Good news! As of this writing, the Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA — as long as they're playing at home. Even with a slew of injured players, the Warriors have eked out several gritty, late-game, come-from-behind victories in a spectacular homestand over the last two weeks. As long as they don't ever have to play on the road again, and so long as players don't get injured, the Warriors will be the best team in basketball.
The Dubs remedied many of the issues that had plagued them early in the season: The turnovers have been . . . better. (Not great, but better.) The fouling and free-throw disparities have improved. The bench went from pretty bad to decent to really good, and has carried the day on the current homestand. The Warriors have handily beat the best teams in the league at Chase Center, including the Boston Celtics in early December and the Memphis Grizzlies on Christmas Day, when the current eight-game homestand began.
At 17-3, the Warriors have the best home record in the NBA. But on the road? That's a different story. In fact, that's a different team all together. At 3-16, the Dubs have the worst road record in the NBA.
The defending-champion Golden State Warriors are a team still trying to figure themselves out, struggling to stay above .500, and like all teams, struggling to stay healthy. A little more than two weeks ago, after suffering back-to-back blowouts in New York, head coach Steve Kerr said, "We're at that point that pretty much everybody goes through during an 82-game season. You sort of hit rock bottom: injuries, schedule, fatigue, whatever it is. You take it on the chin. And the key is how do you respond to that.
"I have no doubt our guys will respond."
Here's more good news: With the halfway point of the season nearing, the Warriors are just five-and-a-half games out of first place in the can't-sort-itself-out Western Conference. Surely this current homestand has been a turning point and confidence booster, and has seen a gelling of rotations. And surely the Warriors will be back at full-strength soon enough.
Andrew Wiggins, who's been having a career year, disappeared with a groin injury (which healed, but then Wiggs got sick), and he has missed 15 consecutive games. Jonathan Kuminga has missed two games with a right-foot sprain, and will likely miss a few more. There are no timetables on JaMychal Green (lower leg infection), James Wiseman (ankle). There had been no timeline on Andre Iguodala (hip), but it was just announced that the 38-year-old, 19-year NBA vet will make his season debut on Saturday against the Orlando Magic.
And . . . who's that other guy who's been out with injury?
Wardell Stephen Curry II's shoulder subluxation, or minor dislocation, was reevaluated on December 24 and found that "Curry is making good progress." He'll be assessed again in two weeks. Upon his injury-forced departure, Steph had also been having a career year, "averaging 30.0 points, 6.8 assists and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from 3-point range," according to The Sporting News.
The Standouts on the Homestand
With injuries plaguing the Warriors, who would step up?
On December 28, the Warriors were trailing the Utah Jazz by about 10 points for most of the game, until the fourth quarter. Ty Jerome, who's on a one-year, two-way contract, had been knocking down shots, driving to the basket and steadily racking up 17 points on the night, culminating with a steal on one end and three-pointer on the other. Jerome had a season-high 18 points in a loosing effort to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, and has generally been a steadfast presence on the floor.
"Ty is a vet," said coach Kerr. "He's been in this league a few years. When he comes in the game, he settles us down. He doesn't turn it over, he makes great decisions, and he's an excellent shooter."
Not long after Jerome had that steal and three-pointer against Utah, Donte DiVincenzo hit a triple on the Dubs' next possession, his fifth three for 19 points that night. Jerome and DiVincenzo have been hitting clutch shots like a pair of starters. (With the injuries, Donte has been in the starting lineup.) Here's more evidence:
On December 30, the Warriors clawed their way back against the Portland Trailblazers; the Dubs were up by two points with 40 seconds left, when DiVincenzo stole the ball from Damian Lillard, then hit a three-point dagger moments later to seal the game. Donte also hit a last-second, game-tying three against Atlanta on Monday to send it to OT. What's more, DiVincenzo is always soaring into traffic to snag the ball; he's had three nine-rebound nights on the current homestand.
Johnathan Kuminga had been part of the growing dimension of the bench for several weeks before the current homestand, "impacting the game in other ways." Kuminga has become the pump-fake master, often getting buckets, or drawing fouls, under the rim. Anthony Lamb has been averaging 9 points a game; he had 17 points both in the win against Atalanta and the loss to Detroit. James Wiseman returned from the G League and has played well, also impacting the game in a way that the stats don't easily reveal.
And what about Warriors's big names?
Draymond Green's stats have never reflected the depth of his contribution, but you hear his name around most big plays, including a couple of massive, timely three-pointers on the homestand. Kevon Looney continues to be the Warriors' iron man; he had 20 and 15 points respectively in the last two games, and shoots an ultra-efficient 62.3 on field goals.
Klay Thompson has averaged 34 points in the five games he's played on the homestand, including 54 points against Atlanta. Klay has scored 115 points over the last three games, the most points of any three-game stretch in his career. He hit a ridiculous three-pointer with two seconds left to tie the game against Detroit, but by a cruel twist of fate, the Pistons hit a ridiculous shot of their own to steal a win.
The word about Thompson's game over the last several weeks has been: patience, patience, patience. Thompson is definitely still hunting threes, but he's also dishing the ball, drawing defenders and letting other players work (such as Steph Curry), or driving to the basket. In a road game a few weeks ago, Klay missed a bunch of layups, basically completing 98% of the play without the score. You could see that something was coming together, but wasn't quite there yet.
PS: January 9 will mark one year since Klay Thompson made his return after two years out.
Jordan Poole has also been starting games in Steph's absence, and has averaged 29 points per game on the homestand, including 41 against Portland. There have been some inglorious moments, as well.
In the Atlanta game, the Warriors were down by one and got a stop with 19 seconds left. Jordon Poole brought the ball toward the Hawks' basket, but dribbled it off his leg, turning the ball over. (Trae Young hit two free throws, before DiVincenzo hit the aforementioned tying three.) In the Detroit game, the Dubs were also down by one with seven seconds left when Poole tripped driving toward Detroits' basket, turning the ball over again.
To me, Jordan Poole sometimes plays the game on a knife's edge — he's either on the verge of something spectacular, or something catastrophic, which kind of describes the Golden State Warriors as a whole this season. The Dubs can play it fast and loose, and that can be fragile. Or it can be dominant.
The Road Woe-rriors
When asked by reporters why they're, ahem, subpar on the road, there's been some shoulder shrugging among the Warriors' brass. "We're trying to figure that as well," said coach Kerr.
Draymond Green recently described the psychology behind the Warriors' road woes, saying that after losing a few tough games on the road, tension built and confidence wavered. "All of the sudden, nothing can go right." Comparing the home and road Warriors, Draymond said: "It's two different teams, but it's not." (Sorry Draymond, I've already picked a title for this story.) The margin for error is smaller on the road than it is at home, Green said, explaining that a team can't expect to play their home game on the road. "It has to be more methodical; it has to be more thoughtful."
"But we still have to prove that we can win on the road," said Steve Kerr. "We've gotten some confidence winning games on the homestand. [Now] you're able to show the film where you can really pinpoint why you're closing game."
Speaking of big road games: The Warriors will play the Boston Celtics on January 19, and the Memphis Grizzlies on January 25.
Top Image: Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images