Warriors schedule Week 9: Durant, Curry get LeBron's Cavs for Christmas
Golden State can't look ahead to its anticipated Finals rematch with Cleveland just yet
Last year, the Golden State Warriors were playing near-perfect basketball heading into an NBA Finals rematch on Christmas Day, a game where the Cleveland Cavaliers wanted to show the world what it could have done the previous June with a healthy roster. It was billed as a probable NBA Finals preview, and a chance for the Warriors to show they were head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
Golden State won that game 89-83, thanks in large part to an all-around excellent performance from Draymond Green. It wasn't, however, the showcase that everybody was expecting, nor did it say much about where the teams would be when they met again with a championship on the line. Stephen Curry was limited by a calf injury, Kyrie Irving played only 26 minutes because he was coming back from a knee injury and Harrison Barnes missed the game because of an ankle injury. Less than a month later, the Cavs fired coach David Blatt. You know what happened after that.
All this is to say that Sunday's Christmas headliner won't necessarily be airing on NBA Hardwood Classics a few years from now. It would also be unwise to assume that the winner is suddenly on the inside track to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy. Still, whenever the two most star-studded teams in basketball meet, it's foolish not to tune in -- especially since it's the first time Kevin Durant is involved in this rivalry.
Scoring leader: Kevin Durant (25.8)
Assists leader: Draymond Green (7.3)
Rebounding leader: Draymond Green (8.7)
Last week: Defeated Pelicans, Knicks, Trail Blazers (3-0)
GAMES THIS WEEK
Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET: Utah Jazz
Where: Oracle Arena in Oakland, California
TV: NBA TV
Streaming: Playstation Vue
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET: Brooklyn Nets
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York
TV: NBA League Pass
Streaming: NBA League Pass
Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET: Detroit Pistons
Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan
TV: NBA League Pass
Streaming: NBA League Pass
Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET: Cleveland Cavaliers
Where: Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
The big one
I can't just pick one thing to watch in the Cleveland game. Here are three:
- Can the Cavs slow this new offense down? In the Finals, Cleveland was able to take Golden State out of rhythm by switching screens, pressuring Curry and simply staying connected defensively. This task seems much tougher now that Durant is in the picture, but we haven't seen what it looks like yet.
- Can the Warriors hold their own in the rebounding battle? This was a major problem last June, especially when Andrew Bogut got hurt, and it could be a bigger one now, depending on what lineups the Cavaliers use. It's worth noting that Cleveland's slippage on the glass this season hasn't received nearly as much attention as the Warriors'.
- Can Kevin Love find his place? Despite having the biggest defensive possession of his life at the best possible time, Love's probably not going to suddenly find it easy to switch onto Golden State's guards for extended stretches. He has played arguably the best basketball of his career this year, though, with a significantly bigger offensive role than his first two seasons as a Cavalier. Expect him to be extremely involved when he is on the court.
What happens against Utah's big lineup?
The Warriors' first matchup with the Jazz this season was meaningless because George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors -- four starters! -- all missed the game. Utah might not be fully healthy this time, either -- Hill is out with a sprained toe right now and Favors is on a minutes restriction after a knee injury -- but it should at least be a fairer fight. The Jazz might have the most versatile roster in the whole league, and I'm curious to see what happens when Favors and Rudy Gobert, Green's main competition for Defensive Player of the Year, share the court against Golden State.
Counting down the days until Christmas
Everybody's excited about the Cavs game, but the Warriors have to try to not get ahead of themselves. If they stay focused, they should be able to blow out the Nets and the Pistons with relative ease and keep their stars' minutes down before Christmas. If they don't, then they could have an embarrassing letdown, like their losses in Memphis and Los Angeles.
Hey, guess who's fifth in the NBA in defensive rating? That's right, it's your favorite "jump-shooting team" with a "rim protection problem," the Golden State Warriors. It's clear that their early-season struggles in this area were overstated, and now it's more about limiting their opponents' offensive rebounds.
A secret weapon?
Ian Clark came off the bench to score 23 points in 21 minutes on 9-for-11 shooting against the Trail Blazers on Saturday, and it wasn't even that weird. He had similar scoring explosions in blowout victories against the Lakers and those same Blazers earlier in the year. It's time to acknowledge that Clark has been fantastic offensively this season, shooting 52.2 percent and 43.3 percent from deep, and it's also time to wonder if Golden State will start looking for him more often when the second unit is on the court.
BIGGEST ONE-ON-ONE MATCHUP
Durant vs. James. Do I need to explain this? These are two of the faces of the league, and they should actually spend most of the game guarding each other. Can't wait.
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