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24 games left in the regular season: A deep dive into Golden State’s push to the playoffs

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From toughest schedule to easiest, can the Warriors flip the switch for the last third of the season?

2017 NBA Finals - Game Three Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

As Hugo Kitano recently wrote, the Golden State Warriors’ remaining schedule is quite easy.

The cumulative winning percentage of all remaining teams that we will face is below .500 — in fact, at .463, the Warriors have the easiest schedule out of all Western teams from now until the end of the regular season.

After dropping four of the last eight games heading into the All Star break that’s good news, for sure.

News of the Warriors’ demise has been greatly exaggerated

As per the NBA, the Warriors have the best offense (barely beating out the Houston Rockets), and the fifth-best defense. But because defensive stats are really wonky when it comes to defense, I have to note that Basketball-Reference ranks the Warriors slightly lower - according to Basketball-Reference, the Warriors have the second-best offense, and significantly lower with the ninth-best defense. The big discrepancy in their defensive rating is related to the Warriors’ strength of schedule: Basketball-Reference shows the Warriors having had the very toughest of roads into the All Star break.

Offensively, the Warriors are crushing it (as usual) with their shooting. They say that shooting correlates to about 40% of a team’s success. The Warriors are shooting a league-leading Effective Field Goal Percentage of .579 — and holding opponents to the third-best mark of .498. So the Warriors are still shooting people out of the gym, and locking them down on the other end.

In other words, the rumblings about the team’s struggles in the first part of the season may be overblown.

The problem has been turnovers, where the Warriors find themselves among the perennial worst in turnover percentage - currently sitting on the bottom on both offense (29th) and defense (25th). We are also getting murdered in the fast break, dead last there too. But the team has been playing poorly to this point; those turnovers and fastbreaks are the very first thing that we should see fixed with a renewed energy and focus that is supposedly coming now that the playoffs are in sight.

Top five or ten defense, and top one or two offense? That’s good. If it wasn’t for the insane, record-breaking expectations that this team has set for itself over the past few years, everything would be looking pretty rosy.

But let’s take a deeper look into where how the remainder of the season will shake out around as the Warriors enter this supposedly soft final push.

The specifics of the Warriors’ remaining path

Starting tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Warriors have about six and a half weeks left in their season, and a whole lot of friendly home cooking. There are some tough games/stretches — that Spurs at home, fly to Portland for a SEGEBABA, and then flying to Minnesota for your third game in four nights in particular looks painful. But there are a lot of very winnable games in there as well.

Take a look at the end of that schedule though, Suns, Pacers and Jazz — all bad teams on the end of a bad season.

Beyond just the relatively softer competition, the road isn’t looking too bad either. The longest road trip is coming up next week and it’s the Knicks, a good Wizards team in DC, and then a bad Atlanta Hawks team, all with ample rest before, in between, and after.

The Rocket in the room

Most importantly for our seeding, the Rockets are facing a steeper hill than the Warriors in the last third of the season:

Thirteen of the Warriors’ final 24 games are against clubs currently outside of the playoff standings, including eight games against teams with 19 wins or fewer (three versus Suns, two versus Kings, two versus Hawks and one against the Nets). Additionally, just one of the five remaining multi-city road trips are longer than two games.

The Rockets have just three games against teams with 19 wins or fewer and open with 10 of 14 games on the road following the break. Houston has six back-to-backs remaining. The Warriors have four. The Rockets’ remaining strength of schedule is 745-705 (.514) with 10 games against non-playoff teams.

The Rockets own the tie-breaker against the Warriors, and earned a fair amount of respect along the way. Getting a bunch of three pointers and free throws is one thing, but the Houston Rockets are playing defense now. Sure, their defense is a tier below where the Warriors are, but with an offense capable of keeping pace, the Rockets are at least dangerous enough to make most fans want the #1 seed. Given the tie-breaker advantage, it is a little bit comforting to know that the Rockets’ path is decidedly less advantageous for the last month and a half of the season.

The rest of the playoff race

Ryan Blackburn of fellow SBN blog Denver Stiffs did a phenomenal job of synthesizing all the games remaining for the fringe playoff teams. In case you missed it because of your focus on the Warriors, it’s fair to say that the playoff race in the West is going to be nuts. After the Rockets and Warriors, there’s a huge dropoff, with the third-place Spurs 10 games back - and the 10th place Utah Jazz just 14.5 games back. In other words, just four and a half games stand between third place and tenth place.

In light of that tightness, the remaining strength of schedules comparison becomes increasingly important - again, from that Blackburn article here are all of those teams’ schedules difficulty combined into one graphic:

A visual breakdown of the schedule for West playoff contenders.
Ryan Blackburn, Denver Stiffs

The Spurs could be an interesting wrinkle. They have the toughest remaining schedule and with Kawhi Leonard out for the indeterminate future, it’s not hard to imagine the Spurs dropping down a bit in the standings. The various playoff permutations are just too much to consider all at once, but you can see from that image that Minnesota has a fair number of easy games, potentially further cementing the Warriors desire to grab the top seed so they can avoid the second and third seeds for as long as possible.

However it shakes out, this is going to be a wild six weeks. The Warriors are out of excuses and have a clear path laid out in front of them. With two-thirds of the season gone, the time to refocus and tighten up is now.