The early returns have been good this year for the Golden State Warriors, who have gotten over their standard injury troubles and pushed ahead to a winning record. People are even talking about the playoffs, even though it’s far too early for that kind of thinking. Let’s see what they do after they hop on a plane tomorrow morning and play seven straight games in the Eastern Time Zone.
Tonight’s game was a chance to make their record look even shinier and prettier with a win over the Orlando Magic. The Magic were left for dead after trading Dwight Howard, but they flew to Los Angeles and embarrassed Howard’s new team at Staples last night.
Second game of a back-to-back on the other side of the country, and the Magic won a game that left the Warriors grumbling about getting out-everythinged. “They were the more aggressive team. They outworked us. We haven’t been outworked in a long time. They were the more physical team,” Mark Jackson said.
It happens. You get overconfident after a fairly soft early-season schedule, and then Big Baby comes in and has flashbacks to the days when he led his LSU Tigers to the Final Four.
The Warriors jumped out to an early first quarter lead, gagged it away in the last minute of the first quarter, then spent the rest of the game playing catchup. Klay Thompson missed one layup, had another blocked early on and never seemed to recover mentally. Golden State’s bench looked half asleep. Their centers, Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins, combined for 4 points, 5 rebounds and zero blocked shots over 22 minutes, and Jackson’s attempt to play “smallball” didn’t change his team’s fortunes.
It was a poor effort, one that couldn’t be salvaged by Harrison Barnes’ high-flying block and dunks, or Stephen Curry’s 25 points and 11 assists.
I’ve covered several Warriors games over the past two-plus seasons, but only two so far this season. The first was a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, after which the locker room was about as cheerful as one would expect. Tonight was the first time I’ve witnessed the aftermath of a Warriors loss during the 2012-13 season, and the postgame atmosphere was far different than what I remember.
“It was dead silent in this locker room after the game, so hopefully we remember that feeling,” Curry said.
Curry’s remark reminded me of boisterous post-loss locker rooms from last year, even before Golden State started tanking. Players would laugh and joke with each other. Dorell Wright’s cute little son would wander around to different players, further lightening the mood. The Lakers’ locker room was full of tension, drama and anger after playing the Warriors, and that was after a game they won by three points!
So I asked Curry if the silence was something different than what he had seen in past years.
“No, it’s early in the season. Every game matters. Towards the end of the season, for us in the past it’s been … guys were working on their games, but in the grand scheme of things, playoff runs and everything, those games have been irrelevant. Every game right now matters. We have to give everything we’ve got each night, so when you have an opportunity like tonight to finish off your homestand with a win and keep that momentum, and you don’t get it done, it’s very disappointing. Especially when we’ve been working so hard in the beginning of the season to put ourselves in a good position. And we didn’t get it done.”
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Talk means little, and the Warriors will have plenty of chances to show that a team without a bonafide superstar can make it to the postseason. But they’ll only do that by playing harder than their opponents and winning games they should — like home games against Orlando. Whether they have the talent and season-long commitment to defense to get to the playoffs is yet to be seen, but at least the losses sting now. It seems like that should be expected, but expectations and the Warriors haven’t gotten along well in recent years.