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And now for a defining stretch of the season

It all comes down to this ... kind of.

Draymond Green standing next to Steph Curry on the court. Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors are hitting the road for the first time in a few weeks. A handful of home games and the postponement of games due to the death of assistant coach Dejan Milojević means that when the Dubs take the court on Friday night in Memphis, it will be their first road game in 18 days.

It’s also one of their most important games, as it kicks off a stretch of schedule that could define the season for the down-but-not-out Dubs.

Golden State will be on the road for five games, culminating in a brutal back-to-back next Wednesday and Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers, led by their respective MVP candidates Joel Embiid and Tyrese Haliburton.

And that fifth and final game? It tips off just four hours after the 2024 NBA trade deadline. Don’t be surprised if the Warriors pack their trio of two-way contracts with them on the cross-country trip, just in case they’re shorthanded when that game rolls around.

It’s a critical stretch for numerous reasons. The obvious one is that the Warriors are in desperate need of some wins: they sit 1.5 games out of the play-in tournament and 5.5 games outside of the playoff standings, and while there are plenty of games left to be played, the quietly slid by the halfway mark of the season over the weekend.

More noteworthy, though, is that the Dubs have shown glimpses of figuring things out. They may have split their recent four-game homestand, but the Dubs sandwiched one-point losses with convincing wins. A 2-2 record certainly isn’t noteworthy, but a +32 differential over a four-game stretch is. It’s an exceedingly small sample, but the Dubs offense has started to find rhythm over those four games, sporting a 126.3 offensive rating that’s a full four points per 100 possession higher than the top mark in the league this year.

There have been many keys to this, even though the Warriors have been shorthanded. Andrew Wiggins has been returning to form; Jonathan Kuminga has been blossoming into a star; Steph Curry seems energized with a little more help. But none is bigger than the impact that Draymond Green has had since returning to the team. Just look at the numbers!

At the core of that is the way that Green has not only thrived individually, but fully unlocked the previously-atrocious pairing of Kuminga and Wiggins. And as a result, the Warriors have flipped the script on their first half of the season, and returned to the blueprint of prior campaigns: a dominant starting lineup, with a questionable bench.

The bench doesn’t have to be questionable, though. Moses Moody should be back soon, with Gary Payton II right around the corner. Chris Paul — quite arguably the team’s second-best player when he fractured his hand on January 5 — should return during February. Brandin Podziemski, pushed into a started role during Tuesday’s win over Philly, will return to the bench when Klay Thompson recovers from his current illness, likely on Friday.

If the Dubs can marry their first-half bench success with their recent starter success, they could suddenly look like a problem. The good kind of problem, I should specify. They’ve been the bad kind plenty this year.

That’s where the next few games come in. For Golden State, it’s not just about whether they can reverse their current trends and start regularly stringing together wins — remember, their five-game winning streak from December 16 through December 23 is their only time having consecutive wins since they started the year 5-1. It’s about how they look and what it means for roster construction.

Wiggins is starting to resemble his old self: if the Warriors win the next two or three games, does Mike Dunleavy Jr. decide to run with his core? Or if they stutter on this road trip, does the team make a move and leave someone else to cover the next three-and-a-half seasons of Wiggins’ contract?

If Green continues to thrive in his new role as starting center, will Golden State feel comfortable filling in the rest of the minutes with Kevon Looney, Trayce Jackson-Davis, and Dario Šarić? Or if he looks overmatched in certain lineups do they add a center?

And does the team look good enough to eagerly await Paul’s stabilizing ways, and the likely return of an elite bench unit, or do they stumble enough to pull the trigger on some cap-shaving maneuvers, and dump CP3’s large contract?

We’re gonna find out, and we’re gonna find out soon. When Golden State returns home to host the Phoenix Suns on February 10, they’ll probably look a lot different. It’s just a matter of whether it’s the personnel or the on-court play that offers change.

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