It’s been a week since the Golden State Warriors (minus All-Star David Lee) suited up and took the floor, and it’s hard to imagine they wanted to wait a day longer to get back on the right foot.
In case you forgot, the Dubs (30-22) finished the season’s “first half”–or first 52 contests, if you want to get technical–on a five game losing streak, the team’s longest of the season. Four of the losses were ugly, with the previously stout Golden State defense crumbling down the stretch and looking more and more like a unit in dire need of a weeklong siesta.
If the Warriors were hoping to ease back into things after a seven-day layoff, they won’t get their wish. The Utah Jazz (30-24) await them in Salt Lake City just two games in the loss column behind the Warriors in the Western Conference Standings. Golden State’s once cushy positioning in the conference’s playoff race has become much more like siting in between a heavyset couple on a crowded flight to New Zealand. Put simply, the team needs a win, badly.
So how do they go about getting it? For one, they’ll have to buck some recent history against Utah. The Warriors haven’t swept the Jazz on the road since the 1980-81 season, and this year’s squad is 20-6 at home, one of the best marks in the league.
The Warriors also have to avoid becoming complacent if they manage to forge a lead, something that has plagued Golden State even during the current season’s brightest moments. The Jazz don’t panic when they fall behind, evidenced by the team’s 13 wins in games that featured a double digit deficit. The Warriors have often found themselves with their proverbial foot on their opponents’ throat in 2012-13, but have trouble finding the gumption to press it down. Mark Jackson would be wise to stress the importance of refusing to relent before and during the game.
In the teams’ last meeting, on the day after Christmas, Golden State played one of its best defensive games of the year in a 94-83 victory. Utah scored just 37 of its points before halftime and failed to crack the 40 percent mark shooting from the field, their home worst performance of he season. The Jazz also made just four three-pointers, or as many as Warriors guard Stephen Curry had all by himself in a 23-point, seven-assist performance.
Curry will be a key on Tuesday (he almost always is), but Andrew Bogut will be the player to watch, both against he Jazz and throughout the rest of the season. The company line on Bogut is that he would not play on consecutive nights until after the All-Star Break, which would seem to indicate that he is not yet at full strength. If my calendar is right, the festivities in Houston are over, which means it’s time for Bogut to become the presence Golden State expected when they dealt Monta Ellis for the seven-footer last March. Bogut is a vital cog in the Dubs’ defense, a unit that began to falter once the center returned from an ankle injury.
As for the backcourt, expect Mark Jackson to run his guards with a week of rest in the tank. Jamaal Tinsley and Randy Foye had no answer for Curry or Jarrett Jack in the Dec. 26 matchup, so unless coach Tyrone Corbin has a fool-proof solution for the Warriors’ guard tandem, you’ll see a lot of both early and often.
The stench of a five-game losing streak isn’t as pungent when you get seven days to clean out the cobwebs, but there is still undoubtedly some pressure on Golden State to get back into the win column on Tuesday. A rough stretch lays ahead, and a road victory against a quality opponent would be a fantastic way to begin it.
WHO: Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz
WHERE: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
WHEN: Tuesday, 6 p.m. PST, CSN Bay Area
AT STAKE: Snapping a five-game losing streak, beginning the push toward the postseason.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Andrew Bogut. The Warriors’ center must capitalize on his improving health and become an elite defender once again.
PREDICTION: The Warriors find a way to squeak one out in the final moments. Golden State 102, Utah 99.