Another week, another struggle for the team we’re used to seeing as borderline invincible. The Golden State Warriors dealt with injuries, losses, poor play, and a fall in the standings - again. And if they want to reverse course this week, they’ll have to do it the hard way: On the road.
Golden State finishes up their five-game road trip by filling the week with three more games away from home. If you’re a glass half-full type of person, two of those three games come against very bad teams. If you’re a glass half-empty type of person, the third game comes against one of the league’s top teams - a team that already destroyed the Warriors once this year.
Given the cluster that is the Western Conference right now, a good week could put the Warriors on top of the conference, while a bad week could put them barely in the playoffs. So let’s dig into it.
Position entering the week
Conference standings: 4th
Net rating: 6th (+4.3)
This week’s games
Monday, December 3 at the Atlanta Hawks (5-18)
When: 4:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Bay Area
Season series: Warriors lead 1-0
What to watch for: When these two teams first met - the day after the scuffle between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green - we were deprived of a matchup between Steph Curry and Hawks rookie Trae Young, as Curry was out with a groin injury. Young drew a lot of comparisons to Curry leading up to the draft, though, frankly, such comparisons were rather lazy. Either way, he’s an electric and exciting rookie, and getting to watch him go against Curry should be a blast.
Why they could win: The Hawks are 29th in the league in net rating. To put it mildly, they are bad. The Warriors, despite playing at a level lower than we’re used to seeing, are very good. Simply put, the Hawks don’t have the defenders necessary to put on Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, or the offensive forces to make life hard on Golden State.
Why they could lose: The Warriors have had more than a few inexplicable performances this year. And while Young has had a very inconsistent season, he’s had more than a few star performances that could drive Atlanta to an impressive showing.
Opponent to watch: John Collins. The second-year big missed the first 15 games of the season - including Atlanta’s visit to Oracle Arena - with an injury, but since getting healthy he’s been dynamic. In eight games, Collins is averaging 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Given his athleticism at the power forward position, and the Warriors being without Draymond Green, he could give the Dubs fits.
Wednesday, December 5 at the Cleveland Cavaliers (4-18)
When: 4:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Bay Area
What to watch for: The Warriors and Cavs have met in the NBA Finals four years in a row. It goes without saying that they won’t make it five years in a row. Still, the first matchup since the rivalry died will be interesting to watch. Cleveland is a new team, with no LeBron James, no Ty Lue, no JR Smith, no Kyle Korver, and a sidelined Kevin Love. Will the fans still treat the Dubs as hated rivals? Or has everyone moved on to a new era?
Why they could win: Can I copy and paste this blurb from the Hawks section? The Warriors are still really good. The Cavs are 27th in net rating, with an offense ranked 26th, and a defense ranked dead last.
Why they could lose: This is the NBA, where losses happen when they have no business happening. That’s really the only answer to this question.
Opponent to watch: Cedi Osman. It’s not exactly an easy task to take over as a team’s starting small forward the year after LeBron leaves town. But Osman has at least been entertaining and exciting. The second-year wing has had an up-and-down season, but is averaging 11.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He’s fun to watch.
Friday, November 7 at the Milwaukee Bucks (15-7)
When: 6:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN and NBC Sports Bay Area
Season series: Bucks lead 1-0
What to watch for: When the two teams last matched up, the Bucks dealt the Warriors one of the worst home losses of the Steve Kerr era. To add insult to injury (quite literally), Steph Curry was thoroughly outplayed by Eric Bledsoe, before leaving the game with the groin injury that sidelined him for 11 contests. The Warriors had no answer for Milwaukee’s length the first time around - are things different in game two?
Why they could win: I don’t have the evidence to back this up, but it seems like the Warriors typically do well in revenge games. This certainly qualifies.
Why they could lose: The Bucks blowout win at Oracle Arena wasn’t a fluke. Milwaukee has the best net rating in the league (+9.6), and it’s not particularly close. They sport the league’s top offense, and a top-10 defense. Their length is outstanding - they at times look like a group of giraffes on the court - and they have some serious star power.
Opponent to watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Is it ever not Giannis Antetokounmpo? He’s the league’s leading MVP candidate. He’s averaging 27.6 points, 13.2 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game, and can get down the entire court in about three dribbles. Always watch the Greek Freak, even when he’s not playing the Warriors.
This week’s storylines
Can Steph get going?
The two-time MVP has only played in one game since returning from an 11-game absence. And while he showed flashes in that game, he was also rusty. shooting 10-21 from the field and having 7 turnovers to just 3 assists. Rust is to be expected, but this is a perfect week for him to get back on track. On Monday, Curry is matched up against Young, one of the worst (perhaps the worst) defensive point guards in the league. On Wednesday, he goes up against the Cavs, the league’s worst defense. If he can get in rhythm in those two games (which seems likely), he’ll be ready for revenge against Bledsoe and the Bucks.
Will there be personnel moves?
The likely season-ending injury that Damian Jones suffered on Saturday means the Warriors are seriously compromised. Until DeMarcus Cousins returns, the team has only two centers: Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell. And even those two are more used to playing power forward. Draymond Green won’t be returning this week, which means the Warriors have very little depth, especially at the center position. Will they make a move? Will they bring back Cousins earlier than anticipated? Or will they just fake it until they make it?
Kevin Durant initially struggled after Curry’s injury. But then he caught fire, in an enormous way. In the three games prior to Curry’s return, Durant averaged a blistering 48.0 points per game on 52.2% shooting, and 40.0% from deep. On Saturday, with Steph back in the lineup, Durant cooled down to a relatively quiet 28 points. Will he bump up the aggression once Curry is acclimated?