The Golden State Warriors didn’t exactly limp out of the gate, but they didn’t have the start to the season that they were hoping for. They lost three of their first seven games, while looking careless on offense and listless on defense.
Still, they were far from panicked, and Monday’s beatdown of the Los Angeles Clippers proved why. But the slow start won’t be the only hiccup this season. The Warriors are in a unique position, having won two of the past three titles, and that presents new challenges to the team.
Coach Steve Kerr, who played for a team in a similar situation, the late-90’s Chicago Bulls, is very familiar with the pressure the Dubs are facing, as well as the fatigue and championship hangover that they’re dealing with. In a terrific article by Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, Kerr draws and erases parallels between the legendary team he played for, and the one he now coaches.
Steve Kerr’s mind drifted back to the 1998 Bulls, an aging group that completed a three-peat, but only after surviving an 8-7 start, a seven-game series against the Pacers in the East finals, and a classic Finals in which Michael Jordan squeezed past the Jazz thanks to his infamous push-off and famous jumper.
“That third year, everybody was fried,” Kerr told reporters on Monday, before a road game against the Clippers. “We were having all these team meetings. [This year] feels exactly the same. It’s not easy.” He went on to cite “the emotional and spiritual fatigue” that sets in for champions—the so-called hangover—and admitted that the 2018 Warriors have “a different vibe,” drawing a direct contrast with the 2015 Warriors, who were “bouncing off the walls every night.”
The sober concern looked justified for all of three minutes Monday night: Golden State missed its first three shots, forcing Kerr to call a quick Popovich-like timeout early in the first quarter. Then, suddenly, the carnival returned in all its glory. By the end of the night, Kerr was singing a completely different tune, and for good reason. His Warriors laid waste to the Clippers 141-113 on Monday, simultaneously dumping a division rival and erasing their coach’s trip down memory lane in a 48-minute reminder of their ever-present, but recently-hidden, brilliance.
Golliver explains that, while the Bulls and Warriors share success, transcendent stars, and shortened offseasons, there’s a distinct difference between the two squads.
The 2018 Warriors might be sweating out a championship hangover, but they still defy any external precedent. This group isn’t the 1998 Bulls, whose core was largely composed of players over 30 and who lost Jordan to his second retirement after clinching the title. Instead, this will probably be the greatest and most efficient offense ever, driven by Durant and Curry, a pair of unselfish and committed megastars who are under 30 and who are now fully acclimated to life with each other.
It won’t always be easy for the Warriors this year. But if any team is equipped to overcome the championship hangover and get back to their success, this is it.
So . . . about that “rivalry”
On Christmas day, 2014, the Warriors beat the Clippers. Since then, they haven’t lost to their SoCal “rivals”, a span that includes a total of 11 games.
It’s easy to think of these two teams as still being rivals, because of the emotional games they played as they both tried to ascend to the top of the Pacific Division. But in reality, no real rivalry remains.
As Tim Cato points out at the SB Nation mothership, “. . . this isn’t a rivalry to them anymore. This isn’t a rivalry at all. It’s a parade of blowouts.” And it’s true. No rivalry remains.
Still, it’s fun to reminisce over the rivalry that once was, and Cato shows some fun headlines from over the years in his article. At the time, Warriors’ fans wondered if they could win the battle for Pacific Division supremacy. Safe to say the answer was yes.
Jordan Bell, dunk champion?
Jordan Bell has opened eyes in his first NBA stint. He’s done a little bit of everything, from Draymond-esque passes, to rim protection, to finishing in the pick and roll. Oh, and did we mention dunks?
Bell has gained a lot of attention for his dunks, largely because of his controversial (but amazing) self alley-oop during a blowout victory. As such, it didn’t take long for him to start getting the question every great dunker gets: will he participate in the dunk contest?
According to NBC Sports, Bell is interested, saying, “I’m all able and willing. It’s just if my name gets called for it. I’ve got some stuff. I got some dunks.”
Count us in. As for the controversial dunk, Bell had a few interesting insights, namely that Steve Kerr liked the dunk. That said, he won’t be repeating his alley-oop anytime soon, saying that the next time he’s in that situation he “Probably won’t throw it off the backboard just because of the politics and all. I’m definitely going to do something special.”
Well, now that we talked about it, we can’t not watch it . . .
It hasn’t always been this pretty
Bell appears to be a draft steal, as the Warriors got him in the second round, where they also got Patrick McCaw. In general, the current Warriors’ regime has been terrific at drafting: in addition to those two, they picked up Steph Curry 7th, Klay Thompson in the back of the lottery, and Draymond Green in the second round.
But it wasn’t always that way. Like all franchises, the Warriors have an extensive history of swinging and missing during the draft. For The Athletic, Danny Leroux shared an excerpt from his recently released book, 100 Things Warriors Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.
The excerpt shared is all about draft busts. It includes less bright spots in the Warriors’ history, such as in 1996, when they drafted Todd Fuller ahead of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Peja Stojakovic.
But that’s not all: Leroux takes us through names you might have forgotten or never heard of, as well as recent painful players, and the stars that followed. We all remember Ekpe Udoh, but we might forget that he was drafted in front of Paul George and Gordon Hayward.
Well, you can’t win them all.
A new kind of rest
This year the NBA is cracking down on resting star players. The league has made the season two weeks longer to help eliminate back-to-backs, and commissioner Adam Silver now has the discretion to fine teams for resting players on nationally televised games.
Steve Kerr’s response is simple: stop resting them for games, and start resting them for minutes. In a piece for Uproxx, Ryan Nagelhout chronicles Kerr’s new strategy for keeping his players fresh through June.
The basic plan is, as follows: each player gets a “projected max” or 36 to 38 minutes per game when the score is close, but goes down to 32 to 34 minutes in blowouts. The team also tries to keep two stars on the floor at all times, but gives each star player five to six minutes of rest each half at different points.
If it keeps the players fresh, and the Dubs from getting fined, then we’re happy.
Hopefully you had a great Halloween, and are not feeling too sick from any sugar overloads. NBA players certainly had an awesome Halloween, as they went all out with some incredible costumes.
Jeremy Woo at Sports Illustrated ranked some of the best costumes that NBA players donned this year, and it’s pretty fun to see some of the getups. LeBron James as Pennywise, and Isaiah Thomas as Eazy-E were my personal favorites, but there’s a lot of great costumes to admire.
If you’re curious, Curry earned a B grade for his Jigsaw getup. Seems a little low, but there was some strict competition!
Hello, I want to play a game. #Jigsaw #DubNation pic.twitter.com/cvl6F3cIQc— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) October 29, 2017