Warriors

NBA playoffs 2019: Four ways Warriors can sweep Clippers in first round

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USATSI

NBA playoffs 2019: Four ways Warriors can sweep Clippers in first round

OAKLAND -- The NBA playoffs have arrived and that means everything changes for all 16 teams involved, including the Warriors, who have reached such uniquely elevated status that every season is projected, if not expected, to end with a championship parade.

Many of the details overlooked in the monotony of the 82-game regular season now go under the microscope. Every possession is amplified in real time and then reviewed, sometimes re-reviewed. The air seems thicker, the room feels warmer and so do emotions.

“That next practice, after the last game of the season, is just a different feeling,” Kevin Durant said recently. “You’re going over things differently. You’re preparing differently. You’re going upstairs to go over game plans instead of doing it on (the practice court). Everything is different. That locks you back in, keeps you in focus.

“The games are moving so fast in the regular season, with travel and missed practices. When we get in at 3 a.m., we don’t have time for practice that day. We have a lot of those and it kind of takes away from the preparation for a game.

“But now you can just focus in on one opponent, prepare for each player, and everybody focuses on what their job is. It makes the playoffs easier to lock in.”

The first-round opponent is the Los Angeles Clippers and Game 1 is Saturday at 5 o’clock at Oracle Arena. The top-seeded Warriors are heavily favored to dispatch LA, and they’d like to do it as quickly as possible.

Assuming Stephen Curry isn’t affected by that right ankle tweak sustained Tuesday, if the Warriors succeed in these four areas, a sweep is altogether likely:

1) Keep them off the line

The Clippers specialize drawing fouls and shooting free throws, leading the league in both categories in the regular season. Three players – Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell – average at least five free throws per game, and the team average is 28.5.

If the Warriors are fouling and the Clippers are sidling up to the free throw line, it’ll give them easy points and also slow the game – two things that work against the champs.

2) Punish them inside

The Clippers are top-five in defending 3-point shots, but they are vulnerable in the paint. They have no effective rim protection, so there will be opportunities for DeMarcus Cousins to punish them in the paint while Kevin Durant has his way anywhere inside the arc.

This is not to suggest they should ignore the deep-shooting pyrotechnics of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and others. It just makes sense to exploit a weakness.

3) Don’t get Lou’d

 The Warriors have been here before. They know what Williams can do. The best bench scorer in the league, he torched them for 50 points in 35 minutes in a game last season. If coach Doc Rivers opts to start Williams, it weakens his bench and could work in favor of the Warriors, as Williams’ defense is easily exploited.

Insofar as there was no other legitimate offensive threat in the LA rotation (both Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari were out with injuries), don’t think Williams can’t win a game by himself.

[RELATED: 2019 NBA Playoff Rankings]

4) Don’t get LA’d

 Two NBA cities, Miami and LA, are well known for working against opposing teams. With Game 3 on Thursday night and Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, that leaves Friday and Saturday nights available for the Warriors to explore or relax or otherwise keep themselves occupied.

It’s Southern California and the weather forecast is delightful, so there will be temptations. There are professionals, though, and if they stay focused, they should have a joyful ride back to the Bay Area on the evening of April 21st.

Ron Adams pinpoints where Warriors need to improve most on defense

Ron Adams pinpoints where Warriors need to improve most on defense

Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams no longer sits on the bench during games, but he still has a very important job.

The 72-year-old is a defensive guru, so it must be painful for him to see Golden State ranked 25th in defensive rating.

"We gotta get much better defending the 3-point shot -- that's kind of been a sticking point," Adams told Warriors radio voice Tim Roye prior to the Dubs' loss to the Grizzlies on Monday night. "But we now have more players, which helps.

"But it's really tough when you're on the road with eight or nine guys."

Well, speaking of defending the arc and losing to Memphis -- the Grizzlies went 15-for-40 (37.5 percent) from deep Monday. They entered the game shooting 34.2 percent (24th in the NBA), averaging 10.8 makes per game (No. 22).

But it wasn't a surprise to see Memphis connect from 3-point territory because the Warriors entered the matchup with the worst 3-point defense in the NBA, allowing opponents to make just under 40 percent of their attempts.

That's really, really bad -- especially when you give up the second most makes per contest (13.8).

[RELATEDReport: 'No world' where Iguodala gets buyout from Grizz]

And it's not like the Dubs suffered bad luck against Memphis.

If they don't clean up this area of the game, the Warriors' rough season only will get uglier.

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How Warriors' standings position affects 2020 NBA Draft Lottery odds

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AP

How Warriors' standings position affects 2020 NBA Draft Lottery odds

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area an hour after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observations on the State of the Dubs.

The big dilemma that Warriors fans are facing right now is whether or not they want to see the team win for immediate satisfaction, or lose for the purpose of long-term success.

To many, the pros outweigh the cons to see the Warriors finish at the bottom of the standings in order to get a high -- if not the highest -- draft pick. With one of the top selections, the Warriors could trade for a star player or draft a prospect who they think will carry them into the next decade once Steph Curry and the current core retire.

Unlike baseball or football, the 14 teams that miss the playoffs take part in a draft lottery, rather than picking strictly based on the worst to best record. After some changes to the lottery structure beginning in last year's draft, the worst record in the NBA no longer solely has the best odds to win the No. 1 pick. The odds to land the top slot goes as follows:

Worst record: 14 percent
Second-worst record: 14 percent
Third-worst: 14 percent
Fourth-worst: 12.5 percent
Fifth-worst: 10.5 percent
Sixth-worst: 9 percent
Seventh-worst: 7.5 percent
Eighth-worst: 6 percent
Ninth-worst: 4.5 percent
10th-worst: 3 percent
11th-worst: 2 percent
12th-worst: 1.5 percent
13th-worst: 1 percent
14th-worst: 0.5 percent

Finishing with the fourth-, fifth- or sixth-worst sill has solid odds in comparison to the bottom three. It's very possible that's where the Warriors (5-20) end up, despite currently owning the NBA's second-worst record. 

The New York Knicks (4-19) and Cleveland Cavaliers (5-18) continue to struggle, while the Atlanta Hawks (6-17) and Memphis Grizzlies (7-16) both will finish at the bottom of the standings despite boasting a lot of young talent. The Washington Wizards (7-15), Chicago Bulls (8-17) and Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans (6-18) have all underwhelmed, and the Warriors are going to be in this mix if their slow start is any indication.

[RELATED: Reportedly 'no world' where Grizzlies buy out Iguodala]

The Warriors are getting healthier, however, which should help them compete and potentially even surprise a few teams. While that might disappoint the fans that desperately want the team to finish with the best odds at the top pick, plenty are looking for entertainment and competitive basketball should be encouraged.

But at the end of the season, the Warriors likely are going to finish at, or near, the bottom of the standings, and their odds of landing the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft will be high.