Warriors-Lakers on Christmas edging toward being just another NBA game


Warriors-Lakers on Christmas edging toward being just another NBA game

Nothing has been more amusing over the past five to 10 years than to watch the way the NBA and its greatest media proponents have worked at cross purposes as regards to the notion of the individual game.

On the one hand, every game is reviewed as an instant referendum of trends, truths and future developments in the sport because the 24/7 beast must be fed. On the other, the NBA’s 30 constituent teams have concluded that individual games have limits to their importance, and in some cases, even entire seasons. It’s as if every game is vitally important and occasionally meaningless at the same time.

Thus, we come upon Lakers-Warriors on Christmas Day as an epochal battle between LeBron James and his last remaining ghost, the Golden State Warriors team that has beaten him three times in four NBA Finals and 22 times in 31 games.

It is, of course, no such thing. It’s a fun game to watch for all that, among the 81 wrapped around it, and fun is still the best reason we bother with any of this. But its import will be much overplayed, and not just because of the cheap excuse that “that’s what we do.”

But, and you might not have noticed this, this is an intriguing game because the rest of the Western Conference has caught up with the dynasty-in-the-making, at least in the standings, with the Warriors in their current arrhythmic state. As day dawned Friday, not only were the Warriors behind both the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Warriors have just a 2½-game gap between themselves and a historically compressed field in which four games separate the Lakers in fourth and the Jimmy Butler-less Minnesota Timberwolves in 14th.

This all could become one more useless snapshot of basketball in a day, as some of those 11 teams eventually will fall off the pace, either by chance or choice. It also could change if the Warriors embrace DeMarcus Cousins to such a point that their offense suddenly becomes properly spaced again and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green find their shooting eye from distance. That, you see, has become a thing people worry about while the Warriors’ middle-of-the-road defense continues to be ignored as a symptom for the team’s slowest start in the championship era.

But maybe the Warriors can be a more interesting team with evident flaws, if only because the rest of the West has risen up to meet them. Golden State is still better than the other contenders when playing with a full complement, and as they should, but the Warriors are finding every game is harder, and that the teams with winning records no longer fear them.

They are 8-9 against teams with those winning records, with a point differential of minus-2.5, and 13-2 against the others, with a point differential of plus-11.2. In short, they are beating bad teams by the same margin as they beat then entire league two years ago, and while Stephen Curry’s injury mattered a lot, so do other injuries to other players.

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In this new, more egalitarian NBA, the Warriors are trying like everyone else to find their pace, and the idea that they don’t approach every game with the requisite intensity might not be as valid as the fact that their rising tide for four years has raised so many other boats. The league has chased the Warriors and now can reach out and touch them, and that might end up being a more compelling fact than the 32nd meeting between them and a LeBron James-led team.

The Warriors aren’t yet like everyone else, but they're now close enough to upper half of the league that they have become in an odd way a different and more compelling watch. That is a fact that will last longer than the Christmas Day game. The Warriors no longer are a stand-alone event but part of a greater and more fascinating whole.

Warriors' Juan Toscano-Anderson looks forward to guarding James Harden

Warriors' Juan Toscano-Anderson looks forward to guarding James Harden

James Harden scored 29 points on 16 field-goal attempts the last time the Warriors faced the Houston Rockets back on Feb. 20. Houston won that game 135-105, and it sounds like Golden State's Juan Toscano-Anderson was looking forward to the rematch.

With the NBA season indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Toscano-Anderson and the Warriors have some free time on their hands. Toscano-Anderson made use of it by holding a Q&A on Twitter on Saturday night, at which time he was asked which player -- whether teammate or opponent -- he was most looking forward to playing with or against when the season starts back up.

Toscano-Anderson provided multiple answers.

"Excited to get our whole team back to full strength," Toscano-Anderson replied. "I was very excited to guard James Harden."

Well, you've got to appreciate the fact that he's not afraid of a challenge. There might not be a tougher player to guard than Harden in the entire league, but then again, Toscano-Anderson didn't finally establish himself as an NBA player this season by taking the easy way out.

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The Warriors and Rockets were scheduled to play each other for a fourth and final time this season in Houston on April 2. Obviously, that particular game won't take place on that day, but whether it is postponed or canceled, Toscano-Anderson surely will have more opportunities to try to make things harder on Harden.

Seven candidates for Warriors' massive Andre Iguodala trade exception


Seven candidates for Warriors' massive Andre Iguodala trade exception

The Warriors don't know if or when the current NBA season will resume, much less the next one. But whenever the 2020-21 season takes place, they'll likely have used several assets at their disposal with which to return to a level of legitimate contention.

But in terms of the Warriors' asset that likely will have the greatest determining impact on their success next season, the $17.2 million trade exception they received for sending Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies last summer stands apart from the rest.

Trade exceptions cannot be combined with others, so through the Iguodala trade exception, Golden State cannot acquire a player making more than $17.2 million (technically, it's $17,185,185.) However, trade exceptions can be split, so the Warriors could theoretically use the Iguodala trade exception to acquire multiple players, as long as their combined salaries don't exceed that amount.

While Golden State should absolutely be able to acquire a good player with that trade exception, the Dubs will have the added challenge of only having a tight window with which to use it. Once the league moratorium concludes at noon ET on July 6 (as currently scheduled), the Warriors will only have until the end of the following day to utilize the exception in a trade. They cannot use it prior to the moratorium, though in theory, they could agree to a trade at any point along the way.

Given the indefinite league stoppage due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it's possible that Golden State will be granted some kind of an extension to use the Iguodala trade exception, but there is no guarantee. Whenever it expires, however, the Warriors would be wise to use it on one of the following seven players prior to that point.