Two teams that fell immediately upon hard times after runner-up finishes in the last two NBA Finals can compare consolation prizes Wednesday night when the Golden State Warriors host the Miami Heat in San Francisco.
The Warriors and Heat find themselves in a logjam among multiple teams scrambling for bottom-end playoff position in their respective conferences just two years and one year, respectively, removed from making the Finals.
The Warriors are in the better shape of the two, having kept their head above .500 most of the season after recording the worst record in the league last year in the wake of their 4-2 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Finals.
Golden State lost Shaun Livingston to retirement, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala to sign-and-trades and Klay Thompson to injury last season. They remain without those four key components of five consecutive trips to the Finals (three in Durant’s case), with Thompson having blown out his Achilles this offseason while rehabbing from knee surgery.
Miami has been the hardest-hit victim of COVID and the NBA’s protocols this season. The Heat returned basically their entire roster intact from last year’s run to the Finals, where they were beaten 4-2 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
But Miami walked off the Staples Center court Monday tied for just the 10th-best record in the East this year.
The Heat, who had one game canceled in January and struggled to suit up the NBA-minimum number of healthy bodies several other times, currently have no players absent due to COVID reasons. But they remain without two of their top guards — Goran Dragic (ankle) and Avery Bradley (calf) — as well as veteran big man Meyers Leonard (shoulder).
All of Golden State’s currently unavailable players — Thompson (Achilles) and centers James Wiseman (wrist), Kevon Looney (ankle) and Marquese Chriss (leg) — are all injury-related as well.
The Warriors are coming off a 129-98 shellacking of visiting Cleveland on Monday. Stephen Curry had 36 points in 30 minutes and Draymond Green recorded a career-high-tying 16 assists to pace the win, which was Golden State’s second in three outings on a four-game homestand.
Curry admitted afterward that he’s frustrated by the fact that the Warriors keep beating the league’s weaker clubs (10-2 against teams under .500) yet struggle against the heavyweights (5-11 against teams .500 and above). Golden State was thumped 134-117 by Brooklyn on Saturday.
“We keep saying it over and over again: We’ve got to prove it,” he observed. “We’re gaining confidence and have a good opportunity, honestly, coming up. A good Miami team coming in. Go on the road, some tough Eastern Conference opponents. That’s the challenge ahead.”
The Warriors were swept by the Heat in their two-game series last year. Jimmy Butler averaged 18.5 points and Duncan Robinson 17.0 in the wins, while Iguodala made his return to the San Francisco Bay Area with a typically efficient plus-25 plus/minus effort in 17 minutes in a 113-101 Heat win in February.
Miami has reached the midpoint of a seven-game trip. After winning at Houston, the Heat have been beaten by two of the West’s best — Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers — over the past four days.
Miami watched the Clippers put up 125 points on Monday despite sitting Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The Heat haven’t been the same caliber of defensive team that held the Lakers to 108 or fewer points in each of the last four games of the Finals.
“We gotta take pride in defense,” center Bam Adebayo said. “Defense wins games. If we would have played Miami Heat culture defense (against the Clippers), we would have won.”
–Field Level Media