I was reading some healthy back-and-forth on Twitter following the Warriors' Sunday matinee victory over the Timberwolves on how valuable that win really was. You can generally break down the two sides of the argument thusly:
School of Thought #1: There's no such thing as an ugly win on the road.
School of Thought #2: That win was ugly as sin, and we should all be fearing the reaper.
Now, I'm not one to overreact [/inside joke about myself that only myself gets], but the recent and abhorrent six-game slide we're all trying hard to forget DID just happen earlier this month. And those lingering feelings of disappointment, of fear that this year's team and its success is more illusory than we want to admit (I imagine Pythagoras doing a C. Montgomery Burns finger-wiggle as he watches us from his boring math-heaven), do throw a proper shade over what was actually a much-needed, hard-fought road victory.
It even makes one forget about the OMG CRAZY AWESOME win over the Spurs just a couple nights earlier, one of the most entertaining and promising games in recent memory. And it makes one forget that we're now en fuego on a three-game win streak.
This is all to say that what had begun to just look like a solid business-as-usual, relatively consistent winning team way back in November and December and kinda in January, was now looking like a doubt-casting machine. And that can taint one's takeaway from an ugly win on the road.
And it can also make it really hard to predict what to expect out of today's matchup against the Indiana Pacers. Are we going to see a team that fights hard, plays not-terrible defense, and gives themselves a chance to win against a very good team in a tough place to play (23-5 at home)? Or are they going to look like they did during the losing streak, and throughout much of Sunday's game? Because make no mistake: if they give the same poor level of effort and execution tonight as they did against the Wolves, it's not going to be an ugly win — it's just going to be an ugly loss.
The Warriors' defense has trended precipitously downward since January. Through the first 40 or so games the team's Defensive Rating hovered just over 100; in the last 16 games, it's been over 108. Opponents' scoring efficiency, especially from three, has gone up. The Pacers, meanwhile, have the best defense in the league, leading the league in opponents' FG% and 3FG%. They've limited their opponents to a ridiculous <36% eFG in the last four games (although two of those were against Detroit). Their defense will be there. I'm not so sure about ours.
Aside from my natural inclination to mistrust any positivity in Golden State, this is why I'm close to fearing the reaper: the standings. It's just really close: another six-game slide could put the Warriors right out of the current playoff picture. There's a lot of time left in the season, sure; but for once in a long while, there's excellent reason to have and maintain a sense of urgency. Utah is just 2 1/2 games back; Houston is 3 back. The Lakers? Six back. That just seems like too small a number to me.
I just want to see some consistency again. I want to see a defense that's reliable, that keeps the team in games and gives them a chance to take the W as the clock ticks down. They aren't going to win every game, and Indiana is a tough nut. But they need to prove to us, and prove to themselves, that they haven't lost what got them where they are. If they don't get to it soon, they might not be there anymore.