OAKLAND -- The Warriors reconvened Wednesday, settling in for a sprint they hope ends with triumph in June. Knowing what lies ahead and recognizing the clearest path to that goal, they scrimmaged for maybe the fourth time since preseason.
There are five issues that, if not solved, could derail hopes for a third consecutive championship and one last Warriors parade through the streets of Oakland.
Here are those issues, in order of importance:
1) STAYING HEALTHY
This is easily the most essential component, though much of its fate is more dependent on luck than any other factor.
This is about more than keeping the five 2018 All-Stars -- DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson -- upright and productive. That’s the obvious.
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But it can’t stop there. The Warriors come out of the break with six games in nine days. They have five back-to-back sets over the final seven weeks, including three over the final 18 days.
“Our health will be the No. 1 priority, over everything, entering the playoffs,” coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “If we need to rest guys, we’ll rest ‘em.”
To get Playoff Andre (Iguodala) and Peak Draymond, for example, it’s imperative to manage minutes.
2) COPING AMID THE NOISE
The Warriors pride themselves on their positive culture, citing their work/fun balance as a primary aspect of their success. That will be tested like never before.
Durant’s impending free agency already has been a source of agitation for some, and it has not always been kept in the locker room. It was at the crux of the very public squabble between Durant and Green in November.
It could get worse. On top of teammates already teasing KD about joining the Knicks, we now have All-Star Weekend chatter and video of Celtics free agent Kyrie Irving (also speculated as a future Knick) and Durant having one-on-one conversations.
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This is not going away. How the Warriors navigate this will take plenty of skill. One more wrong move could threaten their goal.
3) DEFENDING WITH A VENGEANCE
The Warriors were a top-10 defense four years running -- until last season. They finished 11th in defensive rating, but dialed it up in the postseason to finish No. 1.
With 25 regular-season games remaining, they are 15th. That won’t be good enough. Can they crank it up before the postseason? Can they find it in the postseason? They are acutely aware of the matter and believe believe they know how to fix it.
“Our communication on the defensive end could get better,” Green said. “Everything on defense for us over the course of the last three, four or five years, it’s been second nature because we’ve been playing together. You can call a switch and the other guy will just know to switch.
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“We’ve added so many pieces this year that it’s not second nature. You have to communicate a bit more. We weren’t necessarily great at that, so we’ve got to improve upon that.”
4) SECOND-UNIT COHESION
Kerr has spent four months tinkering and adjusting with his rotations. He’s not done, either. As long as there are matchups to consider and inconsistencies impacting decisions, this could be fluid.
The important thing here is to find a group that won’t open the second and fourth quarters surrendering much of, if not all of, the cushions built by the starters.
That means, for the most part, finding offense when Curry and Durant are resting. It has been an issue for much of this season, and it often forces the Warriors to win the game two or three times before it’s officially won.
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That means getting offense from Thompson and Cousins and also a third party. Could be Iguodala. Could be Jonas Jerebko or Alfonzo McKinnie. Could be the player who fills the open roster spot (assuming one is signed). Has to be somebody.
5) TAKING BACK ORACLE
The Warriors in Kerr’s first two seasons were practically invincible at home, going 39-2 each year before dropping to a superb 36-6 in 2016-17.
They lost that touch last season, posting 29-12 records both home and away.
The Warriors are 22-7 at home this season, the last at Oracle Arena. With 14 dates remaining, anything less than 12-2 could imperil chances of getting the No. 1 overall seed. It won’t be simple -- unless they master the four aforementioned factors.