It will probably be the toughest matchup for the Warriors in the NBA Playoffs since Kevin Durant came to the Bay. So Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose rotations in the past have often been questionable, has some tough decisions to make throughout the series.
In their preview series against the New Orleans Pelicans, Kerr finally trusted the Death Lineup—Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green—to counteract the smallball Pelicans lineup. Despite Kerr’s previous reluctance to play the lineup, it was unstoppable, and should be the main lineup in the Houston series.
But the Warriors might not want to start small: perhaps Kerr will want to start a traditional center to match up with Clint Capela, who has had an excellent postseason so far.
Who will start at center?
My guess is that Kerr gives JaVale McGee the start in Game 1, as his length will be valuable in disrupting lobs. But McGee will probably be destroyed if he switches onto James Harden, and his defensive instincts are highly erratic. If he is too much of a liability, expect Kevon Looney, the sixth most important player on the Warriors, to get significant minutes at center.
Looney has come out of nowhere to become a versatile big man who was the first man off the bench in the Pelicans series. He’s a good rim protector, and is quick enough to contain guards he’s switched on to. In January’s game against the Rockets, he did a tremendous job on Chris Paul, who repeatedly targeted him late in the game to little success.
Which other reserves will be used?
After the Death Lineup and Looney, only two other Warriors will get likely receive consistent minutes: Shaun Livingston and David West have had smaller roles than in years past, but they need to shore up the bench units. West might have trouble against the Rockets’ best lineups, but as long as he’s facing Chris Paul and not James Harden, he should be fine.
From there, it’s murky: Quinn Cook, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, and Jordan Bell could get some playing time. Cook is a solid playmaker and shooter, but he’ll likely be destroyed by James Harden and Chris Paul. Still, it’s worth seeing what he can bring to the table. On the other hand, I would rather not see Young and McGee in this series: their lapses in awareness on defense can be fatal.
Jordan Bell might be able to make it on the court. He doesn’t have much experience, but his athleticism and defensive potential could theoretically play a role in gumming up Houston’s offense. Kerr hasn’t given him much playing time recently, but he had a lot of success playing with the four Warriors All-Stars in the regular season. It might be worth a shot.
Still, Kerr should plan on relying on his stars this series: it’s not the time to get cute with the lineups. Even if the Death Lineup doesn’t start games, it should get considerable time on the court, and surely finish games. Playing Livingston, Looney, and West off the bench, with a sprinkle of Cook and Bell should be just enough to supplement the stars.