Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Friday, December 23, 2016 at 4:24 PM
The NBA puts on its now-traditional Christmas Day showcase with five games on Sunday and the marquee game is unquestionably the Finals rematch between Golden State and Cleveland (2:30 PM ET, ABC). I won’t try and tell you how “big” this game, at least regarding its long-term consequences—there’s a long way between now and the playoffs. What I will say is that there aren’t too many occasions in the regular season where these teams playing comparable competition and now is the time to do some careful analysis.
Golden State may have lost last year’s Finals, but they won the offseason when they signed Kevin Durant off the free-agent market. The Warriors, who may have been the title favorite anyway, given their 2015 championship and 73-win regular season of 2016, turned into the prohibitive favorite. Even now, almost four months from the first postseason game, Golden State only gets a 5-7 price to win an NBA title in June.
It’s easy to understand why. The Warriors have not had the meshing problems that LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh had when they first got together in Miami for the 2010-11 season. Durant’s addition to the lineup has been a seamless transition. Golden State is first in the league in scoring and even if you adjust for their rapid pace, they’re still second in offensive efficiency.
They’re no less impressive on the defensive side. The pace of play prevents the final scores of Golden State’s games from catching your attention, at least defensively—they’re 15th in total points per game allowed. But in this case the pace adjustment makes a big impact—the Warriors are second in defensive efficiency.
Translation: Golden State is supremely effective at getting a basket when they need it and stopping their opponents from doing the same. That’s a pretty good formula for winning.
What they don’t have, and what we’ll be watching on Sunday, is any kind of post presence. Last year’s Finals turned against them after Andrew Bogut was injured. Bogut is gone in Dallas this year and now true post player plays more than 18 minutes per game. Zaza Pachulia, with 17 minutes per game, best fits that description.
Pachulia was a good rebounder last year in Dallas, getting nine boards a game and that’s all Golden State would need from him. They could also turn to Javale McGee or even 36-year-old David West to get some dirty work done inside.
However the Warriors address their inside game, it’s something that’s going to matter. So as you enjoy watching KD, LeBron and Steph on Sunday, be sure to give at least a passing glance to issues like the post that might decide who ultimately wins the NBA crown.