If the 2016 season taught Warriors fans anything, it's that you can't take anything for granted. With that in mind I ventured to find the teams most likely to cause the Warriors problems during the regular season. In the past two installments I examined the L.A Clippers and San Antonio Spurs.
Before I move onto the team that ranked number one, I want to round up some of the "dark horse" candidates that could upset the Warriors during the regular season.
Minnesota Timberwolves - One thing I didn't explore during this article was the idea of switching against the Warriors. Few teams have the necessary talent to switch defensively on everything. On paper Minnesota might be the best team for this. They have players with good length and versatility defensively; they are also a very young and uncommonly athletic team. I'm not convinced that if Karl-Anthony Towns was switched onto Curry that he would be able to contain him, but I do believe he could do as good a job as almost any other big man. At the end of the day it's a significant mismatch and for the sake of his ankles, I wouldn't wish it on him.
Utah Jazz - Utah are poised to make a serious run at a top four position in the Western Conference this year; I'm certain of it. What Utah has been needing for a while is a point guard that can run their offense, and they have that now with the addition of George Hill. They now have solid defenders at every single position and were already one of the better defensive teams in the league. In addition to this, their offense, which has been relatively lackluster the past few years, has some intriguing new options. Boris Diaw is a great playmaker for a big man, and his passing ability could add something special.
The Real Threat
When I started this three part series, I already knew the teams that I considered most likely to snatch a win from the Warriors in the regular season. Ranking them from most likely to win to least likely was the difficult part. However the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that the biggest threat to the Warriors was and still is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland might seem like an obvious choice considering the reigning champs upset the Warriors during the NBA Finals last season (as if you needed reminding). But there are few teams in the league that possesses offensive weapons such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
At the start of this series I highlighted four key requirements for defeating the Warriors; Defense, rebounding, dominant big men and taking care of the ball. Do Cleveland tick all of these boxes? Almost.
The Cavaliers have arguably some of the best match ups (on paper) against Golden States’ death lineup. Assuming they manage to retain J.R Smith, although that is beginning to look unlikely, Cleveland could roll out a lineup with Irving, Smith, LeBron, Tristan Thompson and whoever. The fifth player could be almost anybody; for example let's take Iman Shumpert:
Defensively they could hide Irving and his mediocre defense by having him guard Iguodala who usually acts as a playmaker for others, aside from the occasional spot up three. They would then have J.R Smith to guard Curry, Shumpert to guard Klay Thompson, LeBron to guard Kevin Durant and Tristian Thompson to guard Draymond Green. In my last article I alluded to the idea that having players who will make Curry work defensively to try and tire him out is important; both J.R Smith and Kyrie Irving would be capable of that.
Cleveland knows all too well that all it takes is a single misstep for the Warriors to punish you; however, last season they did a great job of staying in front of the Warriors defensively during the finals. Eventually the Warriors would fall back on their shooting and when they're hot there's pretty much nothing that can be done to stop them. But when they're missing shots they'll start fighting for the offensive rebounds, and sacrificing their transition defense for another scoring opportunity. The Warriors also have a tendency to become trapped in the moment. They will put a little flash onto a pass that doesn't require it or even start over-passing, making things more difficult for themselves. As beautiful as their offense can be, the Warriors do get sloppy at times. Nobody took advantage of this last season as well as Cleveland did in the finals.
Cleveland was also excellent last season at rebounding the basketball; the only teams that allowed less second chance opportunities were Detroit and San Antonio. Tristan Thompson might not be a top tier center in this league, but as far as the Warriors are concerned he is the architect of their nightmares when it comes to rebounding.
Above all else the Cavaliers have one thing that no other team does: LeBron James, the man that became the first player ever to lead both teams in every single statistical category for an entire playoff series, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.6 steals while bringing Cleveland their first ever NBA championship. Make no mistake, Curry may have been the best player last year after having one of the greatest regular seasons ever (if not the greatest). But in general James is still the best player in the world.
Last year Cleveland was a team with a dream. This year, they're the reigning champs, lead by "The King.” It would be foolish to think they pose absolutely no threat to this Warriors super team. If they can stay healthy, they have enough talent to stay competitive with the Bay's super team.
Some of you might not agree with my selections in this series, some of you might not even agree with my key requirements for emerging victorious against the Warriors, but there are undoubtedly ways of making it happen. Unfortunately for every other fan base and NBA franchise, the odds of it happening are slim. On paper this looks like one of the greatest teams that has ever been assembled, and despite the possibility of a bumpy start, some potential threats, and a few upsets along the way, this team looks for the most part like it is light years ahead of the competition.
All statistics are from the 2016 season and taken from Basketball Reference unless otherwise stated.
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