The Golden State Warriors have not had a very fun week.
Yes, they clinched a playoff berth for the first time in six years with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, but that victory was bookended by a pair of embarrassing losses to the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, only 24 hours after being slapped around by Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin, the Warriors travel south to the Staples Center to kick off a difficult three game road trip against the Los Angeles Lakers, who they haven’t defeated on the road in nine previous attempts.
Both teams need a win. The Lakers, as any Sports Center viewer is aware, have not had the kind of year they had imagined after bringing Steve Nash and Dwight Howard into the fold during the off-season. Despite injuries, an ugly coaching situation and astonishingly bad defense, a resurgent Kobe Bryant has propelled the Lakers to an eighth seed. However, the Utah Jazz sit only one game behind the Lakers for that final playoff berth, and Utah holds the regular season tie breaker should both teams finish the 82 game season with the same record.
The Warriors have already punched their own ticket to the postseason, but they also need a win tonight if they want to hold onto the Western Conference’s sixth seed. The Houston Rockets sit only a half game behind Golden State in the standings, and they too hold the regular season tiebreaker should the Warriors continue to slip in the standings.
As it stands now, the Warriors would face a hobbled Denver Nuggets team in the first round. If they were fall to the seventh seed, they’d likely face the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder, and neither of those teams would give them any chance to slip into the second round.
After Los Angeles, the Warriors road to the playoffs only gets more difficult from here. Golden State will travel to San Antonio and Portland, to finish the season, two cities where they have struggled in the past.
With Andrew Bogut out after leaving Thursday’s game with a sprained ankle, the Warriors will need improved performances from Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, both of whom underperformed against the Thunder.
Thompson is particularly critical, as he creates the space along the perimeter that allows Curry to operate. He shot an atrocious 2-for-10 last night, missing several open looks that would have shifted the game’s momentum in the second quarter.
Golden State’s offense hums when Thompson is feeling his shot, and stalls when he isn’t. The Warriors have a .371 winning percentage in games in which Klay shoots below his 40% 3FG average, according to stats compiled from basketball-reference.com.
Fortunately for the Warriors, Thompson has shot a terrific 44.4% from three against the Lakers this season. If he can continue to produce at that pace, the Warriors stand a good chance at pulling out a long overdue road victory over the Lakers.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (45-34) vs. The Los Angeles Lakers (42-37)
WHERE: Staples Center, Los Angeles
WHEN: 7:30 PM PST, Comcast
AT STAKE: The sixth, seventh and eighth seeds in the Western Conference Playoffs
PLAYER TO WATCH: Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson. If both are shooting the ball well, the road to a Warriors victory gets a lot easier.
PREDICTION: Warriors bounce back and eke out a 111-107 victory