As the Golden State Warriors head into a heavyweight clash with the Miami Heat tonight at American Airlines Arena they are riding a six game winning streak, which is by far their longest this year. During this win streak, the Warriors are starting to resemble the team lots of people thought they were going to be; a threat in the Western Conference and dark-horse title contender.
The Warriors are on their third game of the same Eastern Conference road trip that they went 6-1 on last year. They are 2-0 heading into Miami to face the two time defending champions. This road trip contains 6 sub 500 teams. On paper the Warriors should repeat their 6-1 road trip this year as well. The Warriors have gotten back to playing suffocating defense, ball movement, cutting down on turnovers and not committing dumb fouls. Probably the biggest development over the last week or so has been the emergence of the Warriors bench.
The Warriors bench has been a weakness for them all season. It still is, but the young bench with players like Draymond Green and Marreese Speights are starting to produce at a much higher level than they were at the beginning of the year. This bench production is including Harrison Barnes’ struggles adapting to a new bench role. If Barnes can adapt to coming off the bench then the Warriors will have enough from that unit to give their starters a rest.
Giving the Warriors starters a rest is paramount because they are the best starting unit in the NBA. The Warriors have a 15-3 record with the starting five of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. It’s easy to say that if the Warriors, currently sixth in the Western Conference, would have had their starting unit in tact for the whole season, they would currently be a top four team in the West along with Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio. Even with the inconsistencies the Warriors are only a game and a half behind the Los Angeles Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division and a top four seed in the crowded Western Conference.
Seeing the Warriors establish their identity as a defensive minded team that also has the ability to explode on offense will serve them well the rest of the regular season and the postseason. The last four games of this road trip will be key for the Warriors. If they can put themselves in good position going into the All Star Break they will have lots of confidence moving into the second half of the season. Also, the Warriors schedule the second half of the season is very easy compared to what it’s been the first part of the season as they have more home-games and play a lot of Eastern Conference teams, which is very good. That’s another reason for Warrior fans to get excited moving forward.
Even though the Warriors have turned around their season the last couple of weeks doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws. The Bench will have to continue to produce like it is right now. The Warriors will have to continue to limit their turnovers, which is still an issue. The free throw shooting will need to improve as they are only 26th in the NBA in free throw percentage at 72 percent, which isn’t acceptable considering the shooters they have with Curry and Thompson. The backup point guard remains an issue as Curry is forced to play more minutes than he should be; either because Toney Douglas has been injured or not effective enough for Mark Jackson to play him consistent minutes.
If the Warriors continue to play the way they are now, which they are very capable of, and continue to improve some of the weaknesses that they have, they will be a legitimate player in the Western Conference and a team that other teams won’t want to play in the postseason.