Everyone knows not to put too much stock into the outcome of three games in a 66-game season.
Alas, my emotions sometimes get the best of me.
Exactly one week ago, I walked into Oracle Arena feeling pretty good about the Golden State Warriors' season and where they might be headed. At 2-1 and coming off consecutive wins against the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, the team had honestly exceeded the expectations I had entering the Mark Jackson era.
They even played defense.
Then the Philadelphia 76ers came to town, ruined my New Years Eve, and so began the cruel dose of reality that has been the Warriors' four-game losing streak with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic coming to town next week
Tonight, I'll return to Oracle to watch the Warriors face the Utah Jazz. Similar to the Sixers, Jazz fans express concerns that make them appear simultaneously quite beatable but also possessing strengths that happen to line up with Warriors' weaknesses, according to SB Nation's SLC Dunk in a recap of a 94-85 win over the Memphis Grizzlies last night.
Still, there are a lot of concerns for this team moving forward. We can’t continue wining with a "we can only score in the paint" style attack. Poor floor spacing and making only 2 threes in a game will doom us if the other team decides to go into a zone. We wouldn’t be in this game without the efforts of the younger guys (and Earl) – slow starts will also doom us, and already have this season (look at all our losses).
You might also remember who the Sixers lost to on the night before they came into town a week ago: the Jazz.
So things just aren't as rosy-looking as they were a week ago.
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On one hand, it might seem as though that promising start for the Warriors was all an illusion. Maybe teams were caught off guard by this strange team in Warriors uniforms playing aggressive defense. Maybe it was just a result of a suddenly focused defensive squad taking advantage of teams in the aftermath of an extended lockout that left almost no time for a preseason. Or of course - as you may be thinking now - maybe this team simply hadn't ventured off out on the road yet.
On the other hand, it's not entirely clear who this team really is or what there is to come - even setting aside Nate Robinson's debut last night, the Warriors have played two games with their full roster at the coach's disposal. And really, you could argue that the team has only played one game at full strength, depending on how you feel about Stephen Curry's ankle in the opening night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
In other words, it's not only "still early" but also a matter of not being well-acquainted enough with the unit to know what they're capable of.
I'm not trying to take the optimist's point of view here as much as a realist's - or perhaps more accurately, suspended judgment - perspective. I was not sold on this roster as a playoff team to start the season and maybe now things are playing out much closer to what I (unfortunately) expected before being fooled into excitement.
However, the most pressing issue to me this season is seeing the formation of a vision under the new regime, both on the bench and in the front office. Although I understand why it makes sense to aim for the playoffs and build a culture in which that's expected, I also fear that treadmill of mediocrity like the plague - more important to me than winning games to sneak into the playoffs as an eighth seed is stepping away from the treadmill slowly.
The Warriors should be playing for the future and that requires some sort of vision of how to mold this roster into a consistently productive unit with each game being one more step toward coherence.
What's most disappointing to me for this season right now is that it's hard to say much of anything about where this team is going right now- we can't reasonably expect the new coaching staff without a preseason and a different combination of starters in nearly every one of their first seven games to come in and establish much of anything. Regardless of how you feel about the playoffs, right now it's going to be a while before we can even know where this team is going. That's not anybody's fault - it's just what this situation presents us.
Tonight is yet another game where it's fairly certain that the Warriors will be at less than 100%, missing out on Curry's shooting touch from the perimeter and/or Biedrins' renewed energy in the paint against a team that has been worse than the Warriors offensively but will quite certainly look to live off of scoring in the paint and finding garbage points off of offensive boards as the last three opponents have.
But what we still need to see is some progress.
Hopefully, Klay Thompson and Dorell Wright can continue shooting something like they shot last night. In all seriousness, we can hope that Nate Robinson can continue to provide the spark off the bench that he provided against the Lakers last night. Let's all pray that those bonehead turnovers they made last night aren't there tonight. Most of all, let's hope the defensive intensity to force the other team into turnovers remains. But the bottom line is that there's something bigger than wins or losses at stake for this team:
their lottery pick bringing this unit together.
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After that Sixers' game, I felt fortunate that New Year's Eve provided an excellent excuse to partake of the number of adult beverages I consumed that night - I joked with a friend that it's better that nobody actually knows how much influence the outcome of one Warriors' game can have over my emotional state. And yes, I had stupidly allowed myself to get excited about the first three games.
Heading to Oracle tonight though, I'm not sure what to expect but I've shifted my mindset appropriately. Yes, they need to end this losing skid because losing sucks. Yes, the Jazz are a team that the Warriors can beat. But playing without two starters, that's going to be tough for the Warriors as they continue to gel and figure out what exactly their identity is now and into the future with key pieces missing.
Right now, I'll take more outstanding defense effort, some sign that the newcomers (e.g. Robinson, Thompson, and Charles Jenkins (and Ish Smith?)) are finding their comfort zones given the opportunity to play more, and
another loss to secure that lottery pick the spirit needed to compete in the future.