HANG TIME, Texas — Coincidentally, it was Feb. 2 when the Warriors hit the high mark of their season — 13 games over .500 — and were making surprising noise as legitimate contenders in the Western Conference, hanging with the big dogs in Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
Alas, “Groundhog Day”. Queue up any one of the scenes with Bill Murray rolling over his bed as Sonny & Cher sing “I Got You Babe.”
Over the past 8 1/2 weeks the Warriors have gone a piddling 15-17 and are dropping faster than a safe off a rooftop. Where once they were considered a possibility for the No. 3 seed, now they are perilously close to falling to No. 7. Golden State is only a half-game up on Houston and the Rockets hold the tie-breaker.
While there is reason to celebrate around the mere fact that the Warriors will be making their second playoff appearance in 19 seasons, it would be better if they were playing down the stretch like they’ll just be happy to get there.
As the battle of the final three spots in the West came down to the last three weeks of the season, it appeared the Warriors had the advantage in the schedule. But over the past seven games they have lost three times, including at home to the lowly Kings and the struggling Jazz. Even Thursday night’s loss to the No. 1 seeded Thunder, while understandable in outcome, was hardly even competitive.
Now the Warriors have lost center Andrew Bogut to another ankle injury and face a key road game tonight against the Lakers, where they have lost 25 of 27 games all-time at the Staples Center. This is no time to be messing with the awake and desperate Lakers.
Coach Mark Jackson had said from the start of the season that his team was going to make its improvement and its mark by playing defense. But over the past two months, the Warriors have lost that spark and now are often mediocre as they slide toward the middle. On both offense and defense, Golden State ranks 13th in the league.
While it is a valuable weapon and makes them dangerous to be the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team, the Warriors have come to rely too much on making long range shots. Stephen Curry needs 17 3-pointers to break Ray Allen’s record for most in a season. But when they don’t fall, the Warriors simply do.
The beginning of the downward spiral began in the game after the Warriors topped out at 30-17. It was Feb. 5 in Houston when they were hammered 140-109 by the Rockets. It was an embarrassing performance where they gave up 23 3-point buckets to the Rockets and ended farcically and ugly as Jackson had has players intentionally foul Houston shooters so they could not break the NBA record for 3-point made in one game.
Jackson and the Warriors vowed that the Rockets would pay a week later when they came to Oakland. But Houston won again and from that time seemed to plant a seed of doubt that has grown into a redwood.
A loss to the Lakers would have Golden State reeling into its final two games, at home against the Spurs and at Portland on the last night of the season.
A fall into the No. 7 spot won’t wipe out the rare thrill of the Warriors making the playoffs, but it could make the experience short and not so sweet.