OAKLAND – After a profoundly unsatisfying three-game road trip, the Warriors' return to the warm embrace of home was offset by the cold reality of a relentlessly shrinking roster.
Five Warriors were unable to participate in practice Tuesday, the latest additions to the spectator's crew being forward Draymond Green and center Jermaine O'Neal – the first two players off coach Mark Jackson's threadbare bench.
Burdened with a road-heavy schedule over the first six weeks, the Warriors already were coping with a thin, unreliable crew of backups. Now there is practically no bench at all.
"We have to find ways to play the way we're capable of playing and do the job we're expected to do," Jackson said after practice Tuesday. "We've fallen short in our mindset and in our eyesight, but at the same time we feel real good about where we're headed. We're going to be fine. We're not jumping off of a cliff."
Well, no, for that would only add to the list of injuries. With a full roster, Harrison Barnes likely would be the sixth man, with Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights, O'Neal and Green filling out the rest of the second unit.
As it is, Barnes is starting for Andre Iguodala, who has missed the past 17 days and is expected to be out at least another week with a strained left hamstring. Douglas, who sat out 14 games with a stress reaction in his left tibia, returned on Monday. Speights has been more of a liability than an asset. O'Neal missed practice, nursing a sprained right wrist. Green missed practice with a sprained left ankle.
Jackson said Green and O'Neal conceivably could play Wednesday night when the Warriors meet Dallas at Oracle Arena. Both continue to receive treatment, their returns uncertain. And they've been the glue holding together a rickety bench.
"It'll make us strong as a team," point guard Stephen Curry reasoned, "We'll continue build our character as we go through the season and hopefully keep striving to get where we envision ourselves at the end of the year."
Like Jackson, general manager Bob Myers is preaching patience, which makes sense considering the Warriors have yet to sustain a season-ending injury or get a decent look at their full complement of players. Though it's always wise to see what's available, it seems illogical to make a major deal involving one of the top six players. And if none of the top six is involved, it's simply not a major deal.
As is, the Warriors are 12-10, coming off a 1-2 road trip that ended with a lackluster loss at Charlotte in which they surrendered 115 points, the Bobcats' season high. Though the Warriors rallied late, there were too many defensive lapses to sustain it.
"We understand that if we want to win ballgames and be the type of team that we talk about being, it starts on the defensive end," Jackson said. "And there's no excuse. Whether you have injuries or fatigue, or what have you, you still have to find a way to go out and get it done. We've done it in spurts. We haven't done over the long haul, and that's the disappointing fact."
It won't get any easier given the depleted roster, for the element of the game that tends to suffer most when fatigue hits is, of course, defense.
"Regardless of guys who are hurt, we still have to do our jobs defensively," Barnes said. "Defensive breakdowns like the ones we had are just unacceptable. Guys getting back-doored, lack of effort . . . that's the type of stuff that, whether you're healthy or hurt, is just not acceptable."
Having seven of their next nine games at Oracle should help, as being home reduces the fatigue factor. To survive these early challenges, the Warriors will have to summon a level of will not consistently exhibited.
Meanwhile, for the Warriors, the mantra is evident: Five starters and a prayer.