Warriors now up against Nuggets, history and logic

Warriors looking forward following Lee injury

Warriors now up against Nuggets, history and logic
April 22, 2013, 11:15 am
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Mark Jackson and the Warriors need to figure out how they will make up for the loss of All-Star forward David Lee. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

There is not a great deal of calculus involved in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Be the higher seed. Win the first game. Hold home court.

But for the Golden State Warriors, who came into their series with the Denver Nuggets as holders of the casino’s money, there is another. Don’t have your personnel be weakened when the other guy has his strengthened.

Even with an extra day to consider his options, Mark Jackson is unlikely to do anything truly radical in the wake of David Lee’s disappearance. When he listed his options for replacing Lee at the power forward spot, he went through the predictable responses before throwing out, “Jarrett Jack” as a surprise sixth. He smiled when he did so, as he should have, because he and his staff know that “We are who we’ve been,” and “We need our guys to stay in character,” and the home run quote, “We don’t want anyone to be David Lee. We need you to be you.”

[RELATED: Loss of Lee, Faried's return radically changes series]

In other words, there will be no massive reinvention of the Golden State Warriors between games 83 and 84. They will attack the problem of being Lee-less with some Carl Landry and some Harrison Barnes and some Draymond Green, but they are still down a significant cog at the worst time of all.

You see, the first round of the NBA Playoffs is all about the chalk. Since going to the best-of-seven format in all rounds in 2003, the higher seed has won 65 of 80 times (81.2 percent), 65 of 74 (87.8 percent) if you throw out the tossup 4-5 match. The team that wins the first game goes on to win the series 61 of 80 times (76.2 percent), and the home team has won 297 of the 438 games (67.9 percent).

In other words, the old saw about a series not starting until a road team wins is frankly nonsense. It works in hockey, where home teams often are less than 50 percent successful, but in basketball, the series is often over by the time the road team wins.

Indeed, the road team is most successful in Game 4, when the road team is the higher seed. In other words, there is no earthly way of seeing the Warriors’ stein as being anything other a quarter-full, and not with Racer 5.

This was going to be a hard slog for the plucky little reaper-cheaters from Oakland, and now it is harder. Jackson professed to remember nothing of Denver power forward Kenneth Faried’s breakout game a year ago (27 and 17 in a 123-84 win), but that is of course a fib. He remembers. He’s an NBA coach, and remembering is very much part of the job. He knows all about Faried, and he knows that Denver having him back after missing Game 1 makes Denver, well, better.

[RELATED: Warriors-Nuggets first round schedule]

And there is one other thing to be mentioned here. While it is likely that Stephen Curry, who struggled through much of Game 1, is likely to be better with a second look at what the Nuggets are doing with him, it is equally likely that the Nuggets, who did not play all that well against Golden State, are likely to get better performances from so many of their players.

In other words, Golden State is fighting an awful lot of math, momentum and logic after only one game of this series. They are not helpless against these trends, numbers and probabilities are not all there is to any game, and the players do thrive on a certain level of self-belief that defies expectations.

But given the circumstances, that’s not really the way to bet. The Warriors are in deep against a better team, away from home, in the most formulaic structure in all of North American team sports outside of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

And now we will see what they intend to do about it. Other than play Jarrett Jack at the four, that is.

 

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