The Golden State Warriors have fallen behind the Houston Rockets in the standings, which brings about some adversity that should serve as a wake up call.
The Golden State Warriors made winning a championship look easy last June when they won 15 games in a row to start the postseason. Their only loss came at the hands of a last ditch effort by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who needed a historic shooting performance in order to put the Dubs away.
The 2016-17 season wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Warriors though. Incorporating Kevin Durant into the lineup was a challenge, as his success came at the cost of Stephen Curry‘s. After Curry’s poor performance in their Christmas Day loss to the Cavs, the team adjusted and started to put things together.
As soon as they did, Durant went down with injury and the Warriors had to pivot once again. They struggled mightily in their first few weeks without their superstar acquisition, but Curry got on track and they were back to blowing teams out. Most importantly, they were able to bring Durant back on for the postseason without missing a beat.
The Golden State Warriors have now found this year’s adversity. They head into the All-Star break as the second seed in the Western Conference, falling behind the Houston Rockets after the Dubs’ narrow loss to the Portland Trailblazers. They’ve lost four of their last eight and have spent the better part of 2018 looking like a shell of themselves.
It’s clear that the team’s energy level has been significantly down. When you’re clearly the best team around, it’s hard to get motivated for the regular season. They have nothing to prove until the playoffs start and they’re trying to pace themselves as they look to make a fourth straight run to the NBA Finals.
Even as they’ve coasted, they were getting wins based on talent alone. And when their talent couldn’t make up for their careless and lackadaisical play, their losses did not affect their place in the standings. Finally, at the All-Star break, it has caught up to them.
The Warriors are now playing from behind. James Harden and Chris Paul are leading a historically great offense. Mike D’Antoni has seemingly perfected what he tried to build years ago with the Phoenix Suns, putting capable defenders inside of his high-octane system.
This is the Warriors’ wake up call. They can no longer call themselves the best team right now. It doesn’t matter what they did last summer; the 2018 Warriors have not been as good as the 2018 Rockets.
Now, this isn’t to say that Golden State is in trouble and you should bet all of your money on the team from Texas. Houston still has a lot to prove and we haven’t seen the defending champs’ best effort yet. But now it’s time to develop a sense of urgency.
Once the team comes back from the break, things are going to move fast. They’ll face the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, two teams that have broken the Warriors down already this season. They could fall behind the Rockets by a few crucial games.
The top seed is important and so is having home court advantage. What the Warriors need to focus on more, though, is rhythm and momentum. It’s better to go into the postseason with the second-best record and good rhythm than stumble into the playoffs with home court advantage in every series.
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That means they have to start taking the first quarter seriously. They can’t just keep falling behind by double digits and expect to get back into games with Omri Casspi back cuts. Playing from behind negates any rest that Steve Kerr can find his stars because they have to work twice as hard to try to overcome significant deficits and then build a lead.
It means that Steph Curry needs to look for his shot early and often. It means that Draymond Green has to lock in defensively, like he did in Portland, on a more consistent basis. It means that Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston have to play basketball like they aren’t afraid.
The Warriors’ problems don’t fall on just one player, in spite of the fact that the team’s fans like to point to Zaza Pachulia as the source of all evil in the world. They’ve shown more life recently in their victories over extremely subpar teams and their loss to the Blazers. They need to do more.
Golden State needs to start building because they don’t have much time once they tip off the regular season again on February 22nd. It’s imperative that they hit the ground running and don’t let up. They saved their energy in the first half for this.
The Warriors have adversity, something that they needed. The Rockets taking the one seed from them is a slap in the face. It’s a reminder that things aren’t going to be handed to them on a silver platter–they’re going to have to work to take what they want.
Golden State will need to give more effort in the second half if they want to take the top seed in the West and ultimately the Larry O’Brien trophy.