By TED SILLANPAA
Last month, it started to seem as though the Golden State Warriors were actually in a position to push their way into the third seed in the NBA Western Conference playoffs. They’d defeated the Los Angeles Clippers again and it just seemed like these Warriors could over-achieve, get the No. 3 seed and enhance their chances of postseason succes
Things have changed after three straight losses, heading into a gave where the Dallas Mavericks jumped to a 26-point lead, and a .500 record over a 10-game stretch. The Warriors entered Saturday’s game holding the sixth playoff spot. Portland’s ninth in the race for the eight playoff spots and only trail the Warriors by five games with about 30 to play. Pay no attention to those Los Angeles Lakers who are suddenly just 6 1/2 back of Golden State. The Lakers are done. Terrible. Finished. No way they make the playoffs. (Right? Right???)
The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Clippers are cut above the rest in the NBA West. The Warriors enjoyed a meteoric rise to the upper echelon in the conference, going the entire season without injuries (save the one that kept Andrew Bougut sidelined) or a prolonged slump. They mired in a slump right now, in part due to a variety of injuries, that has them falling back to the pack in the fight for the final five conference playoff spots.
The Warriors, really, should be battling for seeds 4 through 8 in the playoffs. That’s the type team and type talent they have this season. The Warriors have no business, really, challenging those top three teams. Not yet. But, they’re starting to smoke and the engine that was hitting on all cylinders is suddenly rattling.
The offense that hiccups when point guard Jarrett Jack is injured, is suddenly struggling with the veteran sidelined. How Jack being sidelined keeps Stephen Curry from shooting well is a mystery, but they’re connected for sure.
The defense that the Warriors used to become what appeared to be a solid playoff team is suddenly troubled. Defense isn’t supposed to take a night off, but these Warriors are just getting smoked on a road trip with stops in Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas. It’s possible that the long grind is wearing down younger players like Klay Thompson, just in his second season, and rookie Harrison Barnes. Rookie forward Draymond Green is also well past hitting that wall newcomers hit. They need to get their legs back.
While it seemed like the return to action of center Andrew Bogut should help the defensive and the rebounding, the Warriors are suddenly getting crushed on the boards. A great deal has been asked of David Lee and he was due to level out. Bogut’s still not able to play back-to-back games. Carl Landry has spent a career starring playing sixth-man minutes, but might’ve worn down under a much heavier workload in Golden State, too.
The hope is that the Warriors simply need to get to the point where Bogut’s playing every night. These aren’t the Warriors that started so well. These are the Warriors learning to play with Bogut one night, then trying to win with Biedrins and Festus Ezeli at center again the next night. For the record, teams that have a star player like Bogut return to action at midseason typically struggle initially. (It’s one of those stats that the keepers of NBA metrics point out.) The Warriors are just frittering away the lead they built in the playoff chase and need to get Bogut back and playing well soon … really soon.
Golden State’s a young team that just needs to grind through to the All-Star break and hope the time off rejuvenates what has been the best defensive team the club’s had in recent history. Right now, the same effort that was plenty good defensively isn’t good enough.
Golden State is struggling, but the struggle is to tread water until they get used to Bogut in the middle and until young players playing monster minutes get their legs back. It’ll help greatly when Jack’s back.
The good news is that this slump isn’t a sign the Warriors aren’t really very good. That bad news is that there’s no guarantee that Jack gets healthy or that Bogut starts playing every game. These Warriors are finally headed in the direction the best fans in the NBA deserve. But, they’d best start winning again.