The best thing you can say about Tuesday night at Oracle is that, to turn a phrase, the guys in uniform seemed to want it more than the guys in the suits and ties. The Warriors whipped op on the New Orleans Pelicans — yeesh, what a horrible nickname for a basketball team — and it was a Pelicans team missing two of its most dynamic players, Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans. You not only HAVE to win this game on your home floor, you HAVE to pretty much dominate it, and the Warriors did that, at least for three quarters.
But the real tests of the Warriors’ recovery will come Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs, albeit a Spurs team that will be missing Tony Parker (shin contusion), and then Saturday against a Lakers team that now has Kobe Bryant back. The Warriors need to win both of those games as well to show all is on the right road to a rosier future. It wouldn’t hurt to steal that game in Denver on Monday, either, to offset some of their poor road losses in Charlotte and Phoenix.
For now, the Warriors’ physical health is the key change for the good. Andre Iguodala was back, for 17 minutes anyway. It’s going to take him awhile to get back into dynamic 35-minute form, but just his presence on the floor seemed to boost the Golden State spirit, confidence and esprit de corps. The team played with energy, aggressiveness, purposefulness, and for the most part, everything seemed to fit. They moved the ball better, didn’t turn it over as much, and they didn’t have as many defensive lapses as in recent games.
Oh yeah, Steph Curry and David Lee were pretty special on this night. Curry: 28 points, 12 assists, just three turnovers. Lee had 21 points, 16 rebounds in what Mark Jackson claimed was his best effort of the year. While he claimed he didn’t hear the Don Nelson comments revealed earlier in the day from a Sports Illustrated article, Lee seemed particularly driven on this night to reassert himself against his doubters. The Warriors as a team had 58 rebounds, a season high, and Lee was a big part of that.
With Harrison Barnes now the sixth man again, the bench had one of its better games (until the fourth quarter), scoring 29 points, the slowly emerging Marreese Speights delivering 12 of those. Toney Douglas still hasn’t gotten untracked yet, but one would expect that will come with more games and more minutes. If only Festus Ezeli or Jermaine O’Neal was available, this bench unit might be pretty solid. It’s not ideal now, but it’s better than it was a week ago.
The Warriors must really make some hay on this home stretch, though, before going on that murderous seven-game road trip to finish 2013 and start 2014. As Curry remarked afterward, Tuesday night was nothing more than a start. He’s right. There is much work still to do to prove that the Warriors are something more than a team battling for one of the low-end spots in the playoff pecking order.