Each of the last two games, the Golden State Warriors have been able to grind out tough victories against two of the hottest teams in the league.
On Thursday night, the Warriors took down the Houston Rockets in overtime, ending the Rockets’ eight-game win streak and stopping the team with the best record since the new year. Two nights later, the Warriors fought for a tough victory over the surging Brooklyn Nets, who had been 15-6 since the calendar turned and climbing the Eastern Conference standings. As the Warriors prepare for their longest remaining road trip of the season, the Warriors will look to ride the momentum they have gained with these big wins and translate it into more victories.
Over the last two games, the Warriors defense has carried them to victory. Despite shooting 41.5% combined in the last two games, the defense has stepped up tremendously, holding the Rockets and Nets to a combined 38.5% from the field. This has been extremely impressive as the Warriors have been missing their defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut, but Jermaine O’Neal has stepped in admirably and the defense hasn’t missed a beat. If the Warriors hope to continue their success on the road, this defensive effort must travel with them, especially against the quality opponents they will be facing.
The Warriors start their six-game Eastern Conference road trip on Monday against the Detroit Pistons. After acquiring Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings in the offseason, expectations were high for Detroit, but things haven’t quite gone as planned. Things were starting to look up after a three game win streak against Brooklyn, Denver, and San Antonio in early February, but they’ve struggled since then, losing 4 of 5. The Warriors played them extremely well the first time these teams met, winning 113-95 after being up 23 going into the fourth quarter. The Pistons are a dangerous team with capable players, but a loss in Detroit would be disappointing.
After Detroit, the Warriors head to Chicago for what could be one of the most difficult games on the trip. Despite losing Derrick Rose and trading Luol Deng, the Bulls have been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning five in a row and six of seven games before falling to the Heat on Sunday. That one loss was against the Warriors on Feb. 6th, when the Warriors pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 102-87. The Bulls will be looking for revenge, and although the Warriors will most likely be favored and should win, a loss would not be surprising.
From Chicago, the Warriors will then make their only trip to Madison Square Garden this season against the struggling New York Knicks. Of course, this will the the Warriors first appearance at MSG since Curry’s amazing 54 point game there last year, but the Warriors weren’t able to come away with a victory in that game. A loss this year would be extremely disappointing, as the Knicks find themselves six-games out of the playoff picture in the struggling Eastern Conference.
While the Knicks have regressed greatly from last year, the Warriors next opponent has done the exact opposite. The Warriors head to Toronto to face the surging Raptors, who find themselves currently in third place of the Eastern Conference. The Warriors played the Raptors in early December and were able to erase a 27-point deficit, but this is a different Raptors team than that one. Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan have stepped up their play since the trade of Rudy Gay, and the Raptors have been a top team in the league since mid-December, going 21-11.
While the Raptors are climbing the ranks in the Eastern Conference, the Warriors next opponent will be the leaders of the East all season, the Indiana Pacers. However, after starting the season on fire, the Pacers have begun to come back to Earth. They still own the second best record in the league and by far the league’s best defense, but have gone 3-3 in their last six games with losses against Orlando, Dallas, and Minnesota. However, they are still are an elite team with a league best 26-3 home record, so a loss would be understandable. The Warriors played the Pacers in Oracle about a month ago, and although they lost by eight, the game was there for the taking in the last couple minutes.
The Warriors end the trip on the back end of a back to back in Boston against the struggling Boston Celtics. However, that didn’t stop them from putting up a great fight the last time these two teams met. The Warriors escaped with a victory thanks to a Steph Curry game winning jumper with a couple seconds left on the clock, and with the Warriors coming into Boston without any rest after a tough game against Indiana, this game is anything but a gimme.
Overall, this road trip projects to be one of the hardest stretches remaining for the Warriors. They face three of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference, all of which have solid home records. However, if the Warriors play how they have been recently (especially on defense), they should come back to Oracle in good shape. Anything can happen on the road, but the Warriors project to come back from this six-game road trip in good shape.