DQ: In an mid-January column, Grantland’s Zach Lowe argued that the Warriors are an NBA contender. Now with the All-Star break upon us, how do you like Golden State’s chances against the Thunder, Spurs, etc?
NP: There are stretches of games where the Warriors look like they could beat just about anyone in the league; there are times that they look like they have no business thinking about the playoffs against the Bobcats. So can they compete with the OKC/San Antonios of the world? Absolutely. But what remains to be seen for this team is whether they can put together a seven (or shorter) game stretch of winning basketball against those elites. As of right now, I'd say that's a bit of a stretch.
Yet as we saw in last year's playoffs, if this team can put together 2-3 hot games in a series along with the home court advantage enjoyed at Oracle, anything can happen - it's hard to know what to expect from this team day-to-day, for better and worse.
DQ: The Warriors have gone an uneven 5-5 in their last 10 games. Is that mostly because of the nagging injuries that have bitten Golden State, or does the team have some bad habits developing?
NP: To the previous point of their inconsistency, sometimes this team just looks complacent - their defensive intensity wavers against competition less than or equal to them and they commit careless turnovers. A problem throughout the season has been managing the rotation, with Draymond Green being at the center of the debate: in the recent 16-point home loss to the Bobcats, for example, Green played just 12 minutes while the team couldn't seem to stop anybody for much of the game.
The injuries certainly haven't helped anything, but they have bigger problems than that even when they are at full strength.
DQ: A lot of Heat fans saw how good Stephen Curry and David Lee are when they both lit up Miami Jan. 2. Since you’ve seen them all year long, what have you liked about their play this season?
NP: Both players have reputations as strong offensive players so that's what people focus on, but I think both players deserve credit for their effort on the defensive end. I emphasize the word "effort" because neither should be in the conversation for All-Defensive team honors, but the conventional wisdom about them being terrible defenders is probably becoming a bit outdated.
Lee still has moments where he makes indefensible defensive mistakes, but there have been more than a few occasions this season where he has stepped up in big individual matchups - he's generally in the general vicinity of where he needs to be and not totally unwilling to offer resistance to contact, which is an improvement. Curry benefits a bit from knowing an interior presence like Andrew Bogut is behind him, but has done a reasonably good job of staying in front of opposing guards on many nights.
DQ: Heat fans have also seen Jermaine O’Neal from one-and-a-half seasons, just prior to the Big Three era. How has he been playing, especially as of late as a starting center?
NP: O'Neal was out for a bit due to injury and his return coincided with that Bobcats debacle, but overall this season he's provided the team with a defensive presence off the bench and a surprisingly effective (at times) low post scoring game that this team can really use. He has only played three games in 2014 (and missed Monday's game along with Bogut) so it's hard to comment on what he has done recently, but he was a pleasant surprise for a rather suspect bench early in the season.
DQ: Any predictions for tonight's game?
NP: I'm picking the Heat to win this one for a rather simple reason: they're not a team anybody wants to mess with when locked in and there shouldn't be any letdown playing a team like the Warriors after already having lost to them at home. Without Bogut & O'Neal, the Warriors just won't have what it takes on the interior to exploit what is arguably the weakest spot on the floor for the Heat. Unless Curry has a huge game - in the 30 & 10 range - I just don't think they'll be able to cool the Heat.
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