Warriors face different challenges ahead of Xmas Finals rematch
Adrian Dy on Dec 23, 2017 09:39 PM
FILE - CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 06: Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on December 6, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The defending champions Golden State Warriors will face off against their Finals foes from the last three seasons once again on Christmas day (Dec. 26, PHL time). And while the Dubs roster is quite similar to the one they used to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy back in June, circumstances will be quite different when these two teams clash for the first time this season.
The biggest difference will be health. Stephen Curry will likely miss the game due to an ankle sprain, and the team is still waiting on the status of starting center Zaza Pachulia (sore shoulder), and back-up point guard, Shaun Livingston (sore knee).
"We're a little banged-up right now, in terms of health," veteran Warriors big man David West admitted in a teleconference with international media. "But guys are going, guys are developing. Guys who probably wouldn't be playing as much right now are playing because of the injuries, but it's going to help us in the long-run.
"We went through a similar stretch like this last year when KD [Kevin Durant] went down, and I thought we were better for it. I think we're on that same trail in terms of our team just growing and getting better, figuring out what lineups work, and who works well together."
The Warriors are riding an 11-game win streak into Saturday's (Sunday, PHL time) game against the Denver Nuggets, which serves as their warm-up to the Finals rematch. Racking up that number of wins seems like standard territory for Golden State, but the fact that they've been unbeaten this long without the aforementioned trio, plus Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, whom they just got back in Friday's (Saturday, PHL time) win versus the LA Lakers, says a lot about the team's depth.
While players like rookie Jordan Bell and offseason signing Omri Casspi have steppe up their game, a big reason for their success has been Kevin Durant, who's taken on the lead scoring chores in Curry's absence. The reigning Finals MVP is much more comfortable now in The Bay, and that could help decide this Christmas tiff.
"Last year I think we were still trying to figure things out with integrating Kevin [Durant] and the new people that we had," West points out. "I think this year we're probably a little bit more talented in who we are. We know exactly the way we need to play to be successful."
While the Warriors would want to notch that "W", they know from last year that plenty can still happen between now and June, should the two squads face off again.
"We had the experience last year where we lost [on Christmas Day at Cleveland] by just one point, but then we ended up winning the championship," recalls Zaza Pachulia. "This game doesn't kind of decide anything, but at the same time, of course we would love to win. We're going to do our best to win because it's for our confidence and it's for our fans and for our city, and again, understanding where we might face the same [team] in The Finals this year."
As for specific tactics? According to West, their familiarity with the Cavs will be key. "We know they're going to be tough and aggressive defensively. The key for us is to make sure we don't turn the ball over. We have to make sure we're getting shot attempts and we're getting shots on goal and force them to defend us and defend our pace and our cuts, and hopefully we'll find ourselves in good shape."
Of course, the Cavs had a little bit of an offseason roster shake-up, headlined by the exit of Kyrie Irving. There's also the slight chance that Isaiah Thomas, whom they acquired in that deal, could make his season debut against them. Still, the Warriors at least won't have to head to The Land to play their foes, unlike last year.
"Well, the difference is being able to sleep in your own bed, being in the comfort of your own home compared to being in a hotel," Klay Thompson said. "Cleveland is a hostile place to play. They've got great fans. They don't like us very much. It makes it a lot of fun. But the difference is just being more comfortable in your home and with your family.
"Your family is here and they're there to support you and open gifts and just great vibes all day."