After a massive overhaul of talent in the last offseason, teams still can’t get the right formula to stop Golden State Warriors. Almost halfway through the season, the defending NBA Champions win games yet have the feel to go higher in terms of performance.
Despite missing a chunk of starters close to the end of 2017, Golden State has usurped Houston Rockets to the top of the Western Conference standings.
This has been done irrespective of losses to Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. It must be noted when the aforementioned group was available, games didn’t end with all present on the court as ejections have been quite high this season.
Perhaps Kevin Durant’s evolution to a premier defensive player has caught the league off guard forcing teams to scramble over scouting reports prepared prior to the season. While teams will deal with Durant and his teammates threat better in the postseason, Warriors practically look unstoppable.
On the other hand, its opponent at the last three straight NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers, have been largely inconsistent through the season. Following a dreadful start to the campaign with seven wins in 15 games, the team rolled to 13 winning games before falling back to earth losing surprisingly to lowly ranked sides like Sacramento Kings.
The team is far from complete especially in the back court where new recruit Isaiah Thomas just played his first game since landing in town. His long absence was down to a serious hip injury and Thomas is likely to take a while before getting up to speed despite his remarkable debut.
Cavs other backcourt recruit Derrick Rose is dealing with physical and mental issues and is yet to play since November.
With a lot of time on hand for both players to get integrated, there is a growing feeling Cleveland needs another top player in any position to stand a chance of beating Golden State for the second time in the finals. Los Angeles Clippers Center DeAndre Jordan has been identified as a trade target to get the team closer to the Warriors or at par with them. Jordan’s individual play on defense will help the Cavs inch closer to an appreciable level suited to contain a Warriors offense. Anchoring Clippers to place 12th and 14th in the league on defense, Jordan’s presence will be a huge boost to a Cavs defense that ranked 20th last season and ranks 23rd this season.
However, having the 6 foot 11 inch defender on the team gives Cleveland an edge rebounding the ball. Jordan leads the league in rebounds as the former Texas A&M star paces the NBA with 15.3 rebounds per game. Golden State ranks ninth while Cavs check in at the 21st position. Cleveland’s rebounding rate is worse than last season’s 12th position mark almost halfway through the ongoing season and Jordan can help with that. Should General Manager Koby Altman figure out a way to retain Tristan Thompson and get Jordan in a trade, the team’s woes on that end will be over since Thompson and Jordan plus Kevin Love are top rebounders.
Thompson is struggling this season recording 4.5 rebounds after flirting with double digit figures in rebounds in previous years. Love is averaging 10.2 rebounds this season following on last season’s 11.1 mark. Pairing Jordan and Love is apt to hold any team in the league due to the pair’s inside-outside threat; Thompson can maintain his place on the bench giving the veteran looking unit energy on the boards. This is a tried and tested formula to win games-at least for this season- as Boston Celtics have shown.
The team’s high averages are helped by the fact that Boston has played more games than any team in the NBA but its 13thrank in rebounding is better than the position it holds in the standings. Boston has lost 10 games but nine of those losses happened when the team got outrebounded; in short the team is winning games by winning the boards. Hats off to Manager Danny Ainge for improving this area which the team last season; Celtics ranked 26th in rebounds in the past season. By bringing former San Antonio Spurs Center Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Marcus Morris from Detroit Pistons, Ainge has positioned his side to challenge Cleveland better than it did in the previous campaign. Celtics lead the Western Conference standings ahead of third placed Cavaliers.
Trading for two time defensive player of the year DeAndre Jordan will cost Cleveland roster depth but his presence makes it tough on Golden State Warriors or any team in the league.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter