The Golden State Warriors sure have been an unpredictable bunch this season, and that’s usually not a good thing when you’re talking about a team that’s supposed to be considered one of the more dangerous teams in the league.
They have struggled with inconsistencies for various reasons, be it injuries, lack of bench production, or simply failing to execute the way they are capable of doing when the going gets tough. The advanced stats will tell you that they are the third best defensive team in the league (they have been there for much of the season), but that won’t explain how they simply have long, critical stretches where the defense simply disappears and cannot stop anyone.
Offensively, they either click on all cylinders or can’t hit the side of a barn. On Friday against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, the former happened in the first quarter as they raced out to an impressive 20-4 run and ended the quarter with a 32-16 lead. Then the latter happened for the rest of the contest, where they managed to score just 62 more points, suffering an inexplicable 103-94 loss at home.
With the competition being ultra stiff in the West, the Warriors have no room for error. That means there is no excuse for a team with such high expectations to lose to another team whose road record improved to 11-23 after this latest victory. They played the Los Angeles Clippers, who were four games ahead in the standings two nights ago, and had the chance to bring themselves to within three games with a win. They lost, and another loss to the Cavaliers combined with another Clippers win against the Utah Jazz brought the Warriors down to six games back in just two days. Forget catching the Clippers. They are now back to concerning themselves with making sure they even make it into the playoffs with three teams closely trailing behind.
For the most part, Golden State has cleaned up its act since the All-Star break and have won 10 of its last 14 games. Andre Iguodala has looked better after struggling for some time since returning from a hamstring injury suffered back in December. Jermaine O’Neal has returned early from wrist surgery to provide a big boost, and the team’s acquisition of backup point guard Steve Blake has stabilized the production of the bench – one of their biggest issues all season long.
Klay Thompson, in particular, has really diversified his game. For too long this season, he had been settling for nothing but one jump shot after another. Lately, though, he has been attacking the basket and taking much more efficient shots closer to the rim, and the returns have been highly positive. Unfortunately, he had to miss Friday’s contest due to a personal matter, and his presence was sorely missed, which leads us to some of the issues the Warriors still have, starting with Harrison Barnes – the guy who replaced Thompson in the starting lineup.
The forward has failed to show any kind of consistency or reliability all year long – be it with the bench or the starters – and he was mostly invisible against the Cavaliers with six points on three-of-eight shooting while missing all four of his free throw attempts despite playing a whopping 41 minutes. Some things that have worked against him on a game-to-game basis include the following: he’s not quick enough to blow by anyone, has no go-to move, is not a good finisher around the rim (he missed a momentum-shattering layup on a three-on-one fastbreak during a crucial second-half run), and is generally out of control whenever he puts the ball on the floor. His defense comes and goes. Simply put, he is a liability on the floor more often times than not, and that’s a major problem given that he plays 28 minutes per game for this team.
Then there is David Lee. Look at the stats against the Cavaliers, and it will tell you that Lee had a half-decent game with 16 points on seven-of-16 shooting to go with five rebounds and three assists. Context always matters, though, and Lee was essentially absent for the entire second half when you consider that 13 of his points came in the first half. He started the contest red hot, shooting five-of-six from the field (most of them came from wide-open looks from brilliant Curry assists) halfway into the second quarter. That means he shot one-of-10 the rest of the way, with two rebounds coming from the second half with no other stat to follow. The problem with Lee going into struggle-mode is the way he struggles: he misses easily makeable shots around the rim. Repeatedly. He exposes the ball on his way to the rim and gets stripped, blocked or contained constantly by anyone standing in his path. It’s infuriating to watch it happen live, and with his defense being what it is, sometimes you can’t help but wonder why he’s even out on the floor if he’s struggling offensively. This may sound harsh, but it’s true when you consider the importance of his role for the team. If he is missing shots that he is expected to make, it’s a huge detriment to what they are trying to accomplish.
Another player that is more of a minor concern is Jordan Crawford, who seems to be interested in doing one thing and one thing only: shoot the ball at all costs, usually with a hand in his face. Essentially, he is in heat-check mode at all times, and his black-hole ways goes against what the Warriors ultimately want to be – a united team. In 27 games since joining the team, he has had more than two assists just five times – none since shifting to shooting guard with Blake on board. He often looks off open teammates, and that’s not so good when you’re only making 41 percent of your shots, including just 30 percent from beyond the arc. It should be considered a minor problem since Mark Jackson appears to be keeping the trigger-happy guard on a short leash, but Crawford appears to be a fundamentally questionable player and could be detrimental if not kept in check. In my estimation, his rogue play in the second quarter on Friday was a primary reason the Cavaliers regained their confidence and got back into a game they seemingly had no business getting back into.
At the end of the day, the Warriors are still in a pretty good position to make the playoffs. Aside from Friday’s debacle, they have mostly played better and are looking closer to the dangerous juggernauts they were expected to be heading into the season. As mentioned, though, they do have some deep flaws and issues that need to be resolved if they want this year to be more than just one and done in the playoffs. Jackson and Curry were certainly concerned with what went down against the Cavaliers and held an unusually long meeting with the rest of the team after the contest, according to Tim Kawakami of Mercury News:
Mark Jackson and Steph Curry said the team talked through a lot of things in the locker room after the game…
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 15, 2014
Hopefully, whatever they discussed translates to better play and more of a sense of urgency as the season winds down.
James Park is the chief blogger of Sheridan Hoops. You can find him on twitter @SheridanBlog.