Who is a Tougher Matchup for the Warriors?

by Chris Scheeren
on May 11, 2017

The Western Conference odds shifted a little bit this morning thanks to San Antonio’s dramatic overtime victory over the Rockets in Game Five, but I am not sure either opponent bears much impact on the Warriors dominating and foreboding -1100 odds to win the West. In simple parlance, if you want to make $100 on the Warriors, you are going to need to plop down more than a grand.

And after watching last night’s game, as thrilling as it was from a competitive standpoint, do you have ANY confidence either of those teams is beating the Warriors? Once even, let alone four times?

I can’t recall a more prohibitive favorite this late in the postseason since I have been covering basketball wagering since 2010 and there are some reasons to think the odds aren’t even an unfair value. Golden State has led by 20 or more for more minutes in this postseason than they have TRAILED. That is one of the most ridiculous playoff stats I have ever heard, especially after an eight game sample size. They lead the league in offensive efficiency. The lead the league in defensive efficiency. They have the winners of the last three MVP Awards on the same roster and have been winning games without both stars playing well and their coach not even in the gym.

Can anyone really derail the Warriors? And who is more equipped to attempt the improbable, the Spurs or the Rockets??

ODDS TO WIN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE – MAY 10th, 2017

  • Golden State Warriors: -1100
  • San Antonio Spurs: +900
  • Houston Rockets: +1600

Houston Rockets

Let’s start with the awkward reality when looking at these numbers; most people think Houston would match up better against Golden State than would the Spurs. But after Manu Ginobili’s turn back the clock masterpiece in game 5, the Spurs own a 3-2 edge in the Conference Semi Finals with Game Seven (if needed) going back to the Riverwalk. That’s a HUGE edge, and is reflected in the Rockets mid-major like +1600 odds.

Oddly, unlike most, I DON’T think the Rockets are the better matchup anyhow. The logic goes like this: Houston plays a similar style to Golden State, so if they shoot well, they can win. I call nonsense. The Rockets are like the JV Warriors – everything they do well, Golden State does exponentially better. And the things Houston does poorly (um, DEFEND) Golden State does better than anyone else in the NBA.

Here are a few statistical comparisons between the two:

Offensive Efficiency: Golden State 113.2 – FIRST PLACE in the NBA, Houston 111.8 – SECOND PLACE in the NBA. Fun series, right?

Here’s a few more: Effective FG% – Golden State 56.3% – FIRST PLACE, Houston 54.5% – THIRD PLACE. True Shooting % – Golden State 59.7% – FIRST PLACE, Houston 58.3% – SECOND PLACE.

The point is, in just about every offensive metric, the Rockets are the best in the world, except for those pesky Warriors. The problem is, the standard deviation between the Warriors and the Rockets is about as wide as that between the Rockets and the 11th to 13th best teams in the league. The Warriors are simply in a class of their own offensively. And not that Houston should be offended. That same statement could be made about just about every team in the NBA since the advent of the three-point line. Despite some media sentiments to the contrary, you are getting to witness the next stage in the evolution of NBA basketball; offensive beauty personified and the redefining of the very math and geometry of the sport.

The thing I find interesting about the Golden State Warriors is the popularity backlash. If you do NOT like the Warriors (and a lot of people seem not to these days), the above sentence was ridiculous and over-hype. But if you like things like numbers and math; it is undeniably accurate. Vegas isn’t emotional. They don’t care that you might think Draymond Green talks to much or that Kevin Durant sold out Oklahoma City. They don’t care that other NBA players seem to be jealous of or simply not like Steph Curry. They like making money. And there is a REASON why they are 1/11 in most sportsbooks.

The Rockets SEEM like the more dangerous matchup, but aside from the fact they are now in a 3-2 hole to San Antonio and very likely won’t even get the chance to face the Warriors, they also do NOT match up nearly as well as the general public seems to think. Yes, they are the closest thing in the NBA offensively to the Warriors, but the gulf is still pretty wide. And it isn’t NEARLY as wide as the gap on the other side of the ball..

Defensively, Houston is ambivalent in good times, and in bad times, just BAD. Houston is 18th in the NBA in defensive efficiency at 106.4. Golden State is 0.2 behind San Antonio for second in the NBA at 101.1. The gap between the Warriors and their next closest competitor, Utah, is wider than the gap between the Rockets and the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves for 28th. I can’t see any way Houston can defend the most efficient offense in NBA history enough to win more than a single “everything is falling” game where they can twenty plus three pointers. If the Rockets even advance, the Warriors series will be a disappointment for anyone seeking competitive basketball. I’d bet Warriors SWEEP with real money before I touched the Rockets winning the series even at 16/1 odds.

HOUSTON ROCKETS +1600 – PASS

San Antonio Spurs

Which leaves Old Faithful, the Dorian Gray of the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs. Every time we try to throw some sand on them, they seem to raise up once again – an uncanny blend of ancient superstars and unheralded late round draft picks, sharing the basketball and defending with intelligent team-centric schemes (and of course, the best defender on the planet, Kawhi Leonard). Even Manu Ginobili, the second oldest player in the NBA, still seems to have some magic in the tank as his scintillating performance in Game Five was one of the best moments of the 2017 Playoffs. The block on Harden gets the attention since it was the final game (saving) play of Game Five, but the right handed driving dunk in the fourth quarter was the one that I jumped out of my seat for. Manu earned his Drake shoutout lyric Tuesday night.

But while the Warriors are resting and having fun (and probably not in Utah…) the team with so many of its key cogs on the downside of their excellent primes is in an absolute dog fight with the highest tempo team in the league. That’s not a great recipe to gear up for an already-difficult challenge. Add in the uncertainty of Kawhi tonight because of his ankle and the absence of Tony Parker, and the problems are starting to mount for Coach Pop.

For the record, I do not think ANYONE is beating Golden State more than twice in a series, including Cleveland. I think the Warriors can win the title without dropping more than two games if they dial in. But of Houston and San Antonio, the Spurs are easily the one that could more reasonably press the into a deep series.

San Antonio IS the best defensive team in the league, 0.2 better than the Warriors at 100.9. And it isn’t like they are slouches offensively either. They have a diversity of scoring options (though their post presence doesn’t work quite as well with the new-math of Golden State, trading twos for high percentage threes) and they have enough shooters to keep things interesting. They rank 7th in offensive efficiency and eighth in true shooting percentage. They also move the basketball with beauty. They rank fifth in assist ratio at 18.2.

And now the hammer on the other side. The Warriors also do all those things exponentially better. Their assist ratio of 21.4 is easily the best in the NBA. In fact, the gap between the Warriors and Spurs is as wide as the gap between the Spurs and the 29th ranked Raptors. Again, the Warriors are nearly a full standard deviation better than the ENTIRE NBA.

All that said, I do not think the Spurs would get swept. They win one game just on being a very good basketball team, and could steal another just with home court and Coach Pop pulling some magic. But win a series? Sure, the Spurs took two of three this year, but those games were abominations with so many players sitting that the ball boys got to play in the fourth quarter. When things get real, the Warriors are just too good; too young, too quick, too much fire power for the Spurs to win a series. They aren’t a terrible value at +900 and could be a fun little hedge if they can steal one of the first two in Golden State, but I just can’t see them winning the series.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS +900 – LONGSHOT, BUT POTENTIAL HEDGE PLAY

Game Six of the Spurs and Rockets is at 8:30 EST on Thursday, May 11th

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