The Week That Was:
A strange string of five off days ended with arguably the best home win and worst home loss of the season.
After losing Andrew Bogut to a pelvic contusion that will likely keep him out this entire week, the game against Memphis looked like a justifiably unlikely win. A strong team effort brought them back from an eight-point deficit and Stephen Curry carried the offense across the finish line.
The team carried that strong play into the first quarter against the Knicks, taking a twelve-point lead in the first quarter. It all fell apart in the second, which likely will end up as the worst single quarter of the season. A Knicks team trailing by 10, already reeling from losses to the Lakers and Suns earlier on the trip decimated the Warriors with a 34-12 quarter, that included a 15-0 run to end the half with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. The Warriors came back but could not pull it out, losing by three after a strange sequence where Stephen Curry turned the ball over after deciding to pass rather than pump fake and shoot the potential game-tying shot himself.
One non-Curry bright spot this week was Draymond Green. His defense played a huge part in the win against Memphis and he did a nice all-around job against the Knicks despite playing largely out of position in both games. After the Memphis win, he talked about playing against his “big brother” Zach Randolph (another Michigan State alum) and seemed to relish the challenge. Draymond has earned a lion’s share of the bench minutes and should be more seriously considered for starts the remainder of the season.
The Soapbox: The State of the Race
There were two major developments in the Western Conference playoff race over the past week: Patrick Beverley’s meniscus injury (though Monday reports are saying he could return this season) and Portland seizing control of position for the fifth seed on Sunday.
The Warriors had a chance to keep it close, especially after a huge win in Portland, but now sit two games behind a Blazers team with an incredibly easy schedule the rest of the way. Portland only plays three games against teams with winning records and all three will be at home. Golden State will need to play well for the next week and then win in Portland to have a legitimate shot at fifth.
Fortunately, the Warriors still are frontrunners to actually make the postseason and do it as the sixth seed again. After two rough road games, the Dubs do not face another winning team until the aforementioned game in Portland on the 13th and only the Lakers game comes on the road in that easy four game stretch. The season ends with a hard to predict games against Minnesota (the tail end of a back to back for Golden State) and on the road against a Denver team likely more than happy to play spoiler after last season’s playoff disappointment.
As of Monday morning, Phoenix, Memphis, and Dallas are all tied in the loss column behind the Warriors.
The Suns have a series of hard games- home games against the Clippers, Thunder, and Grizzlies along with road games in Portland and San Antonio. Three of their last four games are against Western Conference foes with something to play for before closing out in Sacramento. The Suns have been hot (other than losing to the Lakers yesterday) but have by far the toughest remaining schedule in my opinion.
Memphis has their share of tough games (home games against Miami and Dallas as well as roadies in San Antonio and Phoenix) but also have more winnable games against the Lakers, Sixers, and Nuggets. The Grizzlies have played very well since Marc Gasol returned but will need to dominate in order to pass the Warriors considering the two-game lead.
Dallas has a schedule that somewhat parallels the Warriors. After two huge games this week (GSW and at the Clippers), they have a batch of must-win games against weak opponents and then end the season with the Spurs, Suns, and Grizzlies. Like Memphis, Dallas has a chance to make the Warriors sweat but their brutal final three games make it substantially less likely for them to actually stay ahead even if they pull in from with a week left.
Warriors fans should see the team as controlling their own destiny in terms of the sixth seed. Even just locking down the remaining home games and the Lakers would mean that any of the teams below them would need to almost win out to stay ahead of the Dubs and the fact that Memphis, Phoenix, and Dallas have games against each other likely means all three cannot win enough to push a non-collapsing Golden State team out of the playoffs. That said, this Warriors team has lost more than a few games against inferior teams at home so they cannot take their foot off the gas pedal.
The Week to Come:
Appropriately, the Warriors have another week of extremes.
It starts with a road back to back against the Mavericks and Spurs. While Coach Jackson may not have the flexibility to really have priorities in terms of the rotation due to injuries, I would go aggressively for the win against Dallas even if it substantially lowers the chances of beating the Spurs. A win against the Mavericks counts double in terms of locking up a playoff spot and the San Antonio has dominated even the #FullSquad Warriors the last two times out.
After the big road games, the Warriors return home for two extremely winnable games. Sacramento has been feisty recently but the Dubs have more talent and substantially more to play for. A similar situation presents itself two days later when the Jazz come to town. Barring a Richard Jefferson revenge game masterpiece, Golden State should pull it out pretty cleanly.
I expect the loss to the Knicks to galvanize the undermanned Warriors and help propel them to a win in Dallas and a 3-1 week.