The Golden State Warriors will surely have a Merry Christmas.
Golden State’s 18-10 record propels them off to one of their best starts in a long while, and their doing it in impressive fashion. Not only do they boast a 10-6 road record, but they’ve beaten some of the best teams the Eastern Conference has to offer, including the Heat and Nets to name a couple.
Much of this success is attributed to their revamped defense and rebounding, both of which were bleak spot for them last season. And I mean dull. To be specific, last season they compiled the worst total rebounding rate in the league. Fast forward to this year, however, and they rank ninth in the league. A 20 spot jump isn’t too shabby over such a short amount of time, I’d say.
However, even with these positive rankings and such, Warriors’ fans still see an “inevitable collapse” on the horizon. This is solely do to their past history, to be sure.
In 2011, it was a 3-11 start that sent an unsettling feeling through the locker room. Still, the Warriors had a chance to rebound, as it was still early in season. At least that was the optimistic sense.
Then, an appalling month of March shot down any of their hopes of even competing for one of the lower seeds. They went on a six-game losing streak in late March, which lingered over to April. At that point, their season was over, but just for kicks, I’ll note that they lost ten of their final 11 games.
Will 2013 bring some of the same misfortune?
Obviously, only time can truly answer that daunting question. If you’re a person who wants instant answers, though, you’re in luck, as the Warriors will soon begin the toughest stretch of basketball they will endure all season. Perhaps even the deciding stretch of their season, some pundits would say.
This potentially toxic string of games will last 14 games, leading them into February on either a high or low note. Of the 14 games, 12 of those teams made the playoffs last season. And with the exception of one or two teams, all will presumably reach that stature again this season. To make matters worse, Golden State will catch the Clippers for a grand total of three times during this upcoming stretch. In case you haven’t heard, they’ve won 13 straight games. You can call them white-hot.
Some of the other notable opponents include the Thunder, Grizzlies, Heat, Nuggets Spurs, and Bulls. Quite a nifty list, isn’t it?
These types of stretches usually call for “heroes.” See, Stephen Curry and David Lee are expected to produce regularly. You can even throw Klay Thompson into that category as well. What isn’t expected are big games from the role players. Of course it’s always nice, but not expected.
Well, Mark Jackson may have to expect some magnificent performances during this 14-game stretch. It’s likely that Curry and Lee will run out of gas at some point, as an extensive stretch of games against quality opponents could empty their tanks rather quickly.
For one, quality opponents is generally writing on the wall for tight games. Meaning, Curry and Lee won’t have much time to get cozy on the bench if Golden State’s reserves can’t hold down the fort. Plus, both already log a considerable amount of minutes, anyway, as they both rank in the top 15 in minutes per game. A break doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Additionally, these 14 teams will harass the Warriors’ duo, specifically Curry.
Miami created a nifty ploy against Curry in their first meeting. Heat defenders trapped him constantly, creating turnovers at a high clip. More importantly, he didn’t garner many open looks. This worked quite well, as Curry scored just six points and equaled that total in turnovers. Still, Golden State won a thriller in the end.
Now, Curry will soon see this type of pressure burdened on him nightly. Take note: The Clippers are the best team in the league when it comes to guarding point guards. The Grizzlies are third, Heat are fourth, Thunder are fifth, Bulls are eighth, Spurs are ninth, and the Nuggets are 12th. If I can count, that takes up a hefty portion of the top ten.
What does this mean for the Warriors?
It very simply means that someone will have to relieve Curry, particularly a guard. This mystery player could be Harrison Barnes, who’s occasionally shown flashes of brilliance, but nothing in the realm of consistent. Thompson could be the mystery player if he contributes on a regular basis. Even Charles Jenkins could emerge off the bench and power his way into more minutes. Although, with Jarrett Jack materializing himself (20.5 PPG, 7.5 APG in list 4 games) as a valuable reserve, Jenkins seems stuck in massive log-jam.
In retrospect, Lee has it a bit easier. Only the Grizzlies and Bulls rank in the top ten in guarding power forwards. He could also receive a nice Christmas present, as Andrew Bogut may return at some point. That’d certainly be lifting a strain off Lee.
Either way, the Warriors can’t expect to stay in the thick of things out West if Curry and Lee have to carry the majority of the load. If someone steps up, then Curry and Lee will continue to perform at all-star levels because they won’t constantly be hounded by multiple defenders. If not, the Warriors make themselves extremely vulnerable to defeat over their next 14 games.