The Golden State Warriors surpassed all expectations last season when they won their first NBA championship in 40 years. The Warriors are set to begin their title defense Tuesday night at home against the New Orleans Pelicans. What will it take for the Warriors to repeat as champions?
Staying healthy: The Warriors managed to stay healthy all season. But it was not because of luck. The Warriors took command early in so many games that coach Steve Kerr was able to rest his starters in the fourth quarter. MVP Stephen Curry played 2,613 minutes in 80 regular-season games last season. MVP runner-up James Harden played in one more game, but was on the floor for 368 minutes more. That’s how you keep your stars healthy in the regular season and fresh for the playoff push.
Vaunted defense: The Warriors were known as a jump-shooting team last season and that’s why a lot of analysts didn’t believe in them. But the Warriors won the entire thing because they are also number one in defense. They have excellent defenders in Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli and Shaun Livingston. Marreese Speights was not afraid to step in and take charges. Curry is an underrated defender. When the offense had an off night, the defense would carry the Warriors to victory. When the defense was lacking, it would be overshadowed by how dynamic the offense was. It was rare that both the offense and defense had an off night. That’s why the Warriors won 83 of 103 games.
Chemistry: Unlike other teams, there will be no chemistry issues with the defending champions. With 12 players returning from last season, including the top nine in minutes played, the Warriors have almost the entire team back. The Warriors’ biggest threats are the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs made a splash in the offseason by adding LaMarcus Aldridge. But how he fits in with the Spurs remains to be seen. Durant is back for the Thunder, but how he and Russell Westbrook fit in with new coach Billy Donovan’s system remains to be seen. There are always question marks with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers.
The popular conversation in the offseason was that the Warriors were lucky by not having to face the Clippers or the Spurs in the playoffs last season. Those talks are such a farce. The Spurs had a chance to close out the Clippers at home in the first round and failed. The Clippers had a chance to close out the Rockets at home in the second round and failed in dramatic fashion. The Warriors trail 2-1 in the second round against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but rallied to win both. The Warriors took care of business, while the other teams failed.
It’s also not fair to the Warriors when people say they did not deserve to win the title because opponents weren’t at full strength. The Warriors stayed healthy because they were so dominant that they were able to rest key personnel at various times throughout the season. The Warriors also won the ultra-competitive Western Conference by 11 games. They were simply the best team from the start of the season to the finish. Any talk that the Warriors were not worthy is ludicrous.
Will the Warriors repeat? Yes, the Warriors will repeat. They have their core back. The core has not reached their prime and is still improving. The other teams might have improved in the offseason, but it’s not enough to overtake the Warriors. The Warriors won’t be complacent because they want to win another championship. They want to accomplish what Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Bulls did and that is to win 72 regular-season games and 87 wins. Kerr was on that Bulls team, so he’ll know what it takes for the Warriors to be the best team ever in the NBA. Curry also wants to prove that he is more than deserving of the MVP.