The Golden State Warriors will have a winning season.
Fans probably saw this coming from the moment the Warriors were able to take advantage of a relatively easy schedule (injuries to opposing star players coupled with top-tier teams taking them lightly) and the surprise of a revamped defense that was able to send them to a scorching 30-17 start.
Regression was inevitable and it came at a heavy price; the usual assortment of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut injuries along with a collapsing defense hurtled them back to the usual stumbling franchise in search of sustained success.
But in un-Warriors fashion, they've rebounded in the past month to win winnable games, lose lose-able games and ultimately end up on the right side of things.
In a season fraught with storylines, the one message remains the same: the team will only go as far as the fickle nature of injuries will take them.
It isn't a surprise that the recent strong defensive play has coincided with Bogut's resurgent play as a defensive stopper in the middle. And somewhat fittingly, the game ended tonight with a Curry landing that left him limping to the tunnel after the game.
We can go into whether Mark Jackson should leave him in the game up double-digits with a couple minutes left but that's how he's played his starters this year. Through thick and thin, Jackson has relied on heavy minutes from Lee and Curry. That isn't going to change now, with a couple games left in a heated race for a team without a playoff appearance in five seasons.
We got a week or so with an injury-free team that threatened to amnesty our memories from recurring grimacing faces but it was only a matter of time. It was only a matter of time that reality doused the white-hot flames that were slowly becoming thoughts of a defense led by Bogut and offense led by Curry's scoring in the playoffs.
"The Clippers are playing bad! Can't wait to see them in the third spot. We can steal a couple games. Maybe the series?"
That can still happen. The defense is steadily improving with the defensive captain Bogut calling out rotations unlike anything we've seen before (see his block in transition when he lurked behind Robin Lopez until the last possible second and timing the jump perfectly). The offense has its issues but Curry doesn't appear to be slowing down and Lee is as steady as ever (evidenced by his vast array of post moves against the absurdly long Anthony Davis).
Unfortunately, Warriors fans can wallow in the fact that the past couple weeks were a mirage—not the play, but the highly unrealistic possibility that their core of stars will always run up and down the court without the impediment of the oft-random ankle, hip or knee sprain. That's just how reality here works.
1. Is Klay Thompson becoming a problem? When a shooter isn't shooting, he contributes in peripheral categories that makes the team better. Or something like that. That's how the saying goes, right? My high school coach must have told me that every practice. Considering I scored 1.1198 points per game, I guess the saying holds true.
Thompson shot 4-11 with only one turnover and ended up a +22 for the game. But as a guy flipping between another Tim Lincecum walk (oops, there's another one!) and the ballgame, I noticed that Klay seemed a little off in his overall play. Eric Gordon repeatedly drove by him—rare considering Klay's usually stalwart defense—and there wasn't much rhythm in his offensive game.
I keep harping on it but Thompson is averaging 35.6 minutes per game on a playoff team. He hasn't missed a single game in his two seasons as an NBA player. That's a crapload of minutes even for a young player like him. It goes back to college, where he played at Washington State. The guy is durable, perhaps to a fault. Mental fatigue or physical fatigue, with each game Thompson struggles, this has to be worrisome for Jackson.
It's been a while but always good to see old friend Jarrett Jack back. Say what you will about his tendency to shoot first, second and third, but his play against the Hornets in the first half signified what he meant to the team. Down double digits after a lackluster first quarter, Jack took a charge against Greivis Vasquez and popped up clapping his hands, imploring his teammates to bring more energy.
He went on to shoot an efficient 8-11 along with eight dimes and three rebounds. It's cliche and perhaps a bit rubbish to say as basketball has veered into a statistical revolution along the lines of baseball, but Jack's play is really the heart and soul of the team—immeasurable.
But with the good comes the bad, and Jack's decision-making at the end of the third quarter was as questionable as always. The Hornets, knowing that he would pull up for a jumper, doubled him and forced him to kick to Draymond Green on the wing. This led to an open Curry floater, which he made, but was later waved off. All Jack had to do is start his isolation drive a little earlier to keep the threat of a Curry three alive but he is so used to taking his shot as the clock expires that muscle memory probably took over.
3. The Hornets pick-and-roll defense was especially bad tonight with Anthony Davis unable to recover on numerous occasions, leaving Lee open to shoot mid-range jumpers and breakdowns all over the floor. Lee also took Ryan Anderson and Davis in the post several times. It isn't said enough (hint at future post?) but his use of both hands to shoot is a treat to watch. Lee often catches players by surprise because they just don't know which side he'll pivot to. He hasn't been as good as he was at the beginning of the season but this performance is encouraging for the last nine games.
4. It was nice to see Eric Gordon show a ton of burst attacking the rim over and over again on his way to 11 free throws. Hobbled by injuries in the past four seasons, the Hornets really need him to justify the max contract he got last summer. Even though they botched the Austin Rivers pick—outlandishly bad at the time and somehow worse now—a core of Anderson, Davis and Gordon isn't the worst thing in the world.
Last note on the Hornets: Davis' shot looks much better than the results. He has the perfect shooting form—whatever that means—mirroring that of a shooting guard but the shot just doesn't go in. He is shooting 34.6 percent from 10-15 feet and 33 percent from 16-23 feet, according to Hoopdata. I'll chalk it up to rookie struggles. Guy is going to be a monster on both sides of the ball for a long time.
43-32. Magic number: 3.