OAKLAND – It’s not that the Warriors have lost four in a row, the kind of bad moment that happens to most teams, especially on the road and against opponents either set for the playoffs or challenging for a postseason berth. It’s that, mostly, they haven’t just lost.
They’ve been rolled. Embarrassed in Houston (140-109), a sparring partner in Oklahoma City (119-98), a scrimmage opponent in Dallas (116-91). Only the 99-93 setback in Memphis was a respectable margin, as if that’s a consolation at a time the Grizzlies are not striking fear in opponents. The defense has obviously been bad, as John Schuhmann notes with statistical precision, but lose that bad that many times in a short span and it becomes about an unacceptable amount of poor energy.
That makes tonight a big game no matter how much coach Mark Jackson tries to downplay it as one of 82. It’s against the Rockets, the team that tied an NBA record a week ago with 23 3-pointers, before the Warriors finally started to foul intentionally to keep Houston from breaking the mark. It’s the final Golden State game before the All-Star break, and it’s back in the home embrace of Oracle Arena. Lose this one and face a lot of questions about the direction of the season.
“This is a game we really want to win tonight,” power forward David Lee said. “Absolutely.”
To stop a roster that relies heavily on youth from sinking into self-doubt with several days off ahead, to regain the defensive focus that once helped lift the Warriors into the top four in the West, and a shot that the first half of the season was not a team playing over its head. Emotion matters.
More than anything, though, to stop the slide in the standings. Not only have they dropped to sixth place, the Warriors are now as close to seventh as to fourth, making this a very precarious time for the same group once exceeding expectations. The cushion between Golden State and ninth-place Portland is still five games.
“We had a bad stretch,” Jackson said. “We didn’t defend at the same level. We didn’t rebound at the same level. We didn’t put together 48 minutes of basketball in any one of those games. A tough stretch against some good teams and we wound up losing, but we’re not going to panic, that’s for sure.
“It’s just another game for us. We are exactly who we’ve been over the course of this first half of the season. There’s no question about that. We’re going through a tough stretch, but it’s important for us to finish the first half of the season the right way. It’s a great opportunity.”
If they take advantage of it.