The Golden State Warriors (50-9) are heavy favorites to reach a third consecutive NBA Finals, and only a handful of teams seem equipped to challenge them in the West.
“I think you have to obviously look at San Antonio and the way that they’re built with Kawhi Leonard and with LaMarcus Aldridge,” NBA Radio and Thunder broadcaster Antonio Daniels said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “If Tony Parker plays up to his capability, they could push the Golden State Warriors. And then you have to take a look at the Houston Rockets with their ability to space the floor and shoot the basketball. But what you get out of Houston is what you saw last night. That same team that will shoot you out of the gym is the same team that will shoot themselves out of the gym as well, so you don’t really know what you’re getting. If you get a good Houston team with the addition of Lou Williams and they’re shooting the ball very well for four or five games, they could beat anybody in the league. But then that could also turn around the other way where they struggle to make shots for four or five games. If that’s the case, they could get swept by anybody in the playoffs as well.”
San Antonio (45-13) and Houston (42-19) are seeded second and third in the West, respectively. James Harden has been perhaps the best player in basketball, averaging 28.8 points, 11.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds. But is he enough to beat the mighty Warriors?
“The difference between Golden State and Houston is, No. 1, the firepower that Golden State has,” Daniels said. “And also, they have different guys that can get to the rim if need be. Kevin Durant can post up if need be. Kevin Durant can get to the rim if need be. What you’re looking at with Houston is one guy with the basketball and four other guys that space the floor. So you have that one guy in James Harden that makes decisions for everyone.”
Brian Jones thought that the Warriors should have acquired some physicality in the post before the trade deadline, but Daniels isn’t sure they needed to.
“The big man, in a sense, is becoming extinct, especially offensively,” Daniels said. “If you think about bigs that play with their backs to the basket – Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan – those guys aren’t around anymore. I feel like if those guys were around, Golden State would not be able to get away with playing the small ball that they play – because then you could punish them inside. But those guys that you can go to that are so physically dominant and gifted inside that can give you 35, 40, if you don’t double team them, those guys aren’t around anymore. The 4-men are stretch fours. The 5s are stretch 5s – and they’re skilled. You look at a guy like (Nikola) Jokic and (Kristaps) Porzingis and all these other guys that are long in stature but don’t want any part of that paint. They’re stepping out, shooting threes, taking the ball off the rim, going coast-to-coast – these 7-footers not have guard games. That’s what enables Golden State to play small ball and play Draymond Green at that five spot.”