If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the Golden State Warriors to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
That sentence would have sounded strange two weeks ago. Mark Jackson’s squad was playing the Denver Nuggets well, but there was no reason to believe they were going to make a splash in the series.
Then Stephen Curry happened.
The former Davidson star has caught fire in the playoffs. It has gotten to the point where every shot he takes—whether he is putting up a contested three or a teardrop in the lane—is expected to hit pay dirt. Curry is electrifying both the Warriors and the NBA playoffs.
His numbers are all up from the regular season: 27.1 points per game, 9.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.1 steals. His ability to score at will and elevate his teammates’ game lifted the Warriors past the Nuggets in six games.
Curry’s ascension into the ranks of the elite has sparked something in this Warriors team. It is a different feel from the 2006-07 “We Believe” Warriors who upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round before being bounced by the Utah Jazz.
This team exudes an aura of confidence that goes beyond believing. They might actually be able to complete the underdog story.
Remember, the Warriors lost All-Star forward David Lee early in the series against the Nuggets. The rest of the team has stepped up to pick up the slack for their injured star.
Andrew Bogut looks healthy for once and is in the process of becoming a double-double machine. His 2.1 blocks per game in the playoffs are a nice reminder that he is an excellent interior defender when he is at full strength.
Jarrett Jack has come out of nowhere to help form, arguably, the most dangerous backcourt of any team left in the playoffs. The man is quietly averaging playoff numbers of 18.3 points per game, 6.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds.
Young guys like Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have chipped in more than expected. The Warriors’ offense is a well-oiled machine and they play just enough defense to avoid being labeled a pure run-and-gun team.
Golden State is young, motivated and has a superstar in Curry. Right now, they look like they can beat anyone, even the mighty San Antonio Spurs.
Did you see game one of their second-round series opener against the Spurs? Sure, they lost 129-127 in a double overtime thriller.
The Spurs somehow withstood a 44-point effort from Curry and came back from an 18-point deficit. That is just what the Spurs do. They are a group of veterans who know how to find ways to win even when it seems the most unlikely.
But that does not change the fact that the Warriors were playing like a squad possessed. If nothing else, they proved they could play with the big bad Spurs.
The Thunder were expected to make a return trip to the NBA Finals before Russell Westbrook went down with a serious knee injury during Oklahoma City’s first-round series against the Houston Rockets.
They have looked pretty discombobulated ever since. Kevin Durant has had to give a Herculean effort every night in order to keep the Thunder in each game. It is a miracle his body has not given out yet. Chances are it will eventually.
Memphis may be healthy, but they can be inconsistent. They used their two towers of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to out-muscle the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. But they have nothing resembling shooting outside of Mike Conley.
If the bigs are not carrying their offense, Memphis has very few other options. They also seem to be on about the same level as the Westbrook-less Thunder, which is not a good sign in this case.
Then there are the Spurs. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are playing like they are in their 20s again. Watching Tony Parker match up with Stephen Curry is about as fun as basketball gets.
The thing about the Spurs is that they can get cocky and, at times, look old. They showed off both of those traits in Game 1 and were lucky that the Warriors defense can sometimes be nonexistent.
Sure, the Warriors have not won in San Antonio since 1997. But streaks are meant to be broken, right? If anyone can snap it, it is this Curry-led Warriors squad.
Game 2 between the Warriors and Spurs is tonight. Now that the Warriors know how to blow a big lead, look for them to finish the job this time.
Overall, the Warriors appear to have what it takes to win the West. They have the hottest player in basketball, a solid rotation of young shooters, a dominant big man, and a coach who is willing to take heavy fines to protect his team.
Add all that to the swagger the Warriors have developed over the course of the playoffs and you have a recipe for an NBA Finals appearance.