OAKLAND – Long past their most impressive stretch of the season, winning 11 in a row by an average of 17.5 points, the Warriors are coming off a weekend wandering through the festivities, winning two games almost by default.
What’s up with the defending champs, now in their fourth week with five All-Stars in the starting lineup? Shouldn’t they be spending their nights smashing opponents to remind folks of who they are – and what they’re about to become?
Who better than Draymond Green to ask? So I did.
“Do you want my honest opinion? My honest opinion is it’s the dog days right now,” he said. “You usually hit that in January. We haven’t really hit that, because we got DeMarcus (Cousins) back, so it kind of gave us an extra boost. We’re there right now. But we found a way to win (the last two games) and that’s what’s important.”
That’s Draymond, peeling away the platitudes and sprinkling some truth into the discussion. Natural incentive was lacking and the Warriors at this point of the season feel no need to lock in from tip to horn.
That was risky against the last two opponents, Phoenix and Miami. It would be silly against the next two.
The Warriors close out the pre-All-Star break schedule at home against the Jazz on Tuesday night and in Portland against the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. Both teams have beaten the Warriors this season.
Moreover, both are possible opponents when the playoffs begin in two months.
There’s the incentive. The Warriors often talk about playing the right way, building the right habits and achieving a standard that applies only to them. The goal is to enter the postseason ready to destroy.
Consider Utah, which has beaten the Warriors four times in the last six meetings, a test of focus against a team that can be difficult to play.
Consider Portland, which has won nine of its last 10 games at Moda Center, a trial run for the postseason and an opportunity to soar into the break.
What the Warriors put out against the last Phoenix and Miami will not suffice. The early-game loitering, the failure of fundamentals – watching both collect offensive rebounds simply by chasing – is a recipe for 0-2 entering All-Star Weekend.
Such shortcomings, which occasionally surface with the Warriors, are highly visible.
“We will fix it,” Stephen Curry said.
“That’s the second game in a row the team has gotten up 20 more shots than us,” Kevin Durant said after the win over the Heat. “Whether it’s turnovers or offensive rebounds, we are going to lose in the playoffs like that.”
Durant’s assessment is totally on point. Bad habits lead to postseason disappointment, and anything less than a championship qualifies as a failure for the Warriors. They’re built to win it all and it is anticipated they well.
Meanwhile, they’re expected to rise to anything resembling a real challenge.
“We are in a good groove; I don’t know what we’ve won – 15 out of 16? Doing really well and we can get better,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We will be challenged by Utah and Portland. Hopefully, we will get Andre Iguodala back (left hamstring tightness) and see how he’s doing and we’ll be ready to go.”
Iguodala or not, the Warriors need nothing less than to lose back-to-back games for the second time this season. They flirted with it against Phoenix, a team with both eyes of the draft lottery, and Miami, a team with more toughness than talent – before going from jog to sprint and track them down.
It has become apparent that the Warriors, in Year 5 of their near-dictatorship, tend to respond best when they can feel the stakes. The stakes over the next couple days are not playoff-caliber for them, but they are that for the Jazz and the Blazers.
Just knowing that should make a difference for the Warriors.