Most of the Warriors’ tough, long road trips are behind them, and they’ve gone 11-0 against the next five teams in the overall standings (both conferences). So, one might have thought this is the time they’d really soar. Look at all of these games against mediocre teams, with most of them taking place at Oracle Arena. They should win all of them by 20+, with the starters not playing another fourth quarter minute until mid-March!
We give the human element of sports so little credence because it’s impossible to quantify. But at each sport’s highest level, motivation is often the difference between dominance and embarrassment. The Warriors are learning that right now.
They’ve shown time after time that when they care about a game, they bludgeon their opponents. They couldn’t care less about a 12:30 pm game in Los Angeles, and that led to their most humiliating loss since last Christmas (also in L.A., against a slightly less terrible Lakers team). They respect the Orlando Magic about as much as my 16-month-old daughter respects me when I ask her to stop shrieking at the top of her lungs … at me. They beat the Magic last night, but it certainly wasn’t one of Golden State’s better efforts.
This is all fine and normal. Draymond Green was right during that halftime explosion in Oklahoma City — he isn’t a robot. Neither are his teammates. Whether it’s the brilliance of Steph Curry causing certain players to look more like spectators at times, or the amount of games left (a quarter of the season) causing some to subconsciously save their energy for what should be a long playoff slog, or a need to manufacture competitive moments against average teams, the Warriors don’t feel the same maniacal need to blow teams out that they did in the first few months of the season. They’ve grown bored. With the fatigue that comes from being a West Coast team with a road-heavy schedule thus far, plus all of the demands that comes with being the best show in the NBA, boredom leads to what we’ve seen recently.
What’s up with Harrison Barnes?
The Warriors are currently dealing with injuries to two key reserves. But Barnes, who needs to contribute more with Andre Iguodala out of the lineup, has produced almost nothing.
Harrison Barnes’ last two games: 6.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 4-for-16, 0-for-7 threes, -18
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) March 8, 2016
He’s either hiding an injury, biding his time until he can unleash “Playoff Barnes,” or looking forward to free agency. With just about every team possessing enough cap room to offer maximum contracts, Barnes is on the cusp of becoming extremely rich (even if he hasn’t looked anything like a “max” player throughout much of his career). I’m not sure what Barnes is thinking these days in light of the Kevin Durant rumors and his restricted free agent status after the season, and he’s far too savvy politically to explain his current mindset, but something seems off.
Draymond Green needs a day off
He was pretty ill last night, but he played anyway and looked out of sorts offensively. His body may be run down. He’s still playing defense, rebounding and collecting assists, but his numbers after the All-Star Break are noticeably different than his pre-ASB averages.
- Pre All-Star: 34.1 mpg, 48.5% FG, 42% 3p, 9.5 rpg, 7.2 apg, 1.3 bpg, 1.3 spg, 2.9 tpg, 14.2 ppg
- Post All-Star: 36.4 mpg, 42% FG, 23.1% 3p, 10.6 rpg, 8.7 apg, 1.1 bpg, 2.1 spg, 4.6 tpg, 10.1 ppg
The hustle stats are up, and he’s distributing even more than before, but the shooting numbers have dipped and his turnovers have skyrocketed. It’s not a big sample size (10 games), but the uptick in Curry’s game since the All-Star Break has helped mask some of Green’s relative struggles.
Then again, Green’s minutes are up and the Warriors spent the first six games after the break on a brutal road trip with two back-to-backs and a travel schedule that was pretty torturous (other than the chartered flights and luxury hotels). Now seems like a good time to give Green a day off, just to keep him from suffering an avoidable injury caused by fatigue. Steve Kerr probably would’ve done that last night if Iguodala was available and they hadn’t gotten crushed by the worst team in the Western Conference a day earlier.
Cause for concern?
The eruption of Mt. Draymond in Oklahoma City, along with the team’s uneven play since the break, make the Warriors seem a little more fragile than before, when they seemed indestructible. On the bright side, Curry is still outstanding — save for Sunday’s game against the Lakers — and this is a fairly normal period for an elite team that knows they can beat the best teams every night.
Last night’s game against Orlando, in which they kept stretching their lead to 18, only to have it fall to 8 and sometimes as low as 4, kept the fans from leaving early. It also made the Warriors look exactly like the Shaq & Kobe Lakers, who lollygagged through games (especially at home), just so they could get the rush that comes from flipping that magical switch at the end. Phil Jackson was much more patient with these cat-toying-with-an-overmatched-mouse episodes than Kerr seems to be, and Curry’s pride and competitive fire aligns him closer with Michael Jordan than Shaquille O’Neal.
The Warriors are still on track to tie or break the Bulls’ record for regular season wins due to their leaders’ personalities … and a deep and talented roster, of course. However, if they’re going to push through a sneaky-tough stretch (7 games in 11 nights, including a potential revenge game against Portland and ending with a Dallas/San Antonio back-to-back) and stay on pace to make history, they’ll need to figure out a way to remain interested enough to play better defense (they’ve allowed 104+ points in 13 of their last 14 games, and 112+ in 7 of 10 since the break), and not take mid-game breaks or fling ridiculous passes out of bounds or into the hands of opponents.