The Golden State Warriors have fallen into a ditch over the last 14 games, going 4-10 in a road-heavy stretch of the schedule. Examining the 10 losses for games they might have reasonably won shows us that the stretch was truly a difficult one. Only the loss at Dallas, the home loss to Houston, and the recent road loss at Philadelphia were teams they are likely a notch above. The Warriors play 15 of their final 21 games in Oakland, and currently sit 1 game up in the loss column (27) over both Houston and Utah (28), who are in 7th and 8th in the West, with the dangerous and suddenly warm Lakers (31 losses) lurking in the 9th spot. John Hollinger’s playoff odds system gives them an 85.3% chance of making the post-season, though Houston is at 98. Utah has a 61% chance, while the Lakers are at 45%. Of course, 20% of that 45% sits on Dwight Howard’s aching back.
The Warriors got off to a great start this season (22-10, then 30-17) playing very solid man-to-man defense and enjoying the rewards that came with a full month of training camp preaching and the additions of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, while waiting for Bogut’s return. The wins came mostly against the bottom half of the NBA, but a road trip in early December in which they won 6 of 7, including wins over Brooklyn, Miami and Atlanta, had Warriors fans buzzing. Jarrett Jack and Steph Curry proved to be a clutch combination in the 4th quarters, and the Warriors won a handful of close games early in the season. Their season record in games determined by 3 points or less is 5-2.
As Andrew Bogut returned from injury, the team adjusted to a new rotation. Bogut, known as a great defensive player, and a heady passer, has been working his way back into game shape slowly. Recently, Bogut hit another bump in his return to full health and missed several games with back spasms. The Warriors defense, over the last month or so, has crumbled. Mark Jackson knows his best chance for an April playoff series win depends heavily on a healthy Bogut. However, with 21 games remaining, the time for Bogut to work his way back and mesh with the starting unit is shrinking. Fortunately, the Warriors have home court for most of the season’s final month. However, their 14-19 record vs. teams above .500 is by far the weakest among Western Conference playoff teams not named Utah. One of the less-discussed aspects of the Warriors recent struggles: Klay Thompson may be hitting something of a wall. Last year’s shortened schedule kept his rookie year from conditioning him to the 82-game season. Thompson’s brutal November was followed by two very good months of shooting. However, February was another woeful month. Thompson shot 40.1% from the field and only 32% from long-range. Thompson has enjoyed two very good shooting nights in March, which may contradict the rookie-with-tired-legs theory. Time will tell. What Warriors fans should know, if they aren’t aware of: In wins, Thompson is hitting 46% of his shots. In losses, 38%.
Warriors fans could use some reassurance over the next ten days, which includes six home games. The soon-to-be-leaving-Sacramento Kings come in tonight, but they are followed by a perhaps critical 3-game stretch against solid competition: Friday vs Houston, Saturday vs. Milwaukee, Monday vs New York. Golden State hopes to take 3 of the next 4 and regain their swagger in order to stave off the Lakers and Jazz in April. The Warriors have two more match-ups with the Lakers (Monday, March 25 and Friday, April 12) and one more clash with the Jazz (Sunday, April 7).
Zach Lowe’s analysis of the Golden State defensive breakdowns is insightful and highlights one weakness that Mark Jackson and company might address. One consideration: the Warriors may be playing zone to try and prevent Curry and Thompson from getting tired legs, or from attempting to minimize the small guard duo of Curry and Jack. From Grantland article, on how to play zone defense in the NBA:
“Dealing with all this stuff requires continuous yapping and immediate, precise reads. That’s why any zone possession will result in loads more pointing and screaming than a normal man-to-man possession.”
After pointing out the holes in the zone, Lowe concludes that using the man-to-man defense would benefit the Warriors.
“Golden State was playing better defense when it leaned more upon its man-to-man foundation — a system Mark Jackson and his staff revamped over the summer — and their recent struggles have probably taken the Warriors out of the running for the no. 5 seed. That’s a big, big thing in a top-heavy conference. Golden State still has two months left to rediscover its defense in time for the playoffs.”
Here is the Zach Lowe piece: