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.
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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.