Thursday, January 2, 2014

NBA:Golden State Warriors won't sneak up on Miami Heat

By JIMMY DURKIN/MediaNews Group

MIAMI -- The Warriors possess all the natural respect they should have for the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

That's something that doesn't just travel a one-way street.

"They're a versatile team," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Warriors (20-13). "Big, athletic, shooting, they've got it all. We have great respect for them."

Miami star LeBron James called Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson "two of the best shooters in history that I've seen."

"The volume of shots, the type of shots they take, you can't stop them from taking them," James said. "They shoot the ball extremely well. They're nicknamed the Splash Brothers for a reason."

Curry and Thompson's willingness, and effectiveness, at shooting from anywhere on the court make the Warriors a difficult team to prepare for, Spoelstra said.

"The way the two of them shoot the ball and their skill set, how quick their release is and how deep their range is -- it's unique," Spoelstra said. "You don't play that ever against anybody else. There's a lot of things when you face the Heat that teams have never seen, that's true for them as well, just in a different way."

The Warriors won at Miami last year during a 6-1 trip, the best record on a seven-game trip in team history. That was with center Andrew Bogut hurt and before the offseason acquisition of swingman Andre Iguodala. The Heat sees the Warriors as a tougher and more versatile team this year.

"They're dynamic," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "Last year they played small. They can play big this year. They're versatile, especially with Iguodala. He's the West Coast version of LeBron. You can put him in multiple places on the floor and he unlocks the versatility."

The Warriors clearly seem to have the attention of the champs, but the bigger challenge in this game still rests on the shoulders of Golden State.

James missed a game recently dealing with a groin and ankle injury, but returned to score 26 in a win Monday over Denver. Dwyane Wade left that game with a back injury and was held out of Wednesday's practice.

But no matter how you slice it -- and even if Wade were to miss the game -- there's a reason the Heat has won two consecutive titles and has the league's fifth-best record.

The Warriors are happy to at least being taking the momentum of a six-game winning streak into the contest, but know they have a tall mountain to climb.

"They're the champs and they have the best player in the world and in my opinion, the third-best shooting guard that's ever played the game," Golden State coach Mark Jackson said of James and Wade. "It's going to be a tough challenge. We're playing great, but this is a team that creates a lot of problems."

The Warriors insisted they weren't worried 2 1/2 weeks ago when they were barely hovering above .500. Now they sit within a game of the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers entering play Wednesday and are feeling even better about themselves.

"It helps for sure," Curry said of the winning streak. "Our confidence never wavered, even when we were struggling, but to have positive results the last two weeks is definitely a good feeling. It's going to be a fun game, a competitive game, and we're looking forward to it."


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