Before the 2013-14 season began, the Golden State Warriors had a number written on a whiteboard, somewhere in the facility where only they could gaze upon it and dream of the fame, riches and adulation that were sure to come this season. No one would give any specifics, but players like Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala alluded to a win total that started with the number “5.”
As in 50.
As in a win total last seen 20 years ago.
For the Warriors to finish with 50 wins, they’ll need to go 19-10 the rest of the way. Not only would that mean playing well enough to potentially avoid a first round matchup with either the Oklahoma City Thunder (the clear favorites in the Western Conference right now, especially with Russell Westbrook returning this week) or the San Antonio Spurs (a team that recently beat the Warriors in Oakland without their three best players), it would signify that they’re playing well enough to potentially do some damage in the first round and perhaps beyond.
“We’re looking at that 50-win season. It’s right in our grasp if we play the way we’re supposed to and that should set up for a good postseason run,” said Curry in an interview heard last night with Tim Roye on the Warriors Roundtable.
The schedule isn’t what anyone would call daunting, but winning at a .655 clip won’t be easy for a team with a winning percentage that currently sits at .585, seventh in the conference and barely above Dallas (.582) and Memphis (.566 and rising every week). The Warriors asked me to respond to a few questions in their latest edition of the “Bloggers Roundtable,” and before the game against Miami I predicted that they’d finish 17-13 the rest of the way. 48 wins would probably be enough to squeak into the playoffs, but a couple extra victories could make all the difference.
“The West doesn’t give you a chance to relax at any point during the season. We were a LeBron James fadeaway jumper from being in sixth, and right now were in eighth and could easily be in ninth. It’s a logjam right there,” said David Lee.
Clearly Golden State has very little margin for error. Another word for “error,” at least in a basketball sense, is “turnover.” The Warriors have committed too many of those, which brings up to our second magical number.
Magic number: (less than) 15 turnovers per game
This isn’t a number they’ve mentioned publicly like 50 wins, but it’ll be a lot easier to reach that goal if they fling easily-intercepted passes, travel, and step out of bounds while holding the ball less often than they did in the first half of the season.
“We are pretty clear where are biggest issues are at this point. One, offensively it’s turnovers. If we can keep our turnovers down, we’re going to be pretty efficient offensively,” Lee said.
“Defensively, we’re one of the better defensive teams statistically in the NBA. With fewer turnovers we can make teams face our halfcourt defense.”
Lee is averaging 2.3 turnovers per game, the second highest mark on the team but actually 0.3 turnovers per game fewer than each of his past two seasons. Everyone knows the main culprit here, and it’s the same guy who makes the Warriors offense go.
“We’re a young basketball team and our best player, at times, turns it over. You can get caught up in that or you can get caught up in the fact that he’s leading the league in assists, or right there,” said Mark Jackson.
“The record speaks that if we take care of the basketball, we’re tough to beat.”
A simple look at team splits shows the accuracy of that last statement. The Warriors have committed 14.8 turnovers per game in their 31 wins and 17.3 per game in their 22 losses.
Only the tankalicious 76ers have committed more turnovers than the Warriors this season, but making mistakes doesn’t necessarily correlate to more ping pong balls in the NBA’s Draft Lottery.
Turnovers per game
- Philadelphia 76ers: 17.2
- Golden State Warriors: 15.8
- Houston Rockets: 15.4
- Oklahoma City Thunder: 15.2
I asked Lee how teams can go from careless to careful on the fly, and his response showed that turnovers are a symbol of larger problems, at least for this team.
“A lot of it’s spacing. It seems like we’re at our worst when we aren’t moving, stagnant offensively. Not go for the home run, highlight plays as much. I think it’s something our team is capable of doing,” Lee said.
It’s a difficult balance. Ball-movement is critical for Golden State’s offense, yet an inaccurate (or predictable) one-handed pass off a pick-and-roll can lead to slumpy shoulders and feelings of “oh no, not again” desperation.
“Those turnovers can prove costly. Every possession is so important. The momentum swings can be so drastic,” said Curry, who by no means sounds ready to go into the unofficial second half of his best season yet with a conservative mindset.
“If you take care of the basketball but continue to be aggressive, not afraid to be creative and make plays, let the offense work for us, we’ll be fine.”