The NBA Schedule was released last week with much fanfare, and Golden State opens up the season at home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, October 30. After upsetting the Denver Nuggets in a highlight-filled first round series and making the Western Conference Semifinals, acquiring Andre Iguodala in the offseason while keeping their young core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, major TV networks have taken note of the rising Warriors. ABC, ESPN, and TNT have scheduled 17 Warriors games to appear on their stations, marking a franchise record for national television broadcasts.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes look to lead the Warriors into the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in two decades. NBAE/Getty Images
My recent article outlined the schedule highlights, and now I’m turning my attention to where the Warriors should thrive and stretches where they might struggle during the season.
The Warriors will have a season-high seven-game road trip starting December 29 featuring Cleveland, Orlando (2 PM Pacific tip - New Year’s Eve), Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Milwaukee and ending January 8 against the Brooklyn Nets. Golden State has two back-to-backs on the trip (Miami/Atlanta, Milwaukee/Brooklyn) and plays five games in seven nights to end the trip. However, despite the back-to-backs and facing five projected playoff teams in Miami, Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington, and Brooklyn, I think the Warriors should win at least four games on the trip and am optimistic they could win five.
Golden State’s schedule also features a six-game trek beginning February 24 in Detroit, spanning Chicago, New York, Toronto and coming to an end with a back-to-back in Indiana and Boston (potential Trap Game alert!) on March 4 and 5. As with the earlier, longer road trip, the Warriors have a back-to-back facing one of the East’s top teams - in this case Indiana - and a team that didn’t really improve much at all, in fact moving into a rebuilding phase, the Boston Celtics. The Warriors’ recent history in Chicago is not pretty: 0-3 their last three games at the United Center with a point differential of -51, via NBA.com’s stats database, so look for GS to struggle against a re-tooled Bulls team. Also, if you remember last year, Golden State lost to Indiana on the first game of a back-to-back, and tensions flared between Roy Hibbert and David Lee. The Warriors should have easy wins in Toronto and Boston, but other than that everything is up for grabs, and I think the Warriors end up winning either three or four games on the roadie.
The Warriors have only 15 back-to-backs this season, which represents a season-low since the franchise moved west in 1962.
In order of occurrence: LAL(Opening Night)/@LAC , @SAS/@MEM, @NOP/@DAL, @HOU/@MEM, @MIA/@ATL, @MIL/@NETS, @OKC/@NOP, LAC/@UTA, @SAC (starts post-ASB)/HOU , @IND/@BOS, DAL/@LAC, @DAL/@SAS, DEN/@LAL, @POR/MIN
As you can see from this list, the Warriors play both away games against Western Conference challengers Memphis and the Clippers, as the second games of back-to-backs. Last season Golden State played the second game of back-to-backs well, having the third-best winning percentage in the West, per teamrankings.com. However, in spite of this fact, their percentage was merely .500 in these second games of their 20 back-to-backs last year, via NBA.com’s stats database, and they must do better in these games if they wish to gain home court in the West.
Golden State’s first game against the Clippers will be a big barometer of whether the Warriors could be considered early contenders for the West. On the road, in the second game of the year in a nationally televised game looking for division supremacy. Another big test for Golden State comes a week after the opening Los Angeles home/road double-dip, where the Dubs go on the road against Memphis and San Antonio, the Western Conference Finalists last season.
Look for the Warriors to take advantage of a nine-game stretch in mid-November, facing:
DET, OKC, UTA, @UTA, MEM, @LAL/POR, @NOP/@DAL.
Their only tough games, against Oklahoma City and Memphis, are at home. Only four games out of the nine mentioned are on the road. Despite three of the road games being either the front or back end of back-to-backs, they are at arenas with relatively innocuous home-court advantages, especially considering the playoff prospects this season of the Lakers, Mavericks, and Pelicans. They play Utah and the underachieving Lakers thrice during the stretch. Therefore, I would consider seven wins to be a good goal, and if they could win eight, even better.
Another stretch we could see the Warriors flourish is a twelve-game spell in mid-to-late December, where Golden State plays:
@CHA, DAL, HOU, @PHO, NOP, SAS, LAL, @DEN, LAC, PHO, @CLE, @ORL.
Seven of the twelve at home, no back-to-backs, with all four nationally televised games, including Christmas night versus the Clippers, played at Oracle. The Warriors go on the road facing Charlotte, Phoenix, Denver, Cleveland, and Orlando, which aren’t genuinely tough games, especially considering Denver’s plummet this offseason into a borderline playoff team. I think that Golden State’s benchmark for this stretch should be at least nine victories, and I would definitely not be surprised at ten.
Bill Simmons of Grantland defines the concept of "trap games" as when contending teams are prone to let up against lesser opponents, especially when these games are directly before or after games against higher quality opponents. In my opinion the Dubs have seven trap games: @ATL, BOS, @NOP, @SAC, @BOS, MIL, MIN.
At Atlanta: Golden State will probably be coming off an emotional high from Miami (Remember last year?) whether they win or lose, it’s the second game of a back-to-back on the road, and it’s in the middle of the longest road trip of the year.
Boston: Sandwiched between a back-to-back of Milwaukee and Indiana to end the seven-game road trip and two nationally televised games against Denver and Oklahoma City, first game off the long road trip.
At Pelicans: Second game of a road/road back-to-back (first game in OKC) with the above nationally televised games right before, and following this game is another nationally televised game on MLK Day against the Pacers at home.
At Sacramento: First game after the All-Star Break, with a TNT game against the Rockets the next night. The Dubs always seem to have wild nights in Sacramento (Golden State lost both games in Sac-town last year by a combined six points).
At Boston: This ends the tough six-game road trip outlined earlier in the post, and comes the night after a game in Indiana against the Pacers.
Milwaukee: Coming after a should-be blowout against Orlando at home, and right before three really tough home games, San Antonio, Memphis, and New York.
Minnesota: The fourth game in five nights, the second-to-last game of the year, and Fan Appreciation Night at Oracle as the last home game of the regular season.
Golden State may struggle a bit during the month of February, when they play many of the East’s marquee teams. An especially vital eight-game spell during this month that could make or break their shot at home-court advantage features difficult games against Miami, Chicago, and Houston. The games are: MIA, @SAC, HOU, BRO, @DET, @CHI, @NYK.
The already outlined possible trap game against the Kings is sandwiched between Miami and a nationally televised home game against the Rockets, who both defeated the Warriors in Oracle last year. Golden State then plays three of four on the road, facing the much improved Brooklyn Nets, at the who-knows-what-they’ll-be Pistons, and at Chicago and New York to end the month.
Depending on if the new-look Pistons have figured anything out by this point, Golden State potentially might lose six or seven of these eight games, which would probably drop them out of contention for home-court. However, this is a clear situation where the Warriors could assert themselves as firm contenders for not only home-court advantage, but possibly the two or three seed in the West if the Dubs are able to win five or six games during this critical stretch.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
Other than that, Golden State doesn’t really have any long stretches where they might struggle. It’s only if they don’t play up to the level of their competition, but as Miami found out last year, the Warriors are definitely capable of playing with anybody at home or on the road.
Golden State will have to be able to take advantage of the stretches where they play under .500 teams and games against contenders at home. The trap games will be important for the Dubs to maintain their confidence and energy throughout the season, to always focus on the game at hand. The tough stretches in the schedule are key for the Warriors to really show that they are serious contenders for the Western Conference, and against top teams on the road, serious title contenders as well.