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OAKLAND – Amateur shrinks by the thousands suddenly are taking measure of the Warriors, studying them from near and far, seeking signs that might explain how they’ve become mortal.
Is it fatigue?
Have they been “figured out” by the rest of the NBA?
Have heads swelled after months of incessant praise?
Are they stressed by the pursuit of 73 wins?
The likely answer is all of the above, as the Warriors have lost two of their last three games – both at Oracle Arena, where they’d won the previous 54 regular season games – and imperiled their chances to win the 73 games required to set a single-season record.
“It’s a miracle that we’ve gone this far without hitting a bump in the road,” coach Steve Kerr said of the mini-slide. “This is to be expected. Every team goes through it. It’s just probably surprising for people out there, and maybe even for our own guys because this season has come almost too easy for us in a lot of ways.”
The Warriors won their first 24 games, triggering discussion about surpassing the NBA-record 72-10 ledger of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They entered last weekend 68-7, two games ahead of the Bulls’ pace, but now are dead even.
There are signs of trouble on offense and defense. What is most visible to the naked eye is the Warriors’ recent proclivity for seeking shortcuts, to cut corners on offensive and defensive execution.
That’s the sign of a team playing tired or experiencing tedium or simply leaning on the reckless arrogance that lurks behind winning at a record pace.
One day after Draymond Green conceded there could be some boredom, Kerr didn’t flinch when Green’s comment was relayed.
“That’s fair to say,” Kerr said.
“I wouldn’t say we’re bored,” center Andrew Bogut said. “But it’s a long season.”
Fatigue shouldn’t be an issue, as Kerr and his staff have done a tremendous job of managing the minutes of players in the regular rotation.
And it’s not a matter of opponents cracking the code, either. When the Warriors are healthy and engaged, particularly on offense, they’re exceedingly difficult to stop.
There could be something to the “swelled head” theory. The Warriors have reached a stratospheric level, and that takes some psychological adjustment. It’s hard to play in overdrive when third gear is enough to produce victories.
The quest for 73 surely comes at a cost, one that’s higher for those such as Green, who last month emphatically proclaimed the Warriors were going after the record.
“We’re going for the record,” Bogut said. “But if we don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world. I’m not too worried about it. If we don’t get a ring after getting the record, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Veteran forward Andre Iguodala, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, has an entirely different perspective.
“What does it mean?” he asked of the possibility of reaching 73. “If the (NFL) New England Patriots go whatever-and-oh and then they don’t win the Super Bowl, y’all don’t talk about them anymore. What difference does it make?
“I just want us to play at a high level, which we can do, which we show flashes of. If we do that for 48 minutes, we’re a really good team.”
The Warriors are a really good team. They have been, on many nights this season, nothing short of sensational.
They haven’t been sensational very often over the past few weeks, which has fans and observers scrambling for answers.