Over the past four seasons, the tenants of Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. have averaged 28.5 wins per season (including 23 during a strike-shortened 2011-2012). We’re still a few days short of Valentine’s Day in 2012-13, and those same miscreants already have 30 wins and a hold on the Western Conference’s sixth seed.
The Golden State Warriors’ struggles over the past week have somehow managed to lay waste to that notion. Four straight losses, and only one of them close, have the Dubs gasping for air as the All-Star break approaches. This team needs a rest–and it will get one–but then, what?
At 30-21, with a strong one-two punch of Stephen Curry and David Lee leading the way, Golden State is no fluke. They have beaten the best the NBA has to offer and, for the most part, have avoided embarrassing losses that dragged the team down in years past. But until they actually stamp their ticket to the postseason, you can’t blame fans and the basketball punditry for waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So what are the keys to ensuring that the blue and gold avoid a second-half letdown?
It starts and ends with health. Curry, Jarrett Jack and, of course, Andrew Bogut have all seen playing time limited by injuries, with Curry’s absence the most debilitating. Golden State badly needs its star point guard to remain healthy for the entirety of the season’s second half. There is no one else that can run Mark Jackson’s offense with the same precision and effectiveness or get as hot from behind the three point line in crunch time.
Bogut also must find what made him one of the league’ best big men for years in Milwaukee. The seven-foot center has only played nine games because of a debilitating ankle injury that sprang up during the campaign’s opening days. Even after making his return to the floor, Bogut has remained limited, unable to play games on back-to-back nights. The Warriors have indicated that will change after the All-Star break, and it better. Golden State won’t survive the marathon without Bogut to lead the charge in the paint.
The Warriors must also remain a strong rebounding team, the aspect of the club that has become the most pleasantly surprising. Entering Tuesday’s contest against the Rockets, Golden State ranks fourth in the league in total rebounding, pulling down 44.6 boards per game. David Lee stepped up while Bogut’s ankle mended, but Carl Landry’s production off the bench (6.5 reb/g, second on the team) is the biggest reason for the Warriors’ success in reclaiming the ball. Landry has started all of one game, but is easily one of the most important players on the roster.
It will take all 15 Warriors, though, to regain the team’s road swagger. After a strong start away from Oracle, Golden State has seen its level of play in opposing arenas slip. At 14-15, the road Warriors (no pun intended) are in danger of coming closer to the 2008-2011 teams (who were horrendous as visitors) than the squad that spent virtually the entirety of the current season as an above .500 road squad. Oracle Arena remains one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA, but a road skid or two could derail Golden State’s playoff plans.
While many obstacles remain, the first half of the Warriors’ season also crafted a blueprint for second half success. There’s no reason the Warriors cannot maintain or even build upon the winning attitude they forged from the very first day of the season. If they manage to do that, then go ahead and call them a success.