Watching the Warriors is like watching a movie you’ve seen several times. You know how it will turn out.
In Don Nelson’s first six years with the Warriors, his teams made the playoffs four times but got past the first round only twice. In the 1988-89 season, the Warriors beat Utah in the first round, but lost to Phoenix in the second round. In 1990-91, they beat San Antonio in the first round, then lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round.
Oddly, the Nelson teams that were most successful in the regular season — the 1991-92 team, which won 55 games, and the 1993-94 team that won 50 games — didn’t get past the first round.
When Nelson left, the Warriors fell into the abyss, not to re-emerge until he returned last season. The Warriors closed with a rush to make the playoffs, upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round — and then got stomped by the Jazz in the second round.
This season looks like more of the same. The Warriors are playing at a pace that would get them more than 50 wins, which is what it will take to get in the playoffs in the terrifically strong Western Conference, but the old playoff pattern for Nelson teams will surface after that. Don’t look for the Warriors to get past the second round.
Why this disparity? Because the playoffs are much different than the regular season.
The NBA season is much too long; competitively, it would be much better if it were no more than 60 games long. The frequency of games wears out players and doesn’t give coaches much chance to prepare for individual games. Both of these factors work to the advantage of Nelson’s teams. The Warriors have to be better conditioned than the NBA norm to play Nelson’s fast-tempo offense, so they’re better able to cope with the tiring schedule. Because his style of play is unusual, other teams aren’t prepared for it.
Neither of those conditions applies in the playoffs. Games and travel are reasonably spaced, so players aren’t exhausted. That spacing also allows opposing coaches time to game plan for the Warriors.
These two changes also mean that playoff basketball often slows into a matchup of halfcourt offenses, and the Warriors don’t fare well in that kind of matchup (see last year’s playoff games against Utah) because of their lack of big men.
Again, this is a trademark of Nelson teams. The Run TMC teams (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, now the executive vice president of basketball operations) didn’t have an effective big man until Nelson got Chris Webber, a move that did not turn out well.
The only big man who gets many minutes on this team is Andris Biedrins, and his average is not much more than half a game, almost 27 minutes per contest. The Warriors traded Jason Richardson during last year’s draft for Brandan Wright. Though Wright has played very well when he’s been in there, he’s only played in 29 games, averaging less than 10 minutes a game. Other young big men — Patrick O’Bryant and Kosta Perovic — are non-factors.
So, here we go again. Don’t get me wrong: I love the Nelson style, which has made the Warriors the NBA’s most exciting team in the regular season. I’d just like to see a script change for the playoffs. I hate this ending.