Remember on July 4 when some guy named Kevin Durant shocked the NBA world by announcing he was leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State in free agency? Durant's Warriors have not been a great betting option on NBA odds in the early going.
Warriors Do Have Flaws
Last year on the way to setting the NBA record with 73 regular-season wins, the Warriors also set an NBA mark by starting 24-0. They had just one loss by Christmas -- a 108-95 shocker in Milwaukee. Perhaps that was fitting as the NBA's longest winning streak was 33 by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72, and it was also snapped by Milwaukee.
In that 24-0 start, the Warriors were generally killing people and failed to cover just seven times on NBA odds. This season opened with a giant wake-up call, however, as Golden State was embarrassed in Durant's debut last Tuesday at home by San Antonio, 129-100.
If there were two perceived weaknesses on the Warriors this season despite having four starting All-Stars in Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, it was on the boards and the bench after losing a handful of guys this offseason because the team had no salary-cap room to after signing Durant. The top losses (other than Harrison Barnes, whom Durant essentially replaced) were big men Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Marresee Speights.
Both problem areas showed up in big way against the Spurs. The Warriors were crushed on the boards, 55-35, and San Antonio's bench had 54 points to Golden State's 16. Bogut especially will be missed because while he didn't play heavy minutes, he was a very good low-post guy, really the only one the Warriors had. His starting replacement is Zaza Pachulia, and he's no Bogut in the post.
LeBron's First Heat Team Started Slow Too
To be fair, the Warriors have won three straight games since the Spurs loss but are still just 1-3 ATS on NBA picks. That said, Golden State wasn't impressive in Friday's 122-114 win in New Orleans. Ditto in Sunday's 106-100 win at Phoenix, which might be the worst team in the Western Conference. The Warriors didn't seal the victory until Curry's two free throws with 12.9 seconds to play.
Golden State seemed to regain its swagger Tuesday night in a 127-104 victory at Portland in a rematch of last season's Western Conference Finals won by the Warriors in five games. But the Blazers somewhat play right into the Warriors' hands in that Portland is a perimeter-oriented team led by guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. If you try to out-shoot the Warriors, you will lose. Golden State even dominated the smallish Blazers on the boards. That's simply a good matchup for the Warriors.
So what to make of the Warriors heading into Thursday night's epic home showdown against Oklahoma City in a rematch of last season's West Finals and Durant's first-ever game against former teammate Russell Westbrook? That is must-see TV as Westbrook felt betrayed by Durant leaving and the two clearly didn't have a great relationship and have been sniping at one another through the media -- and not talked personally since Durant's decision.
It does take time for a championship-level team to jell. Look at the 2010-11 Miami Heat, the season that LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in south Florida. That club started just 9-8 but finished with 58 regular-season wins and reached the NBA Finals, albeit losing in an upset to Dallas.
Durant does seem to be fitting in fine as he's averaging a team-best 28.5 points per game. Curry also hasn't been affected much in averaging 26.3 ppg. But Klay Thompson has seen his game take a hit as Thompson, the hero of the Game 6 win in OKC in last year's West Finals, is averaging only 16.8 points (career-high 22.1 ppg last year) and shooting an unthinkable 10.7 percent from long range (42.5 percent in 2015-16). The Warriors were the greatest 3-point shooting team in history last year but rank just 20th thus far in making 29.3 percent. The team hit 41.6 percent in 2015-16 and set an NBA record with 1,077 3-point makes.
This is still the best overall team in the NBA and the -125 favorite to win it all at 5Dimes. Thompson will get going. There might be a few hiccups the next six weeks or so, but I expect the Warriors to hit their stride in the New Year.