Hey, Warriors fans!
You might have tuned in to watch the Dubs play in the frozen tundra of Minnesota Sunday night, expecting your league-best squad to destroy a young ‘Wolves team that has utterly disappointed so far this season. You might have tuned in with the same confidence that you watched Saturday night before realizing the drubbing dealt by the Grizzlies in Memphis couldn’t be cured with a “reset” button of your PlayStation. What happened to the world beaters that can blow everyone out by 40 points? What happened to the top offense in the league and the can’t-miss shooters who suddenly are missing everything?
Fear not — after falling behind by 10 in the third quarter, the Warriors went on a huge fourth-quarter blitz to flip the script on the young, frisky team from Minnesota on their way to a 116-108 win. This game was close the whole way, with both teams trading runs and baskets, while neither team found a way to put the other away. This boded well for Golden State, a team that is absolutely limping through an extended east coast trip featuring four games in five days. If the ‘Wolves had put them away early, I am not sure the Dubs could have recovered, much like in Memphis.
What is going on with this team right now? Should we be worried about the performances over the last two games? Let’s try to get some answers:
What is going on with this offense right now?
The troubles started back in the second half of the Utah game. This team looks fatigued, and the shots are falling a bit flat. Stephen Curry has not looked like himself in a few days, Kevin Durant’s record-setting shooting is coming back down to Earth and guys are taking turns going through cold streaks. It was said at the beginning of the season that with three all-world scorers, if just two of them are going off at the same time this team is unbeatable. From what we have seen in the Warriors’ losses this season, if just one of them is on for a given night, this team has trouble digging out of the hole. The team has three high-volume scorers who take the majority of the shots. Kevin Durant accounts for 21% of the Warriors’ points per night, Curry chips in the same and Klay Thompson accounts for just under 18%. If one of these guys is off, you still represent half your output for a given night. But, if two are off? Well ... that’s a big hill to climb.
Teams go on streaks, and the schedule is a big part of this. Getting “up” for a road game in Minnesota after just traveling through most of the Midwest is a huge challenge even for professional basketball players. Add in a pair of back-to-backs, and no wonder this team isn’t shooting right now.
Do the Scheduling Gods hate us?
Sure looks like it, right? The team now must travel to New Orleans to contain Anthony Davis before getting to head home. While they will get a day off before then, Golden State still has games every other day throughout the next week. The next two-day break comes after facing the Blazers at home as part of a three-game home stand. The Warriors then go back out on the road for a Christmas trip that ends in Cleveland — a game that miiiiight have some national attention.
“The schedule catches up to you often in this league," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said to praise his team's avoidance of even the most minor losing streaks. “And it's kind of catching up to us right now. This was our fourth in five nights.” Kerr continued, “It's a lot of travel. We didn’t have great energy tonight but you could see the resilience in the fourth quarter and the way our guys really came up with four or five straight stops to start the quarter, which was huge.”
NBA players are professionals. They train all off-season to prepare for the grind that you see now. This is normal! This is why teams have “schedule losses.” These are games where, when you look at the schedule in advance, you can predict catching a hot team at a particular point of travel when they are not going to be at 100%. This is more the “norm,” and more of a reminder of how amazing it was for Golden State to win 73 games last season.
This is also a reminder of how big it was for the Dubs to gut out the win on Sunday night — the defense kicking into high gear in the fourth, holding the ‘Wolves bench while the second unit behind Thompson and Durant made up the deficit. What was most impressive was Kerr going with his second unit deep into the fourth. He trusted David West at center with Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston in the back court, with Durant breaking out of his game-long shooting slump to pick up the slack. The team went on a 15-0 run, and an overall 25-4 span that put the game away. Kudos to Kerr for riding the hot hands and having faith in the veterans who still had something in the tank to turn the tide.
How bad does this team miss Zaza Pachulia?
Your answer — pretty bad right now. Pachulia is not a huge part of this roster. He plays 20 minutes per game. He is a scrappy center who only scores 4.3 points per game. His value primarily is as the dirty worker, which the team could really use during this stretch. He is the guy you want in the bunker during an ugly win. The Warriors did not need their starting center, Kevon Looney, and any other guy they threw out there getting into foul trouble against the beast that is Karl-Anthony Towns. If this was the playoffs, not having Pachulia might not be the end of the world. But for right now, in the middle of a long road trip where you need healthy, productive bodies, this is a big blow.
As for Kevon Looney, he should be considered a rookie. There is no reason to think his body of work would classify him as anything but that. He has a small amount of college experience to go along with a small amount of NBA experience. He is a freak athlete with a motor, and he was the best choice to go against the ‘Wolves because he has had success on Towns when these teams played in Minnesota.
With that said, if Pachulia will be out an extended period of time (which he might be), you have now seen how bad this roster can be without a normal center rotation. To Bob Myers: I’m not sure what Anderson Varejao has on you blackmail wise, but he is not the answer at big man. Sure, David West filled in admirably and JaVale McGee (despite my love for him) is good in five-minute stints. But this team could really use another traditional banger in the middle in the form of a veteran. And no, it is not Damian Jones — not at this point in his career.
Why are the ‘Wolves so bad?
The ‘Wolves are bad because they have so many bad habits. Coach Tom Thibodeau plays his young core way too many minutes, and they have had late-game lapses all season. Andrew Wiggins is an elite scorer, but not much of a defender. Ricky Rubio is an elite passer and defender, but an abysmal shooter. Towns does most things well (is actually a negative defender), but he can only do so much. Minnesota should have followed Utah’s game plan of taking your young core and surrounding it with veteran talent. Instead, they invested in Gorgui Dieng, have stuck with young stars like Zach LaVine and gave the controls to a coach that would rather go with dependable vets who can follow his lead. I feel bad for this team, but only as far as realizing that on this trajectory they will get another top pick next year to go with this core. They are one, two ... maybe three trades away from being NBA elite, and they have the spare parts to go with draft picks to make a huge splash in the future.
The fear of other teams is that Minnesota can legitimately beat any team on a given night. They ran with the Warriors all night, and didn’t look out of place doing it. Towns is the future, and is scary when he is on. LaVine is a great shooter and a threat to posterize you at any moment. Credit the ‘Wolves: they didn’t back down and were a run away from taking this one from Golden State.
So ... what’s next? Is the sky falling?
No ... the Warriors are fine. They will get a day’s rest before playing another under-.500 team and that should help. The Pelicans are a different team with Jrue Holiday on the floor, but they are coming off a five-game losing streak that they snapped by barely beating the lowly Suns. The fear is that Kerr might view this game as a chance to rest a starter like Draymond Green. And, while he needs it, that could mean another loss. But the fan base might have to start getting use to this. It is not healthy to have to ride your core this much if you are looking for a title. This is why you pack the roster with vets and rookies, and now might be that chance to use them. The key is realizing 65 wins might put the team in a better position to win a title (despite the glory of the 73-win season).
For now, let’s hope the Warriors get some rest on the travel day and start looking like themselves again soon.