If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of sports fan, the past several weeks of Warriors basketball must have been plenty of fun to analyze. The roughest stretch of the team’s schedule, mixed in with injuries to the two most important players on the roster, had Golden State sinking further and further towards the six, seven and eight seeds in the Western Conference just short of the season’s half way point.
Even more so than the losses to quality opponents like Memphis and Denver, the nagging ailments affecting team cornerstones Stephen Curry and David Lee were legitimate causes for concern. The Warriors looked offensively impotent against the Miami Heat while Curry rested a cranky ankle, and Lee’s absence against the red-hot Hornets was a major reason why New Orleans was able to take the Warriors all the way to the buzzer. In short, even with both Curry and Lee playing on Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State looked weary and ill-prepared for the Clippers, a team poised for a run at the West’s number one seed come playoff time.
Fortunately for Mark Jackson and his bruised battalion, looks can deceive. The Warriors played through a few Clipper flurries and solved the game away in the final minutes, adding an impressive 106-99 home triumph to their resume. The win gave Golden State the season series victory over Los Angeles. The Clippers, owners of the NBA’s second best record as of this writing, have only lost ten times, but three of those defeats have come courtesy of the Warriors.
We still don’t know much about where this Warriors team stands in the Western Conference hierarchy or where exactly they’ll be in two months’ time. We do know that they are better–much better, even–than in recent seasons. A setback like a key injury or a ten-day losing spell would have pulverized the squads Don Nelson coached at the end of his career. So what has been the difference, besides a sizable upgrade in talent?
I normally don’t like to bring emotion and “heart” into the equation, mostly because basketball moves so fast that often there isn’t time to even think about whatever adversity the media has decided you’re up against, but Golden State gets a check-plus in the “guts” category. The Clippers have been a markedly better team than the Warriors through 42 games (40 for the Dubs), and yet found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard at day’s end. Golden State has pulled out some fantastic wins in 2012-13. This one might have been the best.
So where to from here? Definitely not to the day spa. The Oklahoma City Thunder arrive in town on Wednesday in what will be a marquee matchup between the reigning conference champion and an emerging contender. The Thunder currently sit just ahead of the Clippers for the West’s number one slot and come armed with the best player in the league not named LeBron James. How the Warriors contain Kevin Durant will play a large role in determining whether the Warriors finish the five-game stretch from hell 3-2 or 2-3. So will David Lee’s left ankle, which forced him to keep the training wheels on in Monday’s victory against the Clippers.
Golden State could play a fabulous game against Oklahoma City and still come up short, so it’s important not to place too much importance on the contest. But if what we saw on Monday is a sign that the Warriors are ready for whatever storm interrupts their journey, the season’s second half will be something to look forward to.