OAKLAND – Having cleared the 30-game barrier of the regular season with a 17-13 record, a couple games below what they envisioned, the Warriors also find themselves at something of an intersection.
Which way do they go?
To become a perennial playoff team, capable of making deep playoff runs, they must rebrand themselves. They have to create a defensive identity to go along with their widespread image as a club defined by nice-guy attitudes and 3-point jumpers.
It is clear the Warriors are starting to understand this. They don't always stay on task to achieve it, but they realize it's necessary, that all real contenders live by the laws of the jungle. Kill or be killed. Only the strong survive.
“We can do what we've been doing and maybe be alright,'' forward Draymond Green says. “But if we want to get to where want to be, we have to go out and get after it. If we keep doing the same things, we'll keep getting the same results.''
If the Warriors stay healthy and proceed down their comfort zone, staying on the straight and narrow, they might win 43-44 games and slip into the playoffs.
If they take a slight detour, veer smartly toward the road of toughness and defensive intensity – as they did in their Christmas night win over the Clippers – the Warriors could win 50 or more games and perhaps climb into a top-four playoff seed.
They won seven of their first 10 games because they were eager to embrace challenges, having fun getting to know each other and enjoying the new dynamic in place with the addition of Andre Iguodala.
The Warriors then lost six of their next 10 largely because the schedule got tougher and Iguodala – who sustained a hamstring injury in Game 13 – was taken away. Their only loss during that stretch with Iguodala on the floor was to longtime tormentor Memphis, in overtime.
And in their most recent 10 games, the Warriors have won six – despite the slumps of Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. This after engaging in self-reflection after losing Game 25 in Phoenix and getting Iguodala back for Game 26.
It's not entirely by coincidence the Warriors won four of five after the loss to the Suns, a game after which Jackson questioned his team's gut-level desire. When I relayed Jackson's statement to the players, there was not one word of dissent.
The Warriors haven't found themselves because they're still defining themselves. This could take weeks, maybe longer.
To this point, they've been satisfactory but should have been better. They know this. Losses at Charlotte and at Phoenix were particularly galling, as they should be.
It is apparent through 30 games, with the Warriors a little lower than they expected, that reality is setting in.
Their overall health is improved but hardly ideal. Their backbone appears to be getting firmer and straighter. Are they ready to fulfill one of the requirements of reaching their goal?
WHERE THEY ARE: Third place in the Pacific Division, eighth in the Western Conference.
WHERE THEY SHOULD BE: Second place in the Pacific, sixth in the West.
MVP: Stephen Curry. The point guard during the last 10 games averaged 25.3 points and 10.5 assists, recording a 30-point, 15-assist game, nailing a game-winner and becoming the franchise's all-time 3-points leader. He gets bonus points for doing this without much help from Thompson and Barnes, and despite defenses designed to stop him.
BETTER THAN EXPECTED: Andrew Bogut. The 7-foot center has reasserted himself as one of the league's premier rebounders, grabbing at least 10 in every game and averaging 14. And, by the way, he shot 65 percent over that span.
Bogut nudged out Lee, who has played much better lately but merely raised his game to a level close to where it was the first half of last season, when he was named to the All-Star team.
WORSE THAN EXPECTED: Thompson and Barnes. Both wings had big trouble making shots, even when open, but very little trouble committing turnovers.
THE NEXT 10: This is a chance for the Warriors to reestablish their identity, as seven of the next 10 come on the road against teams from the appreciably weaker Eastern Conference. Only three of the next 10 opponents currently are above .500.