One of the ways that I evaluate stretches by teams is by looking at two different groupings of results: big/surprising wins and bad losses. I define a big win as one where the opponent stands out as meaningfully better for a home game, or a team of equal or better quality on the road. While there has been a ton of hand-wringing about the rough stretch that the Golden State Warriors have gone through recently, those lenses help explain some of the challenges and put together a coherent picture of how 2013 has gone down thus far.
So far in 2013, Golden State has lost 12 games for a total record of 9-12. While that looks bad at the outset, they faced an incredibly rough slate in January and February.
Here are the losses, broken out of that group:
1. The Clippers on the road after beating them at home the game before
2. Memphis at home by seven
3. Denver on the road by 11
4. Miami at home by 17. Played without Stephen Curry (ankle).
5. San Antonio on the road by seven. Curry and Manu Ginobili do not play.
6. Chicago on the road by 16. Luol Deng does not play.
7. Milwaukee on the road by seven. Second game of a back-to-back.
8. Houston on the road by 31 in the game where the Rockets could not miss from three.
9. Oklahoma City on the road by 21. No Bogut, no Jarrett Jack, and the second game of a back-to-back.
10. Memphis on the road by six. No Jarrett Jack.
11. Dallas on the road by 25. No Bogut, no Jarrett Jack, and the second game of a back-to-back.
12. Houston at home by nine.
Looking at that list, there are no particularly egregious losses in terms of opponent and situation. The worst would likely be Dallas, though that was the day after a huge road tilt with Memphis. Each of the other opponents should be a playoff team and nine of the 12 were played on the road. Centering on the losses, the biggest disappointment has to be that the Warriors did not rise up and win some of these games as they did earlier in the season. That seems like a somewhat withering criticism particularly with so many games on the road and some back-to-backs in the mix.
In terms of wins, I would say beating the Clippers at Oracle twice, as well as one home win over the Thunder each stand out as better victories than any of those losses stand out as particularly bad. Now, some would say that parsing each game like this humanizes a very bad stretch for the Warriors, particularly when the eyeball test shows that they have been playing substantially worse than earlier in the season. I do not contest any of that at all. Rather, the lesson the team needs to take from January and the first half of February has to be that the easiest way to keep their spot in the playoffs is to win the games they “should” win moving forward. Fans of various teams often focus on winning the big matchups against potential playoff teams but the more effective way to keep or even improve standing is to beat every team worse than you both home and away while swiping some games against peers and superior opponents at home.
Fortunately for the Golden State, the schedule makes this more manageable goal somewhat reasonable in the final stretch of the season. They have 18 home games and 12 road games remaining, with only three road games left against teams with better records. Furthermore, their April stretch includes New Orleans, Phoenix, and Minnesota, teams who likely will have nothing to play for that late in the season.
Now, the Warriors do have their fair share of tough match-ups remaining, including two games each against the Spurs, Knicks and Lakers (each with one home and one away). The two stretches that will likely set the stage for where this team will head come one after the other: a five-game road trip to Minneapolis, Indianapolis, New York (Knicks), Boston, and Philadelphia with two back-to-backs immediately followed by a seven-game homestand with only one back-to-back.
Considering the amount of winnable games early in April, even treading water during that stretch should keep the Dubs where they need to be in order to make the playoffs and not face either OKC or the Spurs in the first round. Additionally, a better than expected run there would give the team momentum and a chance to put some distance between themselves and the teams gunning for the 7th and 8th seeds (ideally putting GSW in the mix for the 4th or 5th as well, though I think Memphis and Denver will take control of those).
While their recent play has been disconcerting, the Warriors have the chance to right their own ship and take winnable games in order to get a workable position in the playoffs. With a largely favorable schedule and hopefully a healthier team than the earlier portion of the season, the sixth seed appears to be the most likely outcome and that should be welcomed by fans should it come to pass.