Thoughts on Round 2 Versus the Warriors

Published: April 28, 2018

The New Orleans Pelicans officially usher in Round 2 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs tonight when they play the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. The Warriors have the clear advantage in the series, but they are not invincible. You’ve seen good analysis from Pellissier on this, and I’ll touch on that and a few other things.

  • Series Prediction. I’m just going to say Warriors in 6. They have the firepower, discipline, experience, and depth. The Pelicans can win a couple, and I expect them to do so, and I don’t expect this to be easy for the Warriors. The questions are “How do we get there?” and “What comes of that result?”
  • Golden State Strengths. Their offense is among the top in the NBA. They shoot well . . . tops in the NBA from 2 and from 3 . . . and this is very much related to their quality passing . . . tops in NBA, again. They clearly have the experience and depth, and they have a cachet that has the potential to rattle opponents from before the series until after its conclusion.
  • Golden State Weaknesses. If Steph Curry is not in top form, he’s still a great player, but not having a transcendent, defense-defining player and shooter playing at that level is a disadvantage given their typical game plans. The Warriors do not actually shoot that much. They wait for the shot, feed the man (often necessary), and make it. They do not protect the ball or go for steals, they are not hungry for rebounds. Thus, they play to pure shooting efficiency, not aggregate and ugly possession efficiency.
  • How to Press the Warriors. At a high level, there are a few things I see as necessary. One, you have to play to your offense’s strengths. Two, protect possessions. Three, go after assists. Four, take risks.
  • Pelicans Offense. The Warriors’ defense, while good, is not tops in the NBA, and they are not built to deal with a pair like Davis and Mirotic. Get everything you can there. You need enough from the perimeter, or at least coming from the perimeter, to give space for the bigs to operate efficiently inside. The bigs and the guards can all work on the perimeter, which helps.
  • Protect Possessions. Limit your turnovers, get turnovers from them, grab the rebounds on both ends against a Warriors team that does not seem to interested or able in them. Limit their shot attempts, or even their attempts to attempt.
  • Disrupt Assists. The primary Warriors’ strength to attack, because you need to do that, is the assists. They will get them and they will take and make shots, but make them as difficult as possible. Guys like Durant and Curry are somewhat unaffected by typical defenses and are not hyper-sensitive to “being in their spots,” and I’m not saying not to guard them, but I do not think overloading onto them is a recipe for success. Attack the passes by jumping lanes, tipping the ball, some trapping. Attack their desire to pass by playing well away from ball. Shatter their expectations, make their stars work. No rest. No quarter.
  • Take Risks. Somewhat alluded to already, the Pelicans need to take risks. If you are the clearly weaker opponent, then you have less to lose. That makes the risks worth it. You have to be unconventional. Thank goodness, they already are, but they need to amp that up responsibly. This is will not be won by a faint-hearted, loss-averse tea-totaling underdog. If the underdog surprises the world again, it will be because they played the player and did not play the game. It will be because they took the shot they needed, it will be because they took the ball they needed rather than just waiting for “their turn” against the Warriors. The Pelicans have to protect the ball, but on defense they can take chances. I see some unconventional shooting coming, too. If you have the possession-efficiency advantage, you take some risky shots to try to open up room for Davis and Mirotic. We saw their own pride come out in various ways, including fun and physicality, against the Trail Blazers. They are rested and hopefully pent-up, chomping at the bit, ready to rock. That physicality and team-work will need to be palpable for the Pelicans to have a good chance.
  • Pride. Pride is central in a few ways. Pride is on the line here, and that pride can have many long-term effects. Once you are in Round 2, there are more eyes on your team at home, in the NBA, and in front of keyboards. Lazy analysts will spot you some advantage in analysis because of it, casual fans will take it as a succinct summary of your quality, and conforming writers with quotas and deadlines will echo it quickly, easily, and readily. Davis and Holiday got swept by these Warriors (and Gentry) in their last Playoff stint, and a second sweep would likely be hard to swallow for anyone unless it was really tightly fought. Winning a couple, however, is going to have many positive effects on and off the court. It will show to other players who might be looking for a change of scenery, and it will be the fuel for their I-believe-necessary risk taking throughout the series. You don’t take the risk if you feel defeated.

Get ’em, guys.

Proud of you.

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