NBA Playoffs

Why Stephen A has confidence Warriors can go on NBA playoff run

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Most of the NBA world has counted the Warriors out of championship contention as they hang on to the final play-in spot by a thread, but ESPN's Stephen A. Smith has higher hopes.

Golden State (41-34) currently holds the Western Conference's No. 10 seed with seven regular-season games remaining in the 2023-24 NBA season. After winning their fifth straight game Tuesday to snap the red-hot Dallas Mavericks' seven-game win streak, Smith was asked if he believes the Warriors still can go on a run during the final stretch of the season.

"I do," Smith responded without hesitation on Wednesday's "First Take" episode. "First of all, understand how important shooting is. You got to be able to shoot from the perimeter. You got to be able to make free throws come playoff time because obviously, the game doesn't speed up, it relatively slows down to some degree. You can get to the free-throw line and there aren't a lot of teams as efficient as the Golden State Warriors -- so I don't think we can ignore that."

"But they're on a five-game winning streak. [The] first four of those games were on the road. They won all four of those games. This is when noise was being made about the Houston Rockets nipping at their heels and all of a sudden they go on a winning streak. Do you know that the Warriors are leading everybody in defensive efficiency over that period of time? And basically, four of the five opponents held to 100 points or fewer. We can't ignore that either."

Golden State has been playing some of the best defense in the NBA for over a month now, and over its last five games, is only second to the Miami Heat with a 102.9 defensive rating.

The Warriors kept top NBA MVP candidate Luka Dončić and the Mavericks in check for most of Tuesday night's win and held Dallas’ high-scoring offense to nearly 19 points below its season average.

Just last week, the Rockets were the hottest team in the NBA. Their 11-game win streak put them just one game behind the Warriors, and Houston forward Tari Eason sent Golden State a daunting PSA in a viral video message: "Warriors, come out to play."

Since Eason's video, the Rockets won one more game before dropping their next two. And, fittingly, their next matchup is against ... the Warriors on Thursday. While the contest is expected to be an exciting game given Eason's video and Golden State's history with former Grizzlies-turned-Rockets forward Dillon Brooks, Houston is now three games behind Golden State.

Smith also is impressed with other Warriors players stepping up while superstar teammate Steph Curry experiences shooting struggles.

"Oh by the way, the wonderful, the wondrous, the greatest shooter god ever created in Steph Curry is only averaging 20 points over this streak, but shooting 41 percent from 3-point range," Smith continued. "Just last night, he had 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting, but he still hit 3 of his 5 shots from 3-point range. Other dudes are stepping up. And I'm looking at it from that perspective. Your ability to shoot, your ability to score is one thing. But what was the ingredient to the Golden State Warriors' success throughout those years? Defense. They played defense.

"And that is what they are doing now. They are being effective with it. They now have a three-game cushion on the Houston Rockets. They got seven regular-season games left."

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