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Warriors, Suns, and the myth & truth of momentum
Warriors get almost everyone back but aren't anywhere near playoff-ready
The Golden State Warriors are not finishing the season strong, but it’s not really clear how much any of that matters. Awaiting the return of the injured Stephen Curry, the Warriors have been clinging to their position in the standings by fingernails and determination. 6-11 in the past 17 games, and an emergingly clear reality that the margins for error on this team this season are skinnier than Kevin Durant’s ankles.
But life is full of mystery. Things can (and do) change in an instant. At some point, I still have hope that this Warriors team flips the switch and goes back to something that looks a whole lot more like the team that opened the season with an 18-2 record. The most important step? Get healthy:
WHO: Golden State Warriors (48-28) vs. Phoenix Suns (61-14)
WHEN: Wednesday, March 30th, 2022 // 7(ish)pm PDT
WATCH: ESPN; NBCSBA
A season of gambles coming down to the wire
This has been a tough segment of the season to watch. Klay Thompson finally returned, but between his rust and high usage, and the injuries to Draymond Green and then Stephen Curry, the show hasn’t quite come together. And even though the clock hasn’t run out yet, the pressure (and anxiety) are growing.
On the one hand, this is far from disaster. Clinging to one of the best records in the league, despite laboring through a ton of time lost to injuries, I think most would have smiled and nodded their heads were they told that the Warriors would be in this position as the regular season comes to a close. With just six games to go, Golden State controls their destiny.
The play-in tournament starts in exactly two weeks, the playoffs themselves only about two and-a-half weeks out. It’s unlikely that the Warriors put it all together in time — but equally unlikely that it all falls apart too.
The recency bias and focus on momentum ignores the fact that when this roster was healthy, they were running roughshod over the rest of the league. So what has gone wrong exactly? And how do the Warriors fix it, both before and after Curry’s return.
Health is the obvious one. Before Green went out Jan. 9, the Warriors held the top defensive rating (allowing just 102.2 points per 100 possessions). Since? A mundane 12th (111.4). And even worse since Green returned on March 14, sitting way down at 19th. Without Green - or with a hobbled version of him - this team just doesn’t have the same punch.
And that’s been one of the main issues lately. Monday was the 36th game this season that Green has missed. Far from ideal, but check out his numbers since returning - Green simply isn’t his usual old self right now, despite returning to the court:
Shortly after he was diagnosed in mid-January, Green said he hoped to return in three to four weeks, only to sit out more than two months. In the six games he has played since coming back, he has averaged 4.2 points on 33.3% shooting (12.5% from 3-point range), 5 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.5 turnovers in 23.2 minutes.
Andre Iguodala brought up this concern in regards to Curry’s return as well. A team playing as poorly as the Warriors have been creates an undesirably strong incentive for guys to return before they’re perhaps all the way ready.
One of the things that really strikes me about the current situation is that this is the result of all the gambles that the Warriors’ front office has taken. The finances and front office made this a roster that is hugely reliant on the top 4 highest paid players being at their best this season — and due to a variety of factors, that simply hasn’t panned out this season.
Even with all of the above being true, the Warriors can become a force. Check out this beautiful graphic that shows each team’s net rating as split between quarters of the season. As rough as the recent months have been, I find myself thinking long and hard about what it was about this Warriors team that allowed them to run over the rest of the league so hard.
Whether Curry does make it back in time for the first playoff game or not, his potential return will continue to be a source of hope. Everyone knows about the Warriors’ constant struggles to keep winning without Curry, but maybe we could all use a reminder about how lethal this team is when healthy.
The Suns are hot as can be, winners of eight straight games. Devin Booker is coming off a 35-point output on Sunday against the Pistons and is averaging 26.5 points on the season. In the last 10 games, he’s averaging 30.4 points and 6.5 assists, shooting 55.5% from the field and 43.3%t from deep. Oh, and they recently got Chris Paul back.
But none of those things matter because the recipe for a Golden State win are simple: play better. They’ve proven they could do so earlier in the season, now it’s time to recapture that magic. May as well start by beating the team with the best record.