The Golden State Warriors have become the dominant story in the NBA over the last year and a half. Their shooting prowess and unorthodox approach to the sport have fans and opponents in awe of their accomplishments. On Friday night, however, the Warriors reminded the league that they are not without flaws.
Their imperfections were exposed in an upset against the Portland Trailblazers last Friday night, by a score of 137–105. It was the fifth loss of the season for the defending champions, who moved to 48–5 on the season. Plagued by turnovers and cold shooting, the Warriors struggled to stay within contention for most of the game.
“We come to town, especially for a team like that, [and] it’s their biggest game of the year, so we’ve got to understand that,” Klay Thompson said postgame Friday. “They just caught us on an off night.”
It was not an off night for Portland superstar Damian Lillard, who put up 51 points, with nine three-pointers, seven assists, and six steals. Perhaps the most impressive facet of his performance was that Lillard only played 31 minutes in the rout. It seemed as though Lillard played the role that Steph Curry executes most nights, sitting out the entire fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
“He was phenomenal,” Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr said of Lillard. “He looked like Steph Curry out there.”
This one-game hiccup was quickly overcome with road wins over the Clippers and Hawks. The Warriors currently stand at 50–5, and became the fastest team to reach 50 wins in NBA history. The previous record holders were the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls, who have striking similarities to this year’s Warriors.
So far, the Warriors’ historic season has often been juxtaposed with the historic run that the Chicago team completed twenty years ago. At the time, the Bulls were led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman—a big three in their own right. The team had a record of 72–10 and won the championship, capping off the greatest team performance the NBA has seen yet.
Chicago was also loaded with depth across all five positions, was incredibly efficient on both ends of the floor, and appeared very similar to the dominant Warriors we have seen for a season and a half.
This pursuit, while noble, may be counterproductive to the ultimate goal of winning a championship. Their trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green is young and athletic, but they all surely could benefit from some rest down the road.
A major hurdle for the Warriors in the second half of this season is their schedule. According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), Golden State has had the third-easiest schedule to date this season. However, going forward, they will have the sixth-toughest schedule to round out their quest.
They also will have the most distance to cover in terms of travel mileage out of all 30 teams, something that has proven to be their Achilles’ heel. The Oakland hailing Dubs’ have lost all five of their games on the road this season. These losses have come at the expense of the Bucks, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, and Blazers—all teams that are a combined 19 games under .500 this season.
These teams all have one tactic in common: they can shoot and get out in transition. This season has proven that the to beat the Warriors, you will have to beat them at their own game: athleticism and sharpshooting.
The BPI ultimately says that the Warriors have a 37 percent chance of going 73–9 for the season. While this may seem like a slim chance now, they will presumably be favored to win every game they play for the rest of the year and, barring injury, will trot out a deep team aligned with role players and superstars that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
The missing piece to the puzzle may be Anderson Varejao, the 12-year veteran of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was traded, oddly enough, to the Trailblazers and subsequently released in a move that was mostly due to his large salary. The Warriors signed Varejao on Monday, and he surely will add rim protection and rebounding depth to this loaded roster, which has struggled in this department given third-year center Festus Ezeli’s knee injury.
Whether or not the Warriors do get the record, their best interests might be to forgo the record and rest their starters when and if they clinch the one-seed. Barring a hot streak by the Spurs (3.0 GB of GSW), they will presumably have a home-court advantage throughout the playoffs as the Western Conference’s best team.
This dilemma will be handled by Kerr, who has a unique personal connection, having been a part of the ‘95-’96 Bulls as a player, and now coaching the Warriors some twenty years later. It’s a good dilemma to have, but a predicament nevertheless. Only time will tell where these Warriors rank in the hierarchy of the NBA’s greatest teams.