Welcome to Warriors Weekly after a consistently surprising seven days.
The Week that Was:
Well, that was different.
The team was riding high after their stirring win in Oklahoma City but then had to face the Hawks without both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala. They won that one through effort and some luck- Atlanta played worse than usual and missed some shots that they normally make (especially Paul Millsap). Curry returned in the Thunder re-match and the team pulled away in the fourth quarter to finish the season series 3-0 against the team many (including me) consider their most dangerous playoff opponent.
After winning the final four games of their road trip and two big matchups at Oracle under challenging circumstances, the Dubs baffled the league again, this time by playing their worst top-to-bottom game of the season and losing by double digits to the Lakers in the game some doofus said was the easiest remaining game on their schedule.
With Andre missing all three games and Curry out for one, a 2-1 week is an accomplishment. However, the way it happened gives some pause.
Stephen Curry Above the Break Three Update: Stephen Curry has made 252 above the break three pointers this year, more than three teams. Curry’s 45.9% shooting from there is better than every NBA team from mid-range and all but the Thunder in the paint (non-restricted area) without even accounting for the fact that 3 > 2.
The Soapbox: Any Given Sunday
Particularly after Tuesday’s remarkable win over the Hawks without Stephen Curry, having a team this great lose to the Lakers feels deflating.
At the same time, it should also serve as a reminder of just how insane going 72-10 or even better is in a league like the NBA. The fact of the matter is that over 82 games any team will lay a few eggs out there. Those 72-win Bulls famously fell to the Raptors (who wound up going 21-61 that season) but also lost a Sunday afternoon game to a deeply disappointing Knicks squad at MSG on an early Sunday in March after an off day. Sound familiar?
Shocking wins like taking out the Hawks without Curry or the one in Oklahoma City days before do not justify or cancel out what happened at Staples. Rather, they provide the buffer for those lapses to be less harmful to their seed and pursuit of history.
That said, if the Warriors want to make 73-9 a reality, they cannot play as badly as they did in LA with any frequency. The Lakers deserve credit for working hard and executing well but a series of indefensible turnovers compounded the bad shooting night. If either one of those is even close to passable the Warriors have a solid shot at a win.
The discrepancy in outcomes in games where the teams struggled actually stands out as one of the major differences between the Spurs and Warriors this season: San Antonio stumbled in a series of games since the All-Star break, including against the Lakers at Staples, but ended up winning all but one of their nine games. Overcoming those missteps throughout the season has allowed them to compete for the #1 seed in the West despite losing to the Warriors, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Cavs and Raptors.
In a way, the Warriors and Spurs are rising and falling in different ways that work for them. San Antonio’s pattern makes more intuitive sense while Golden State’s can be more frustrating but remember that the Warriors’ path bodes well for a playoff run since they have dominated elite competition. While far from a mutually exclusive choice, there is something to be said for rising to the occasion against your eventual competition.
In addition, there is no reason to worry about the 1-seed yet but keep an eye on this week because the Spurs have a series of challenging games (at Indy and home against the Bulls and Thunder) while the Warriors have a much easier slate. If the lead stays where it is (2.5) or goes up, the Spurs will need to make up ground with about a month of season remaining.
Losing games to moribund teams does not have to happen but can be an acceptable cost of doing business if the Warriors keep beating the best teams in the league.
The Week to Come:
Four games of a six-game home stand against a mixed bag of opponents.
The Warriors return home to complete a back-to-back against a feisty Orlando Magic team. After Sunday’s loss, it feels like Orlando is catching this squad at exactly the wrong time but you never know.
From there, the Dubs face two playoff hopefuls in the Jazz and Blazers. Utah has played the Warriors well when at close to full strength the last few years, fueled by a quality frontline of Hayward, Favors and Gobert. Keep an eye on Rodney Hood- he has shown a more diverse offensive game this season and could be a challenge for Klay Thompson defensively. Portland played their best game of the year in their blowout win over the Warriors and still possess the offensive firepower to keep themselves in any contest.
Finally, the week ends with Phoenix on the tail end of a rare home back-to-back. The Suns have knocked off Memphis twice since the All-Star break but lack the overall talent level to thrive against a more versatile opponent.
Utah and Portland both have the makeup of a team that could end the home winning streak but I do not expect either to make it happen against a newly-riled up Warriors team. 4-0.