Previewing a battle between the Sixers and Warriors feels a little bit like preparing a eulogy; we all know the result will be someone we care about being buried. The only information in question is how long it'll take, and who will have the honor of doing so.
The safe choice is Steph Curry, 2016 NBA's version of the Grim Reaper. He is not so much a source of bewilderment as in previous seasons, rather a figure of inevitability, of the doom that awaits us all. He has contorted NBA defenses in unduplicated fashion, and Golden State's chance at immortality hinges on that effect.
Curry's dominance has become routine to the point that I feel a certain joylessness watching the Warriors these days. It's hard to remain interesting when it no longer appears you're made of the same flesh and blood as everyone else. There's a reason many are drawn to Batman before other superheroes -- his absurd wealth and arsenal of gadgets are cartoonish and unobtainable, but underneath the suit is a man, innately imperfect. This is not to say Curry and the Warriors are perfect, but they're reaching a level within arm's reach of it.
The great irony of Curry's popularity is the trope that states he provides hoops fans a man they feel they can relate or aspire to be. I fully understand he is a closer analogue appearance-wise than a behemoth like LeBron James, but not many of us can call ourselves the 6'3 sons of former NBA sharpshooters, born in the lap of luxury genetically and fiscally. There is no universe in which Curry is a realistic goal to aspire to for 99.5 percent of top-level basketball players, let alone your average Joe off the street.
While the Sixers continue to search for players who could even reach within a few ladder rungs of Curry, there are lessons to be learned from the Warriors climb to the top of the league.
Curry dealt with chronic injuries to his ankles in his early days, coming to a crossroads in his third season when he only appeared in 26 games for the Warriors. Having already shown his three-point shooting was going to carry over from college, the Warriors took a gamble and locked him in on what has become the NBA's best contract, betting on the ability to mitigate or even eliminate his health concerns.
The lesson is not the obvious parallel -- *glares at Joel Embiid* -- but the Warriors understanding of their place within the league hierarchy.
Neither Philadelphia or Golden State has proven to be a "destination franchise" over time, and so each must maximize the realistic avenues available to them in order to turn themselves into a contender. The Warriors hit home runs in multiple phases of team-building: Trading for a distressed asset in Andrew Bogut, finding undervalued players in both the first and second round of the draft, committing to developmental stability and, perhaps most importantly, not being risk-averse.
NBA teams are ultimately rewarded for making the right choices, so a team's willingness to risk is not always tied to success. However, strong belief at the top and commitment to their beliefs in the face of rampant criticism has been an important ingredient in their success.
Golden State's boldness has come in different shapes. On the Curry front, it was believing they could put the ankle woes in the rearview and paying good money to bet on that hope. Last summer, it was refusing to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, a stance that was roundly criticized at the time and looks increasingly like a stroke of genius. Even failed moves -- like the signing of DeAndre Jordan to a $43 million offer sheet in 2011 -- stemmed from a desire to target players on the rise,a recognition of their trajectory in itself.
The calls for Sam Hinkie's head have grown louder as wins grow scarcer, and his status as Sixers architect has never been murkier. But even if the Sixers make changes this summer, retaining a core philosophy and long-term vision is still the No. 1 priority. The Warriors' laundry list of mistakes has been forgotten thanks to nailing just a few crucial decisions. While it seems dark in Philadelphia at the moment, no team is ever more than a couple good moves from turning the whole thing around, and the Sixers have a lot more ammo than similarly bad teams throughout history.
As for tonight's game -- expect the Warriors to win this one going away. The good guys are without Nerlens Noel again tonight, and though they've hung in valiantly in two games without him, I wouldn't bet on three in a row.