Every franchise in every league in every sport publicly subscribes to the old and tired adage of “taking the season one game at a time.” It gives a team a security blanket in the case of an underwhelming loss or two, and helps keep things in perspective if they enjoy a run of success. It’s a theme that trickles down from the front office and public relations to placate the fans and media, mostly, but “one game at a time” is a good thought in practice for players and coaches nonetheless.
There’s no way to tell whether a particular team actually believes it or not, but in the NBA especially doing so seems a tough proposition. No league is more demanding from a games, practices, energy/effort output standpoint, with back-to-backs, cross-country roadtrips, daily workouts, and incessant media obligations dominating a too-long 82 game schedule. A game at a time, then, just doesn’t seem feasible.
Take this Warriors February roadtrip, for example: 2/24 at Minnesota, 2/26 at Indiana, 2/27 at New York, 3/1 at Boston, 3/2 at Philadelphia. That’s five games in five cities in seven days, a stretch front and back ended with tilts at Oracle against San Antonio on February 22nd and Toronto on March 4th. And the Warriors – more than 50 games and four months into the season, mind you – are expected to maintain the “one game at a time” attitude after hosting the Spurs knowing the brutal travel stretch that awaits? Their mind is supposed to be solely on the Timberwolves as their flight leaves the Bay Area as opposed to the whole roadtrip in general? That’s an unrealistic expectation, and those within the organization know it even if they won’t admit otherwise publicly.
So how can the Warriors (and their fans) strike a balance between competing and focusing night-to-night while maintaining a sense of the bigger picture? By breaking the season into quarters with an initial goal of wins and losses for each. This is a fairly common practice in football, and NBA teams do something similar for portions of the season pre and post All-Star break.
Instead of making each quarter an equal 21 games, they’re assigned and broken down by identifying stretches of the schedule that have some semblance of continuity. An especially road-heavy or easy part of the season compared to another could a quarter make, just as portions of the year that are peppered with tough home games could, too.
We’ll cover each quarter as the season goes on and the next one approaches.
First Quarter: October 31st to December 21st
- 27 games
- 11 home :: 16 away
- Games against Hollinger playoff teams: 15
- Toughest five game stretch: at Minnesota, at Oklahoma City, at Dallas, vs. Brooklyn, at Denver (November 16-November 23)
- Easiest five game stretch: at Orlando, at Atlanta, vs. New Orleans, at Sacramento, vs. Charlotte (December 14-December 21)
- Mitigating factors: Andrew Bogut’s absence/adjustment period, majority of rotation is new to team, Harrison Barnes starting instead of Brandon Rush
The NBA’s schedule-makers did the Warriors no favors early in the season. 2012-2013’s first quarter is a slate with an inordinate amount of road games and matchups against potential playoff teams, a fact made all the more sobering considering Andrew Bogut’s iffy health and comfort status. A winning record after the season’s first five games seems realistic nonetheless, though, as Golden State faces three likely bottom-feeders in Phoenix, Sacramento, and Cleveland. For the good of the morale of the team and fan base they better get off to that good start, too, because this quarter’s next 11 games are against projected playoff teams. The schedule eases significantly from there on out, though, with the first quarter’s easiest stretch coming at its end and a similarly forgiving group of games directly before it.
Bogut just completed his first full practice with the Warriors, so there’s at least an outside chance he’ll make his debut with the team in the season’s opener tomorrow in Phoenix. Whether he does or not may prove mostly irrelevant anyway; expecting him to make a big contribution in a regular season game at this point in his recovery is setting yourself up for major disappointment. Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes was named the starter at small forward by Mark Jackson recently, a decision that’s been met with much derision by fans and bloggers alike. The rookie was outplayed by Brandon Rush in the preseason and appeared overwhelmed by the NBA game’s speed for the most part, often looking uncomfortable and unsure of himself on both ends of the floor. He saved his best performance for the last of the preseason, though, hopefully a sign of good things to come. But one can’t help but think the Warriors would be better off with Rush in the starting lineup at least until Barnes gets his professional feet wet. Questions abound – as they always do – surrounding the team’s integration of several new players and how they’ll fit in with Golden State’s established pieces. Bogut, Barnes, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Festus Ezeli, and perhaps Draymond Green are offseason acquisitions that will be counted on early by the Warriors coaching staff; how they adjust to new surroundings will be instrumental in determining the team’s first quarter success.
- Best Case: 17-10
- Worst Case: 10-17
- Prediction: 14-13
.500 basketball would hardly be a death-knell for Golden State at the end of the first quarter. This is a team still growing and taking shape from a rotation, style, and fit standpoint, one that will only get better as the season goes along. This season’s schedule is frontloaded, too; quarters three and four look much more navigable than one and two at first glance. So while a middling record may be sobering for a fan base optimistically hoping for a 2013 playoff run, it will hardly spell the end of those aspirations. Rather, it should be met with a sigh and sense of relief that this organization is making the progress we all think it is.
*The season’s second quarter kicks off on December 22nd and ends on February 12th (the All-Star break) and could be the Warriors’ most difficult of 2012-2013.