By TED SILLANPAA
Look, the Golden State Warriors are a team that lives and dies by the perimeter jump shot. Stephen Curry is prone to the untimely turnover, which typically comes because he has the weight of carrying the team on his shoulders. Their best bigs, Andrew Bogut and David Lee, are sidelined by injuries that won’t necessarily heal any time soon.
Let’s stop there. There’s no reason to panic. Just pump the brakes a little. Try to remember a year ago at this time when just slipping into the playoffs, by any means necessary, was cause for a joyous celebration among Warriors fans.
From here, it feels like the Warriors will make the playoffs. Honest.
It’s just clear that a couple nights where the jumpers don’t fall and without any depth up front, Golden State could still be home when the postseason begins. One must factor into the equation that they have a little cushion on the three teams behind them with nine games to go. Anyone think that the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks or Memphis Grizzlies are geared up to come close to winning out in April?
Draymond Green is, arguably, more valuable than Harrison Barnes. He should never be forced to play significant minutes at center as was the case Sunday night in a loss to the New York Knicks. So, perhaps, rather than lamenting that the loss to the lowly Knickerbockers was just another failure by the Warriors to stomp on the throat of an NBA bottom-feeder at home, acknowledge that Green had to play 7-footers Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire. Green’s a tough dude, but he’s 6-foot-7 and no kind of toughness makes up for a 5- or 6-inch height disadvantage.
Chandler and Stoudemire had 20 rebounds combined, roughly half of what the Warriors grabbed as a team. That will happen when Golden State is forced to start Marreese Speights alongside Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal will bang, but Speights enjoys playing in space when the Warriors need him to be focused on knocking heads under the hoop. And, Bogut and Lee could be out for games at Dallas and at San Antonio this week.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson refuses to make excuses. That’s really commendable. The players need us to consider explanations, not excuses, for how they’re still battling simply to enter the postseason.
They aren’t yet an elite NBA team that can find ways to win even with Bogut and Lee injured. From here, really, it’s impossible not to miss the athletic, 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli clogging the middle and using his six fouls to protect the rim as he did in last season’s playoff run. Jackson won’t make excuses, but we can explain to each other that the Warriors can’t win with Green playing center.
There’s nothing wrong with fans admitting that the Warriors could sure use a quicker-than-expected return from a knee injury from Ezeli. If Ezeli were healthy he’d have taken the minutes Green spent in the middle against the Knicks. Green, then, could’ve done what he does and climbed all over Carmelo Anthony in the fourth quarter. Just explaining. No excuses.
Oh, the point?
When fans who realize that the Warriors are in position to go 5-4 down the stretch with Bogut and Lee ailing, they should see that this is about just making the playoffs, even if Warriors owner Joe Lacob’s angry that the team hasn’t been “getting up” for games lost at home. Teams like these Warriors are going to lose winnable games — at home and on the road. They’re a good team that has, at various times, been hurt by injuries. Now, just happens to be one of those times.
So, pump the brakes. Let all the teams in the NBA Western Conference do whatever they’re going to do. See the big picture.
The big picture is hanging over there on the wall right below a sign that reads: “Go Warriors! Just Make the Playoffs!”
Curry and Klay Thompson have to do incredibly heavy lifting now. Green and Andre Igoudala are doing more and doing it more often than an elite team would demand. Even with the world of potential he shows sometimes, Harrison Barnes needs to give the club more than 28.2 minutes and 4.4 rebounds per game now.
Clearly, until Lee and Bogut are back, any team can take advantage of the Warriors around the hoop. The Knicks scored 36 in the paint on Sunday. That puts incredible pressure on the four players mentioned previously as well as on guards Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford.
This isn’t even the team that you wrongly considered one of the NBA’s elite to start with. It is a team that will, ideally, slide into the postseason … get healthy … and put together the same type breathtaking run the Warriors did a year ago. And, most definitely, stop blaming Jackson. This is the time when his unwillingness to make excuses and amazing ability to convince his players that they can beat anybody actually separates him from most as an NBA coach.
Just pump the brakes. And, for now, hold your breath.
(Follow Ted Sillanpaa on Twitter @tedsillanpa. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)