Preview & Chat: The Golden State Warriors

Darius Soriano —  March 27, 2012

Records: Lakers 30-19 (3rd in West), Warriors 20-27 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (15th in NBA), Warriors 105.4 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.1 (11th in NBA), Warriors 107.5 (26th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Charles Jenkins, Clay Thompson, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Jeremy Tyler
Injuries: Lakers: none; Warriors: Steph Curry (out), Andrew Bogut (out), Andris Biedrins (questionable), Nate Robinson (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are 3-3 in their last 6 games and after their last performance against the Grizzlies there’s an air of frustration pegged against a backdrop of optimism. The frustration stems from this team being unable to channel solid play for more than a couple of game stretch with levels of execution and effort wavering like a captive criminal under interrogation. Sometimes they’re defiantly good, showing everyone that counting them out is risk best not taken while on other nights their weaknesses are on full display. The fact of the matter is that this team is both a contender and a team with flaws. When at their best they can play with any team and with Sessions now in the fold they’re more dangerous than ever. When at their worst they’re too top heavy and overly dependent on their top players to produce at or above their all-star levels nightly with little room for error. If the effort wanes or the execution breaks down they become vulnerable against any team. The goal, of course, is to tighten things up en route to the playoffs and in that respect I think they’re doing okay. Only time will tell, however.

The Warriors Coming in: Over at Warriors World, friend and contributor to FB&G J.M. Poulard explained where the Warriors are, right now, in this tidy summary:

With the Golden State Warriors stuck in the land of mediocrity, they decided to make a trade that would help them in the future but also set them back for the present in the standings. For lack of a better term, the Dubs are tanking. The objective in this case is to get the players to play hard, give the young guys some playing time in order to find out what they are capable of but also give them a chance to gain some confidence in their abilities. Stephen Curry has missed time due to injury but will undoubtedly help the team whenever he does get back on the court and be the face of the franchise. Warriors fans are slowly coming to grips with the rebuilding project but they aren’t the only fan base that had to change their expectations during the course of the season.

The trade J.M. referenced was the acquisition of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson (who has since been dealt to the Spurs for Richard Jefferson) while shipping out fan favorite Monta Ellis, former lottery pick (and plus/minus god) Epke Udoh, and Kwame Brown. This trade has opened up playing time for rookie Clay Thompson and given the team the center it’s craved for so long.

That said, it’s also made them into a worse team as Bogut is out with a fractured ankle (and unlikely to play the rest of this season) and Steph Curry is out with the ankle/foot issues that have plagued him for most of this season. So, it’s no wonder that the Dubs lost 5 of 7 since the trade and that the fans – who were sold on the idea of this team making the playoffs this season by ownership and head coach Mark Jackson – are upset. I mean, real upset.

Warriors Blogs: Warriors World is a very good resource for all your news and analysis on the Dubs.

Keys to the game: Tonight’s contest offers an interesting crossroads. Most observers of the Warriors claim the team is tanking. Their draft pick in the upcoming draft is only top 7 protected so if they win too many games and finish with too good a record, the Jazz will be celebrating like college kids who just found out they’re going to the NCAA tourney on selection Sunday. So, losing some games really is in their best interests. However, whenever the Lakers come to Oakland the competitive juices start to flow, the crowd becomes electric and competing hard is rarely an option.

And while the talent on display will be heavily tilted in the Lakers’ favor, effort (and some good old fashioned momentum) can be the great equalizer. The question is, will the Warriors compete hard and try to take out their divisional foe or will they roll over and play down to the level that their talent should dictate? The answer will influence this game and its results.

From a strategy standpoint, the Lakers advantage is inside and they must use it. Bynum’s coming off a 30 point game and if Biedrins doesn’t play will be matched up with a rookie taken in the 2nd round who’s been shuttled between the Dubs and the D-League all season. Gasol will likely be matched up with David Lee who, as a defender, doesn’t possess the instincts to slow the Spaniard with any consistency. Punishing this team inside is the recipe to winning and, as it should be most nights, is the tactic I hope to see most.

This game should also be a good night to run a lot of P&R’s. As mentioned, the Dubs big men aren’t strong defenders and putting them in this action will force them to make multiple reads on both the ball and in recovering to the paint. Sessions should be able to either turn the corner or make quick passes either to the roll man, the wing (whose man will need to help on penetration), or to the weak side big man ducking in. The Lakers have not yet fully explored all their options on the P&R but against a weak defensive team like the Warriors, tonight would be a good time to do just that.

Defensively the Warriors, even without some of their best players, offer an intriguing match up. They will try to push the pace and will run a lot of P&R actions in early offense where the big man will pop for a jumper after setting the screen (especially David Lee). The Lakers must get back on D (something they struggled with against the Grizzlies) and must be ready to defend once fully retreated to their defensive end. The Warriors want to run teams down and create open jumpers early in the clock for their myriad of shooters. Thompson, Wright, Brandon Rush, Lee, Jefferson, and even Dominic McGuire can all hit the open shot and it’s their preference to create those opportunities against a defense that’s not yet set.

In the half court, they’ll run a lot of P&R’s, weak side screen actions to free up Thompson (and the rest of their shooters), and isolations on the shallow wing and mid/low post for Lee to try and create offense. The Lakers defense will need to be active and show good communication to help on the screen actions and be ready to rotate to shooters should they shake free. One match up I’ll be watching intently is Klay Thompson and whoever guards him. If it’s Ron, it will be interesting to see if the rookie can shake free from the physical D he’ll be exposed to. Ron will body him over screens and Thompson will need to show strength in holding him off to create the angles needed for the screens to be effective. If Kobe’s on him, I want to see how much respect Kobe shows him; or said another way, I want to see if Kobe plays him tight or roams off him. Kobe’s always had a certain affinity for going at certain young players (Curry and Mayo immediately come to mind) and it will be interesting to see if he treats Thompson the same way, especially since he has some Lakers’ connections (his dad is Mychal Thompson, if you didn’t know).

In the end, this is a game the Lakers not only should win but need to win. The urgency must be there and after a poor effort on Sunday, I hope it will be.

Where you can watch: 7:30PM start time on KCAL and NBA TV. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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