more significant part of the puzzle.

There will just be a lot of moving parts tonight that don't bode well for a team coming off a deflating loss on the road, the injury to a star player, and news of the return of the opponent's hyper-athletic power forward. With all of that, it's hard to expect a win on the road tonight and that's fine - it's a seven game series. But what I do hope for is that we start to see the makings of a productive rotation and specifically which combinations of players work best together over the course of a 48-minute game.

I won't go as far as to say that this is a "glorified practice", but - perhaps in a pre-emptive move to lower my own expectations so I'm not too disappointed at a loss - I really do want to see how much the team can figure out tonight to give them some confidence about their rotation heading into Friday night's game at Oracle.

So two questions I have for tonight:

  • Which player(s) at the four best complements the guards in terms of setting screens and hitting jumpers?
  • How does Faried playing affect the defensive matchups in this game?

And three keys that sort of led to those questions.

Three keys for the Warriors in Game 2

Minimize turnovers

The primary problem that the Warriors faced in the fourth quarter without David Lee in Saturday's Game One was having post players put in unfamiliar positions which hurt the unit's ability to execute crisply even though they did manage to come up with points. That means Mark Jackson & Co. have quite a difficult coaching problem in front of them: not only do they have to figure out how to replace Lee's minutes in the rotation, but they also have to figure out an offense that maximizes whatever strengths they have.

The challenge is avoiding turnovers. The Warriors already had one of the worst turnover percentage differentials in the league this season; the Nuggets were among the conference's best. Fittingly, in the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Warriors found themselves committing 6 turnovers to the Nuggets' 1.

We know this team can shoot and that will keep them in this game, but when they squander possessions at the rate they did in the fourth quarter on Saturday they make it very difficult to win.

Changing the way the offensive sets they run:

Part of cutting down on those turnovers will be a change in the way they approach things on offense.

If anything was evident from the fourth quarter of Game 1 it was that they can't rely as much on pick and roll sets without Lee: something ended up breaking down at the point of the pick, roll, or alternative that resulted in an empty possession.

So this is not a matter of putting someone else in Lee's spot and just running the exact same stuff. Whatever lineup decision they make will come with a set a strategic decisions about what sets to run and what their primary options will be on offense. Coming up the court and waiting for a high pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop for the majority of the game just isn't going to work well with their remaining personnel against this team.

That not only places a heavier burden on the entire unit to get the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson open for spot up opportunities, but also whoever is in the game handling the ball - Curry or Jarrett Jack - who can't hold on to the ball at the top of the key too long. They have to find a way, without the help of their pick-and-roll, to get into their offense quickly and make things happen. The quicker things develop, the less chance they leave for mistakes to occur.

Winning the rebounding battle with Faried on the floor

The Warriors won the rebounding battle on Saturday and that might've been the equivalent of giving the media a bulletin board material for Faried: there's little question that he's going to take it upon himself to turn that around.

But here again is why Bogut is so significant: he's a big presence in the paint with excellent instincts. He's going to need to have another outstanding rebounding game for the Warriors to win not only to keep the Nuggets from feasting on second chance points, but also to give the Warriors opportunities to open this game up and try to score in early offense situations, where they can thrive with shooters spotting up on either wing (or the corner, as the case may be).

While people will continue talking about slowing the game down, it's not clear that really helps this team in the halfcourt without the use of Lee's shooting touch or ability in the pick-and-pop/roll situations. And the easiest way for a team to score when they lose a major offensive threat is to do so before their opponents get set.

Can the Warriors win this one?

Absolutely. I wouldn't say it's likely and a lot would have to go right - the mistakes they made down the stretch on Saturday night would have to disappear for things to work out and they would have to have an outstanding rebounding game as a unit - but it's not outside the realm of possibility either.

All of this also points to a heavy reliance on a small ball lineup with Lee out, which is sort of a massive contradiction: on the one hand, they'll need to rebound to run and on the other they'll be better off with more ball handlers and shooters on the floor for spot ups. That can work - we saw it work in 2007 - but against a team that can match or exceed the Warriors' athleticism at every position it's hard to imagine it working for more than a few spurts here and there.

And that's probably the toughest wrinkle here: no matter what combination Jackson puts on the floor, Karl will have a way to counter that and exploit weaknesses.

It's an uphill battle for a coach in his first playoff series but if he can just start to find a rhythm for this squad even in spurts the team will be in better position for Game Three. And that would be something of a victory unto itself.

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