SAN FRANCISCO – Conventional wisdom implies that the Warriors’ fate after the season will be dictated by Stephen Curry’s left foot. If it’s healthy and he cooks, they can reach the top. If that limits him and he is out of his game, they could be jumped off in the first round.
The reality of these warriors, and whether they rise or fall, is much more complicated.
Although Curry’s availability and efficiency will have a huge impact on the series in the first round against the Nuggets – he is expected to be in the ranks for Game 1 on Saturday – the most important factor can be distilled into a single question:
Can these Warriors, who lack a roster specially built to win it all, fix the little things they had such a hard time repairing during the second half of the season?
The list of such items that set champions apart from the crowd is longer for the Warriors than it is for defending champion Milwaukee Bucks or defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns. It’s longer than for the Miami Heat or the Memphis Grizzlies or even the Boston Celtics. It’s probably longer than the defenseless Brooklyn Nets.
And it’s not at all like the Golden State teams that rolled to five consecutive NBA Finals and won three championships.
“Our previous team had proven it many times,” coach Steve Kerr told the NBC Sports Bay Area. “Those teams knew exactly what they were doing, knew they wanted to be okay.
“This team, we need to figure out what we’re doing as we go.”
These Warriors are a collection of different parts that surround an aging core of established stars – Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson – who each missed a significant portion of the season.
This mix, and the problems presented in plain sight, explain much of what happened during such an uneven season.
“If you could draw it, you would find yourself during the regular season,” Kerr said. “As the first half of the season went on, I thought, ‘OK, we’ll probably make it’. But then the s-t hit like the fan. So the last couple of months we were pretty scattered.”
Scattered is a delicate way of saying that the Warriors, who had 29-7 on January 4, went 24-22 over their last 46 games, mainly because there were too many games where they treated the term “attention to detail” as if it was Sanskrit.
They repeatedly missed defensive tasks and rotations and were often sloppy with finishes. They had a destructive tendency to overpower 3-point shooters in the corner. They got spasms from poor shot selection and missed free kicks. They often neglected such basic principles as blocking and keeping their hands up on defense.
To make matters worse, the Warriors often committed the kind of silly live-ball turnovers that undermined their efforts and nurtured the confidence of inferior opponents.
“We could sometimes get young, with the way we throw the ball around,” said Iguodala, the veteran’s gatekeeper.
Each time the Warriors make it to the playoffs, it will bring them one step closer to the golf course or the exotic vacation in early May.
“It’s going to be important to be on top of the details and follow the game plan,” said Andrew Wiggins. “Remains very disciplined, very detailed. A small mistake, whether it’s letting someone walk in the back door or giving up an open shot, can all change a game or a series. Someone might have a bad series, and if you give him one shots, it can get him started. ”
It’s the concept of taking care of the little things, and it’s one that the Warriors grabbed in the first half of the season before losing the grip, in part due to injuries.
They are now, with Curry’s return, about as healthy as they have been all season. Match 1 will be the first time in 34 months that he can share the pitch with Green, Iguodala and Thompson. They will have to show the way.
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The others, starting with Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole and Wiggins, will have to fall in line and take the rest of the rotation with them.
“It will probably take us to be tested in this series to really grow and become the team we can be,” Kerr said. “We’re not that team yet. We know that. We’re good enough to win this series. I think we will. I believe in our guys and I love our team.
“But we have to prove it.”
Few things are harder than an NBA team proving in the off-season that it is no longer the team it was most of the regular season. That it can excel in areas so difficult a few weeks earlier. That it can tighten up the loose strings and create a magnificent bow.
These warriors are skilled. But yes, they have to prove it.
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