Tonight was my last game as the Warriors’ beat fill-in for the past two months (with big assists along the way from Jimmy Durkin). I’m sure I’ll get a few more games over the final 39, but Friday night, our new permanent beat writer Diamond Leung takes the reins and I guarantee you will like the result. (Follow Diamond on Twitter right now at @diamond83 — he’s already posting Warriors stuff).
It’s a good time to pass the ball. Under my writing stewardship (pun intended), the Warriors have appeared to found their level. They beat the bad teams. They can’t beat the elite ones, at least not nearly often enough. Here are some telling numbers I came up with after their latest loss to the Indiana Pacers, 102-94 at Oracle:
Record against teams with a better W-L than they have: 3-9 (just one of those wins on the road, Miami, and the other two home nail-biters against Oklahoma City and the L.A. Clippers).
Record against teams with worse W-L record than they have: 23-8 (all but two of those eight losses on the road, and one of the home losses to Memphis when it had Marc Gasol; the other was to Denver last week).
In short, the Warriors are the sixth-best team in the Western Conference and playing to that form. The question is: Where from here?
The Warriors say up. At least that’s what they were saying after a valiant rally from 20 down against Indiana to get within two with plenty of time left only to lose to the NBA’s winningest team at 33-7. From this view, I’d say the verdict is out. But let’s give them their run first.
Said Stephen Curry afterward, “Obviously we showed we can play with the best in the league, outplaying them most of the rest of the game (after a 35-21 Indiana first quarter). They made a couple plays down the stretch that separated themselves to win the game. We’ve just got to keep learning as we go through the season, what it takes to be a consistent team for 48 minutes every single night. Obviously you’re not going to make shots but you’ve got to have that presence every single night.”
Can’t disagree there. Now let’s here from Mark Jackson: “I really like my team. I like the way we responded in the second half. I like the fact that we made mistakes, gave up 17 offensive rebounds while turning the ball over and we were still in the ballgame. When we begin to take of the little things it’s going to be scary at how good we can be.”
Finally, some Andrew Bogut, who probably had the firmest grasp of reality in comparing the Pacers and Warriors: “(The Pacers) are a team built for a championship, you can see that. We’re close, but we’re not there yet.”
The “yet” part is what needs to be determined over the next 39 games. Bogut noted that the Pacers were in the Warriors position “3-4 years ago,” going through the frustrations of trying to learn what it takes to be a truly elite club. Um, 3-4 years? Don’t think the Warriors are looking at that type of timetable to get to the top. They clearly believe it can happen sooner, perhaps even this year. But at this point, they are just a good team, but not elite. The numbers provided bear that out.
Here are the impediments from taking the next step:
1. They play good but not necessarily great defense at times, but not consistently enough to be reagrded as a great defensive team on Indiana’s level.
2. They too often rely on the 3-ball late in games instead of running a real offense. The long ball is going to win them some games, but since the mean for the best 3-point shooters is just over 40 percent, winning 40 percent of your close games against top-tier teams isn’t going to cut it. And right now, they’re not even at 40 percent.
3. Even with the added offense Jordan Crawford is going to provide, the bench still isn’t good enough. Marreese Speights isn’t the answer as Bogut’s backup. He’s too inconsistent. The team needs Jermaine O’Neal and Festus Ezeli to firm up the reserve unit in the paint. If and when that occurs, Speights is going to have to turn up his game or you won’t be seeing him nearly much. That knockdown 15-17 footer? Just happened shown up.
4. Andre Iguodala is still searching for his place in this lineup. He can score 20 one night, 4 the next. Defensively, he can also be better. He was lit up by Kevin Durant in OKC, and Paul George did a pretty good number on him in the first quarter Monday night. He’s a fabulous all-around player that maybe has tried to blend in too much as opposed to asserting himself like he can. He admitted this week there is plenty of room to grow in terms of assimilation into the Warriors’ schemes, particularly on offense, and there is no doubt about that. It’s time to kick it up a notch.
I don’t want to be too hard on these guys. They’re a solid playoff team at this point, 4 1/2 games up on the ninth place team. Barring a major injury, they are headed for the postseason with ease. But after that, can they improve on last year? At this point, it’s not looking like it. Depending on their matchup, it’s dicey whether they even get out of the first round, and after signing Iguodala, the expectations are higher than that.
The final 39 games should be compelling. The Warriors will continue to beat the bad teams, even the average ones, but at some point, to take the next step, they have to start playing better against the very best. Who is better than Golden State? At this point, I would say San Antonio, Houston, the L.A. Clippers, Portland and Oklahoma City, and that’s pretty set in stone. In the East, Indiana and Miami, even factoring in the Warriors’ win against the Heat. So they’re No. 8. Not bad in a league of 30 teams, but the aim is higher, and the climb gets tougher.
They have 39 games to show they can do more. If nothing else, they’ve been solid enough to to this point to see if they
have another level, and more gears than they’ve shown. By the time I cover another game, we’ll have a much clearer picture. But it’s also pretty clear right now — the Warriors have to be better if they expect to get anywhere in the postseason.