It’s seven road games, in seven cities, in three time zones, over 15 days.
Obstacle course or gauntlet?
Both, for an NBA team. Yet that’s what the Warriors are facing as they begin the longest road trip of the season Monday night with a game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.
Following the Jazz are the Hornets, the Raptors, the Nets, the Pacers, the Celtics and the Bucks. Logic suggests the Warriors’ season-opening 18-game win streak, the longest in league history, is in considerable jeopardy.
These Warriors, however, have spent the first five weeks of the season defying logic, winning close games and blowouts, in overtime and in regulation. In their toughest road test so far, Nov. 19 against the Clippers at Staples Center, they overcame a 10-point deficit with five minutes to play.
After posting a league-best 28-13 road record last season, the Warriors this season are 8-0 away from Oracle Arena. The underdog mentalities of stars Steph Curry and Draymond Green are never more on display than in visiting arenas.
“We’re just more confident when we play on the road,” forward/guard Brandon Rush said. “Guys get amped for that – especially Draymond. Draymond loves playing on the road.”
Green loves playing, period. But even his effervescence could be tested on this trip. His role could change slightly by the absence of Harrison Barnes, the starting forward who is expected to miss at least the first four games.
“The road trip is going to be hard, no matter what,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “We’ve got some good teams coming up and, obviously, when it’s that long of a road trip fatigue kicks in. We’ve got guys that are going to need to step up, and we have faith that they will.
“But Harrison has turned into a really, really good basketball player so we’re obviously going to miss him. Without him, I’d say it’s more about different night, different guy stepping up if we’re going to succeed.”
The Warriors will have to rely on their depth, which made a huge impact last season and continues to do so this season. With Rush stepping in for Barnes, that keeps intact the second unit led by Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
Barnes will be missed mostly when Walton turns to the Piranha Squad, the small lineup whose frenzied defense devours opponents, leading to transition offense and game-changing rallies.
Barnes in that lineup moves from small forward to power forward, with Green sliding from power forward to center. No other frontcourt player on the team slides as effectively as these two. Walton indicated there could be times when Iguodala, a natural wing, is forced into the role vacated by Barnes.
So it’s a thinner Warriors squad than usual that will be traveling from Mountain Time zone Monday, then to the Eastern Time zone for the next 11 days and, finally, to Central Time zone for the Dec. 12 finale at Milwaukee.
One thing for certain: Warriors fans will be making their presence at every stop, though in some places more than others.
“Our fan base is pretty present in every arena we play in,” Curry said on the team’s Monday morning shootaround. “It’s actually a pretty cool experience going to different arenas. Home fans usually take over, but when we’re playing well you hear some noise for us, too.”
Which hardly means the Warriors will stroll to 25-0, or even 19-0. NBA teams cross many challenging paths over the course of a season. But it would hard to find one more daunting than that which the Warriors are facing.
“I don’t know if I’m necessarily looking forward to it,” Green said before the team left on Sunday. “But it’s 15 days, something you’ve got to do. You’ve got to take one game at a time. I know everyone will be playing, but you’ve got to take it one game at a time.”