The hope among a considerable portion of the fan base, that these Warriors, behind Stephen Curry’s dynamic offense and Draymond Green’s forceful defense, would find their way to at least 45 wins, has turned into a prayer.
Without much of a wing.
The Warriors, 20-20, would have to summon 25-7 closing run to get there. And after being annihilated Monday by the Los Angeles Lakers for the second time in 16 days, by a combined total of 57 points, there is absolutely no basis for belief in such an awakening.
“Honestly we gotta get sick of getting blown out because that’s embarrassing,” Curry said late Monday night, after a 128-97 loss. “We have to have some pride about how we’re playing. You can lose games; that’s going to happen. But not like that.”
This loss is the eighth by at least 20 points, and four have come since Feb. 26, when Golden State posted its first three-game win streak this season.
The Warriors, at this time, are no more than a fringe playoff contender, ninth in the Western Conference – and that’s with Curry playing a lot of MVP-caliber basketball and Green continuing to make the kind of defensive impact most others can’t fathom.
This team’s fate has been, and will continue to be, determined by those not named Stephen and Draymond. The once-elite Warriors have fallen into the “If Region,” that vast space between bullet train to the lottery and legitimate championship contender.
If Andrew Wiggins produces with consistency.
If Kelly Oubre Jr. can make a routine of being a two-way menace.
If the second unit, now in its fourth or fifth incarnation, can play well enough to nurture leads inherited from the starters.
If rookie center James Wiseman, still only 19, can learn and absorb the ways of the NBA at an accelerated rate.
If coach Steve Kerr and his staff devises strategies and makes adjustments that maximize his personnel – which, frankly, tips heavily toward minimum-salary vets and youngsters with fewer than 100 games in the league.
It’s all conditional, circumstantial, and new to a Warriors team and fan base that looks to Curry and Green and sees a chance for something special.
“I’m trying to say something different that I haven’t said all year,” Curry said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s just certain principles obviously of how we’re going to play. It’s our identity that has to show up every night and at the end of the day. I think I said it last night, our expectations go through the roof when you play like (we) did against Utah and then you come and drop the ball tonight. And that’s why we are 20-20.”
That’s who they are, and the evidence against that continues to accumulate. After playing their best game of the season Sunday afternoon, a 131-119 thumping of the first-place Utah Jazz, postgame remarks from the Warriors were a perfectly reasonable stew of encouragement and cautious optimism.
The caution was appropriate because they have been here before, this season, hoping for the turnaround yet to materialize.
And then this, being walloped in the face by a Lakers team missing starting center Marc Gasol and starting power forward Anthony Davis. Ex-Warrior Damian Jones started at center, with Markieff Morris at forward.
And the Warriors responded with a defense so soft and lethargic the Lakers shot 68.8 percent in the first quarter and 68.6 in the first half.
“These last two days kind of define our team in a lot of ways,” Kerr said. “In a span of 36 hours, we beat the team with the best record in the league with a spirited defensive effort and then lost by 31 points to another great team.
“Who are we? What kind of team are we? We are 20-20 for a reason. We haven’t been able to put together consistent efforts with execution at both ends of the floor. We are too up and down. We’ve got to find a way to put together some good games. We have a really important road trip coming up this week that we need to step it up and perform better, no doubt.”
They do have to “step it up” to regain a morsel of the respect they once had, and still can with Curry and Green on the roster.
But it’s slipping away with each defeat, and the upcoming road trip, three games against teams beneath them in the standings, are but the next opportunity.
No matter what Curry and Green do, there’s no chance of success without significant contributions from others on the roster.