Everyone in the NBA is trying to solve the mystery of how to beat the Golden State Warriors. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka opened up on how his team is going about it. According to history, LA’s approach may work if a Kawhi Leonard-caliber player is added to the roster.
“Pelinka: If your goal is to win a championship, you’ve got to look at the way the champs are assembled and how you can give yourself the best chance to take them down,” Pelinka said of one of the many reasons for the construction of the Lakers’ current roster. “It is certainly part of the equation. … [President of basketball operations] Earvin [Johnson] and I had a conversation and LeBron echoed this sentiment: I think to try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap. No one is going to beat them at their own game, so that is why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth and try to look at areas where we will have an advantage.”
Since the Warriors dynasty emerged there have been only three teams to go toe-to-toe with them. One team finished the job and the other two choked it away: 2018 Rockets (after Durant’s arrival in GS), 2016 Cavaliers, 2016 Thunder.
The way the three aforementioned teams were able to take the Warriors to seven games did check several of the boxes Pelinka mentioned. But the most important one is what the Lakers will need to do before LeBron loses to his battle to Father Time: add another superstar. If that is done with Pelinka’s ideology kept in place, the Lakers may be on to something the history books are selling.
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All three of those aforementioned teams were reliant on big-time scorers. Cleveland challenged Golden State with no player other than LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scoring more than 10.6 ppg, Oklahoma City received no more than 12.4 outside of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
While Houston got strong scoring efforts from three players: Chris Paul did not play the last two games opening room for Eric Gordon to become the second scoring option behind James Harden.
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Having two great players has proven to give the Warriors significant trouble the past three postseasons, unless the opposing team’s supporting cast lacks “defense, toughness, and depth” like the 2017 Cavaliers.
Pelinka bringing up the importance of not trying to beat Golden State at their own game is fair. Houston tried to do unsuccessfully late in the 2018 Western Conference finals.
“Defense and toughness,” do look to be contributing factors to what made those three teams successful against the Warriors. They each carried several players that resembled rough riders in Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green. If they can roam around LeBron and Leonard (or Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson) in the next two years, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope certainly fit that type.
Pelinka should also take several clues from the 2018 Rockets’ blueprint. In the playoffs with Durant, the Warriors are 4-3 vs Houston and 28-3 vs teams not named the Rockets.
Depth also stands out even if the three teams that challenged the Warriors were not the deepest in the league. Golden State’s depth was an issue in all three series and should be for years to come.
The Lakers look and sound like they are on the right track of building a team that fits the mold to give the Warriors issues. Unfortunately, history screams out that they must add another superstar to ensure it is not a waste. As currently constructed, without a peanut butter to LeBron’s jelly, they might not make it out of the first round. If they trade for Kawhi Leonard this season or sign him next summer, that team is won’t be far off the 2016 Cavaliers, or 2016 Thunder, or 2018 Rockets.
Not to mention, their young core …