The All-Star Break will soon be upon us, for what little you care. For the Golden State Warriors, on the other hand, with only tomorrow’s game against the Houston Rockets between them and a nine-day break to reconsider their global position, the break matters a great deal.
And no, not because they’ve sent three players to the All-Star Bacchanal in Houston. David Lee will play six minutes, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will canoodle around in a trick shot competition and a bland rookies-v.-sophomores game that even with a 50/50 chance most people could not accurately remember last year’s winner.
Their sending anyone to All-Star Weekend, of course, is a big deal by virtue of the fact that they hadn’t done anything of the sort for almost the entirety of the last decade and a half, but frankly, it’s what gets done at home that matters more.
And no, introducing uniforms nobody asked for, wants or should ever see again shouldn't be part of the grand plan.
The Warriors have retreated to what most preseason observers thought would be closer to their true position in league matters – sixth, 9½ games adrift from the top. Worse, they are as close to ninth as they are to third, and until we are completely sure that the Lakers aren’t actually dead and buried, the postseason you have all been banking on is not a sure thing at all.
Now it ought to be. They are 30-21, and according to the latest math from Sports Club Stats have a 95 percent shot of making the playoffs. You would happily be the house letting someone else try to get fat on a 20-1 shot.
But their last road trip was, to be polite, a massive gas leak. In losing at Houston, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas, they allowed 118 points per game, lost by an average of 21, played scandalously poor defense (which for the Warriors is also known as “regressing to their historical norm”) and looked as though they had just met each other when they happened upon the same playground at the same time.
Perhaps this was weariness speaking – four games in five nights and all that. Or it was bad matchups (although losing by 25 at Dallas was no such thing). Or maybe the Warriors just hit the rookie wall, this being their first season as a relevant NBA contender.
It matters not. This was the first time the team had stopped doing what it had done routinely all season – defend – and the first time that Curry and Thompson looked like they don’t quite fit as backcourt mates. Andrew Bogut, the one-time-savior, played only two of the four games, but the Warriors were outrebounded in both of them, which is an indication, albeit a slim one, that they have some work to do integrating him into the greater whole.
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They looked, frankly, like the Warriors you know and loved despite themselves, and at an inopportune time – as though there is a good time to give up 118 for an entire week.
So their task over the next week is to reinvent themselves for the stretch. They are no longer the anonymous, amorphous blob they were when teams barely remembered who they were, or worse yet, why. But teams have now seen a flaw in their exterior defense that the reintroduction of Bogut has not neutralized. Their offense has become less mindful of the value of possessions. They have become what they have spent the first 45 games of the year trying to disavow – their old selves.
Which is why the next week matters so greatly. Mark Jackson and Staff must break their unified game back down into its essential components and rebuild it in the image that got them to fourth in the West. They need to find out who they are once Bogut goes from 25 minutes a night to 35. They need to find out the happy balance between Curry and Thompson, and how to regulate minutes so that they don’t hit another, thicker, wall in March.
Even if you believe as the math does that they are playoff team right here and now, you might want them to actually make some noise once they start. The last week was a sign that they are not out of their own particular forest yet, but they are not so far removed from their best days that they cannot repair what has been dented before it becomes fully broken.