10 ways to beat the Warriors 

click to enlarge Andrew Bogut
  • Ben Margot/AP
  • Center Andrew Bogut (12) is one of the biggest keys to the Warriors success this year, making him move up and down the floor is important to beat Golden State in the playoffs.
It’s the hot question that has been asked around the NBA for months. Now that the playoffs are about to start, it is one that is asked with greater urgency than ever.

How do you beat the Warriors?

If the New Orleans Pelicans have a clue, they aren’t telling. The smart money says the Warriors’ first-round opponent is too young, too talent-shy to come up with the solution, not that there would be any shame in that. The rest of the league has tried and mostly failed to stop the league’s most dominant team for the last six months.

In the regular season, the Warriors’ 67-15 record was seven games better than that of the Atlanta Hawks (60-22) and 11 games better than the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers, their nearest competition in the Western Conference. Offensively, the Warriors are lethal. No team scores more points per game (110.0). They allow points (99.9) and their 10.1 scoring differential ranks eighth in league history. No team allows fewer points per 100 possessions (98.2).

Stephen Curry, the 3-point artist who has redefined the traditional guidelines for a good shot, is the heavy favorite for Most Valuable Player honors. Steve Kerr, in his rookie season as an NBA coach, might wind up as Coach of the Year. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala may be in line for individual honors as well.

The Warriors have raised expectations so high that anything short of a trip to the Western Conference finals would rank as a disappointment. But who is capable of administering it? The Pelicans will be 12-point underdogs in the series opener and, according to oddsmakers, they have about a 3 percent chance of pulling off an upset in the best-of-seven series. Many experts are predicting a Warriors sweep.

Still, the Pelicans are running on adrenaline after beating the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of the regular season and taking the final playoff berth from the Oklahoma City Thunder. They have the NBA’s brightest young star in All-Star forward Anthony Davis, an up-and-coming coach in Monty Williams and a puncher’s desire, if not a full-fledged puncher’s chance.

For intelligence and ideas, The San Francisco Examiner turned to a group of NBA insiders — coaches, assistants, executives and scouts — who tackled the challenge. They did so anonymously, lest they give away any employer secrets that will be needed if their teams clash with the Warriors between now and mid-June. They came up with 10 tactics worth trying this postseason:

1. Slow them down

Golden State was a rather ordinary 8-6 when held below 100 points. It led the NBA both in fastbreak points and in percentage of offense (18.8) that came from them. So you want the Warriors driving 30 mph, not 55. “Make them execute sets where we can set up our defense and be prepared to help,” a Western Conference scout said. He suggested applying sticky, pushy, crowding defense that some believe is more tolerated by referees in the postseason.

2. Make them trade 3 for 2

The Warriors shoot about 27 3-pointers per game and make nearly 11, the top rate in the league. Running them off that line and cutting their makes to seven or eight, giving up 2-pointers instead, would shave three to four pivotal points off their total. They were 20-10 when making fewer than 10 3-pointers, compared to 33-2 when hitting 12 or more.

3. Pick on Curry

It’s the head-of-the-snake theory. “You’ve got to trap Curry coming off pick-and-rolls,” an East scout said. “Make it difficult for him and make him pass the ball. Force somebody else be the playmaker.” Having mobile, defensively interchangeable wing players is key, one general manager said, to pester Curry with length and contact.

4. Protect the ball

Turnovers lead to Warriors’ scoring opportunities, many on fastbreaks. “They want steals for runouts, for transition 3s and for fouls. You’ve got to score against them, you’ve got to not turn the ball over and you’ve got to get quality shots where, even if you miss, you can keep them in front of you.” Patience is crucial.

5. Make them work on defense

Faced with ball and player movement, Warriors defenders will take bumps and use energy that they’d rather expend on offense. “Make them feel screens,” one scout said. Taking the Warriors’ defense deep into the shot clock could reveal flaws. Said our East scout: “I just don’t think they’re great defensively. What happens a lot is, they get so far out ahead, they get teams playing from behind and casting up bad shots.”

6. Pound the ball inside

Sure, Bogut is a rim defender. But he plays less than half the game (23.6 minutes). Get him in foul trouble, put him on the bench, then go strong inside, a West assistant suggested. “Bogut is a shadow of his former self,” he said. “Physically, he’s having a hard time running and elevating.” Preferred personnel: mobile ones such as the Pelicans’ Davis, who also can draw Bogut out from the paint.

7. Stay in the game

Two-thirds of the Warriors’ victories have been by 10 points or more. They’re 5-3 in games decided by three points or less. “Their late-game execution is not good,” an NBA player-turned-broadcaster said. “They don’t take care of the ball in the fourth quarter. They get sloppy, and more often than not, it’s from overpassing.” Golden State’s turnover rate does bump up in the fourth quarter. And it does pass a lot, improving from last in the league (245.8 passes per game) to seventh under Kerr’s direction.

8. Protect the home court

The Warriors’ playoff foes better not squander home games, because beating them in Oakland is next to impossible. They are 39-2 at home and that historic scoring differential soars by nearly one-third (13.4) at Oracle Arena. Golden State supporters have taken over other teams’ arenas with their “M-V-P!” chants for Curry, but nothing like that is heard from rival fans in their building. “Toughest place to play in the NBA,” our GM said.

9. Learn from mistakes

Playoff teams get up to seven games to lock in on the other guys. What hurts your team one night can be addressed between games. As difficult as the Warriors’ style is to face in the regular season, some insiders feel it can be slowed when seen for a week straight. For example, the Warriors are 19-7 when Curry is held under 20 points. If his man and a team’s defense improves over two, three, four games, how will Curry adjust? “Can they impose their will, that outside shooting game and maintain that perimeter game in a seven-game series?” one coach asked. “Or will a team grind them down?”

10. Make them earn free throws

Only three NBA teams average fewer free throws (20.8) than Golden State. The Warriors’ guards aren’t like James Harden, seeking contact on drives in the lane. So entice them to play that way, one insider said, in order to take Curry, Thompson and others out of their comfort zones. “Make them find ways to score that, in their natural playing mentality, they won’t be as aggressive.”

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Steve Aschburner

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