The first 21 are in the books, the Warriors are 12-9 and the tone is not nearly as bright as it was after the team's 7-3 start through 10 games.
In mid-November, the Warriors looked like a healthy club very much on the upswing. Here in early December, they are thinned by injuries and treading water until they feel whole again.
Coach Mark Jackson is fond of saying the Warriors "are a no-excuse basketball team." OK, then. We'll call them a short-handed crew hoping to hang on until their second and third playmaking options, Andre Iguodala and Toney Douglas, return.
Which is why their victory over Memphis in Game 21 Saturday night was so welcome. The Warriors were rolled at Houston a night earlier in their most disappointing show of the season. They needed a tonic in the worst way, and they got one.
"It was great, and it couldn't have come at a better time," power forward David Lee said of the win that snapped an 11-game loss streak to the Grizzlies. "We've been a little bit frustrated as a team, not playing the kind of ball we want to play, especially in Houston. To come in here and kill two birds with one stone, get a win here and get back on the winning track as a team was huge for us."
Where are the Warriors after 21 games? After a solid start, they have regressed. Some of it is the absence of Iguodala, who was fitting in so seamlessly. Some of it is the return to earth of Klay Thompson, so fabulous early but now showing some inconsistencies. Some of it can be blamed on Lee, who last season had an All-Star first half but seldom has stood out this season.
Much of the regression, though, can be placed on the decline in defensive proficiency. After opening the season with a visible commitment to defense, holding seven of their first 10 opponents under 100 points, the Warriors have allowed seven of their last eight opponents to surpass that mark.
The loss of Iguodala, who may return this week, explains some of it – but not all of it.
On with the awards through the First 21:
MVP: Stephen Curry
Searching for his stroke and prone to fits of turnovers in the early season, Curry is re-establishing himself as this team's barometer. He has at times carried the team and at other times guided it with his leadership.
He still commits some brutal turnovers, but the frequency is diminishing. His shot is coming around, though he has yet to have That Game – the one that reminds everyone he's the best shooter in the league.
BETTER THAN EXPECTED: Draymond Green
A key player off the bench last season, Green has taken his game to a new level. Always delivering energy and ferocious defense, he has added a fairly reliable 3-point shot and continues to scatter nice complimentary numbers across the stat sheet.
Green's ascension has been important insofar as the bench has been a problem area this season. In the wake of having Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry come in as reliable options last year, Green could be more understated. Without them, and with Iguodala's absence pressing Harrison Barnes into the starting lineup, Green clearly is the team's most trusted reserve.
WORSE THAN EXPECTED: David Lee
He was so phenomenal through the first two months of last season that I considered him the team's first-half MVP. He made the All-Star team, and then tailed off noticeably. Rarely this season has he been a true impact player.
Lee announced in training camp that he would be more dedicated to defense. His effort appears to be up. But results generally are down, as teams repeatedly single him on the block and usually get points.
Lee dropped a few pounds in the offseason but insists it has not affected his play. Something has, because his solid effort on Saturday (23 points, 11 rebounds) felt like a blast from the past.
THE NEXT NINE
The first game of the rest of the season comes Monday at Charlotte, where the Warriors face the Bobcats. That begins a stretch during which six of nine games will be played in the relative comfort of Oracle Arena.