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NBA: The runaway leaders and a chasing pack of four

James Harden of Houston Rockets  

Golden State Warriors

STRENGTHS

The strongest offensive team in the NBA with firebomb throwers – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (the Splash Brothers) and Kevin Durant – who can shoot three pointers at will. A potent defence anchored by the versatile Draymond Green and sixth-man wing defender Andre Iguodala.

The players have the unique ability to switch seamlessly during pick and roll defence. They also offer so much off-the-ball movement during offence that opponents find it near-impossible to execute a defensive game-plan.

WEAKNESSES

Pretty much nil. Shot-blocking at the rim is the only area where the Warriors are less than elite.

OPPORTUNITIES

With the world at their feet, they are poised to become champions again.

THREATS

Freak injuries, possible fatigue because of the extended post-season game-time over the past three years.

 

Houston Rockets

STRENGTHS

A revamped squad. Rockets have added the best pure point guard in the league, Chris Paul, to a modern penetrate-and-kick three-point-dominant offence coached by Mike D’Antoni, highlighted by near-MVP shooting guard James Harden. Newcomers such as PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute add experience and defensive nous to the team.

WEAKNESSES

Ryan Anderson, a brilliant stretch power forward, lacks lateral ability and shot-blocking in defence, a major Achilles heel when the playoffs come around. And despite the additions, the bench is still sub-par compared to the other big teams.

OPPORTUNITIES

Did what only a few others managed last season – trouble the Warriors, pushing them to close games. Can do that again, and hope to improve on it.

THREATS

Possible chemistry issues with two ball-dominant players in Paul and Harden.

San Antonio Spurs

STRENGTHS

A highly disciplined team. The NBA’s longest serving manager, Gregg Popovich, drills his unit to eliminate weaknesses and hone strengths over the regular season. Small forward Kawhi Leonard is probably the best two-way player in the world and is ever improving.

 

The team possesses the strongest wing defence in the league (Dejounte Murray, Danny Green and Leonard).

WEAKNESSES

Overly dependent on Leonard. Drastic talent and ability gap between him and the next best player, PF/C Lamarcus Aldridge.

OPPORTUNITIES

Leonard’s motivation to constantly improve, and an outstanding team chemistry and culture keep the team forever in contention.

THREATS

Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol bring a wealth of experience but are creaky and old. Moreover, squad versatility and depth are lesser attributes compared to star power in the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers

STRENGTHS

LeBron James. More offensive firepower to surround him and take advantage of his playmaking with the entry of future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade, point guards Isaiah Thomas (replacing Kyrie Irving) and Derrick Rose. Jae Crowder adds defensive wing presence to ease James’ burden in a potential Finals rematch against Warriors.

 

WEAKNESSES

The lack of a good shot-blocker, as the only defensive PF/C, Tristan Thompson, can’t stay on the floor against strong teams due to an inability on offence. Kevin Love has improved but is still below average as a rim protector. Thomas and Rose are also poor on defence.

OPPORTUNITIES

An easier route to the NBA Finals because of the weaker Eastern Conference.

THREATS

James has played seven straight Finals and is nearing old age by NBA standards.

Oklahoma City Thunder

STRENGTHS

Increased firepower. Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook has two new stars to share offensive duties: Paul George, a versatile wing who will approximate ex-team-mate Durant’s abilities, and Carmelo Anthony, a pure scorer. Coach Bill Donovan shaped them into a strong defensive squad last season, a quality that should endure with the rugged presence of Andre Roberson (on the wing) and Steven Adams (interior).

WEAKNESSES

Inadequate bench strength. Anthony’s regression into a poor defender makes it difficult to field a full-fledged all-round line-up against teams such as the Warriors.

OPPORTUNITIES

Both George and Anthony are in contract years, the latter especially keen on improving a disappointing legacy so far in the NBA.

THREATS

With both Anthony and George previously being ball-dominant players, there’s the possibility of a clash of strong egos.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 6:16:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/the-runaway-leaders-and-a-chasing-pack-of-four/article19856419.ece

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