The 2012-13 regular season is heading into the home stretch, and three of California’s four teams are neck deep in postseason intrigue (leaving only Sacramento, a city and franchise dealing with plenty of intrigue even without any playoff hopes). What does the landscape look like with about 20 games to play?
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (35-27)
The NBA’s feel-good story of the first half has taken a decidedly dark turn over the last month. Since capping a four-game winning streak over the Suns on Feb. 2, the Warriors had lost 10 of 14 heading into Wednesday’s home game vs. the Kings at Oracle Arena.
The bleeding has been profuse and emphatic. Only once in those 10 games – Feb. 27 at Madison Square Garden – did the Dubs manage to keep the final score within five points. In the process, Mark Jackson’s crew became an unlikely dark horse entry into the Team That Might Drop Out So The Lakers Can Go to the Playoffs Sweepstakes, dropping to sixth in the Western Conference – and closer to ninth than fifth.
For a franchise making the playoffs only once since the 1994, that sort of thing induces fingernail chewing.
Which is why Wednesday’s ugly 87-83 win, the second of a seven-game homestand, was so critical. On Monday, the Warriors returned home with a victory over the Raptors despite trailing by seven points heading into the fourth quarter. Sensing how bad things might get extending a losing streak against a team with only eight victories south of the border, Golden State hit the gas. It took two minutes for the Warriors to erase the deficit. “I was really proud of the way we responded,” Jackson said. “Starting that fourth quarter, they had everything going their way, but we came out with a sense of urgency.”
Afterward, Jarrett Jack made it clear the squad’s joie de vivre had evaporated as the losses piled up, and getting it back was key.
“Collectively, we just got away from having fun, smiling, laughing, high-fiving one another,” Jack said. “That was my total mind-set, regardless of whether or not I scored.” Jack, who actually scored 16 points against the Raptors, didn’t tell his teammates to loosen up before the game, he just led by example.”We’d done enough talking,” Jack said. “We had enough team meetings and talking about what we needed to do to correct things. Let’s lead by our actions. Just give everything I got and play with a care-free attitude.”
It’s not uncommon for young, unproven teams to struggle once people get over the surprise of good results and start expecting them. If the Warriors can rediscover those things driving their success earlier in the season – an improved defense and consistent rebounding, to name two – and go even 4-3 on the home stand, likely only something catastrophic would prevent them from earning a spot in the West’s top eight, even with games remaining against Houston and Utah, plus two against the Lakers.
Style points (fortunately) don’t matter. Just victories, and Golden State is already 2-for-2.
Keeping Andrew Bogut on the floor will help. The Aussie center returned to the lineup against Toronto after missing the Warriors’ East Coast swing with back problems. While his totals in the first two games of the home stand were relatively modest (three points,eight rebounds), he’ll give them more legitimate scoring inside while using high-end passing skills to set up the team’s shooters. Plus, he can give badly needed support inside to David Lee, a double-double machine but a pretty awful defender. Wednesday, Bogut was a plus-9 despite playing only 30 minutes.
– Brian Kamenetzky
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (44-19)
Sunday’s nationally televised home game against the Thunder didn’t exactly go as planned. Blake Griffin was forced to the bench with foul trouble barely four minutes in, then was forced to the floor when Serge Ibaka went all I-block-a on his groin. Meanwhile, Chris Paul struggled early, and fueled by 16 first-half turnovers, the Clippers fell behind big. A clever switch to a 3-2 zone defense helped the LAC climb back in it and even take a one-point lead with 90 seconds remaining. But in the end, it wasn’t enough.