Teams Should not be Afraid to Run Against the WarriorsMany people think that the way to beat the Golden State Warriors is to slow the game down but, as I repeatedly mentioned during last year's playoffs, this is not the case. Check out these numbers from the Warriors' first 20 games this season (including Sunday night's 123-113 loss to the Lakers): the nine teams that beat Golden State averaged 117.8 ppg versus the Warriors, while the 11 teams that lost to the Warriors averaged 100.3 ppg. Although it may seem counterintuitive (because Golden State wants to play at a fast tempo), teams have more success against the Warriors by playing at a fast pace than they do slowing the game down. Playing fast does not have to mean jacking up three pointers or abandoning the inside game: the Lakers shot .531 from the field and selectively utilized the three point shot (8-18, .444), while Golden State fired away from all angles with much less accuracy, shooting .468 from the field, including 8-33 (.242) from three point range.
On the other hand, if you try to run with the Phoenix Suns you will most likely lose, except for the Spurs, whose three stars can play effectively at any pace, as they showed on several occasions in the 2005 and 2007 playoff matchups between these teams. Golden State (110.4 ppg) and Phoenix (110.2 ppg) rank 1-2 in scoring so far this season but there are several differences between the Suns and the Warriors that show why it is wise to run with the Warriors and foolish to run with the Suns. Phoenix ranks second in the NBA in field goal percentage (.495); although the Suns only rank 20th in defensive field goal percentage, they shoot .034 better than their opponents do, which is a big reason that they rank sixth in the NBA in point differential (5.8 ppg--note: the original version of this post listed an incorrect number and ranking for the Suns). Golden State ranks 15th in field goal percentage (.452) and 24th in defensive field goal percentage (.465). The key thing to note is that the Warriors shoot .013 worse than their opponents and only rank 12th in point differential (2.3 ppg--note: the original version of this post listed an incorrect number and ranking for the Warriors). What all of these numbers show is that the Warriors are not as good as the Suns offensively or defensively, even though their team scoring averages are virtually identical.
In Sunday's game, the Lakers scored at least 31 points in three of the four quarters (they had 29 points in the second quarter). Kobe Bryant only scored eight points on 3-13 field goal shooting in the first half and the Lakers still had a 60-59 halftime lead. Think about that: the Lakers were beating the Warriors in a fast paced game even with Bryant not scoring at his usual rate (he did contribute to the Lakers' offense with his passing, making several great feeds to cutters and open perimeter shooters). In the second half, Bryant scored 20 points on 6-10 shooting and was largely responsible for holding Baron Davis to just three points. Bryant finished with game-highs in points (28) and assists (eight) and also had six rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot. His plus/minus number was a game-high +22; Lamar Odom, who contributed 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while playing essentially at the same times that Bryant did, also had a +22 plus/minus number. Davis shot 7-17 from the field and ended up with 20 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and one blocked shot. At the 4:41 mark of the fourth quarter, Davis became so frustrated by his matchup with Bryant that he wrapped his arms around Bryant when Bryant tried to cut to the hoop, earning a personal foul and a technical foul; Bryant made two of the resulting three free throws to put the Lakers up, 116-99.
Although the Lakers played at a fast pace, they were still able to utilize the inside scoring of Andrew Bynum, who shot 9-14 from the field and had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson recently criticized Bynum's conditioning and he seems to be playing Bynum in six or eight minute bursts, with plenty of rest in between (Bynum played 28:18 minutes against Golden State). NBA TV broadcast the Lakers' feed of this game; during the second quarter, play by play man Joel Meyers did a brief interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has been working with Bynum for quite some time. Abdul-Jabbar likes the progress that his young protege has made but laments that Bynum does not use the sky hook during games. Yes, Abdul-Jabbar has been teaching Bynum the shot that helped him become the NBA's all-time leading scorer; he told Meyers that Bynum has a very good hook shot but lacks the confidence to use it in live action. Meyers asked Abdul-Jabbar to describe the biggest change in the NBA since his playing days and Abdul-Jabbar said that the collective basketball IQ in the league has declined because so many players have entered the league with little or no college experience.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:35 AM