TNT analyst Charles Barkley believed either the Warriors, Cavaliers, Rockets or Raptors will make the NBA Finals. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES — For a while, it seemed like a foregone conclusion the Warriors would win the 2018 NBA title. But even if the Warriors have four All-Stars in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, TNT analyst Charles Barkley no longer believes that automatically means the Warriors will host a championship parade in downtown Oakland.
“It’s a four-team race right now,”” Barkley said on Thursday in downtown Los Angeles with a handful of reporters.
“I think Toronto and Cleveland are the two best teams in the East. I think in the West, it’s the Rockets and the Warriors.”
Barkley, who will be part of TNT’s coverage for NBA All-Star weekend, saw one significant dent in the Warriors’ armor.
“I think the gap is closing because of their bench, “They don’t have the same bench as they had,” Barkley said. “They’re older guys. I don’t think their bench has been good as it used to be.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr argued before the 2017-18 season that the team had more depth because of key offseason acquisitions. The Warriors re-signed veterans Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West and JaVale McGee. The Warriors acquired Nick Young and Omri Casspi. The Warriors drafted Jordan Bell.
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Yet, the Warriors rank 20th out of 30 NBA teams in bench scoring (33.5) and have suffered from offensive inconsistency to Iguodala (career-low 5.4 points on 43.6 percent shooting), Young (6.6 points) and Patrick McCaw (3.7 points). Still, the Warriors have downplayed such issues because of their top-heavy lineup, the reserves’ league-leading shooting percentage (52.3), West’s efficiency (7.1 points on 61.8 percent shooting) and Iguodala’s intangibles.
Still, Barkley argued there is “no question” the Warriors (44-14) could be threatened after losing four of their past eight games. The Warriors are also a 1/2 game behind the Rockets (44-13) for first place in the Western Conference.
“What the Rockets have done, they could be threats,” Barkley said. “The Cavs are right there in that conversation. They got LeBron [James] who can dominate four out of seven games. It’s four teams right now that have a chance to go to the Finals.”
Barkley sounded most intrigued with the Cavaliers, which have secured a four-game winning steak after making three separate deals before the Feb. 8 trade deadline. The most notable: trading Isaiah Thomas, forward Channing Frye and a protected 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Larry Nance Jr.
“They were too old. LeBron was not engaged,” Barkley said. “Isaiah is looking for a contract. But the main thing is they had too many old guys on the team.”
In a three-way deal with the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings, the Cavaliers acquired Rodney Hood (from Utah) and George Hill (from Sacramento), while dealing Iman Shumpert and a 2020 second-round pick (via the Miami Heat to Sacramento) and Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose (to Utah). The Cavaliers then dealt veteran guard Dwyane Wade to the Heat for a 2024 second-round pick.
“When you watched these other teams play, they are actually moving, running and jumping. When you watch the Cavs play two months ago, they’re standing around,” Barkley said. “To get that amount of energy, I can’t believe they got people to take those other players. To get the guys they got, you got to give [Cavaliers GM Koby Altman] a lot of credit man. That was fantastic. He didn’t give up anything.”