OAKLAND -– That 73-win target, so visible to the Warriors only a few days ago, remains in sight but now it’s bright light in the dark distance.
The Warriors still can reach the 73 games required to lift the all-time single-season wins record from the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They would need to take 14 of the final 17 games. It’s very possible and much less probable.
The conditions have taken a significant turn for the worse with the loss of forward/guard Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala’s absence for most, if not all, of the final month of the regular season is going to hurt the Warriors in myriad ways, but it profoundly jeopardizes their chances of seizing the NBA record for wins in a season.
It always was going to be incredibly difficult. Without Iguodala, who easily could miss more than the set minimum of two weeks, any reasonable chance has been killed. The Warriors, 59-6, would have to defy reason.
“We obviously need Andre and we’ve got to get him healthy for the playoffs,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s the main thing. Hopefully, we’ll get him back well before that. He’s so important to what we do.”
Iguodala is the bridge between the first and second unit. He’s the team’s best perimeter defender. He makes good things happen for the Warriors, regardless of his numbers on a given night. He controls tempo, pushing when it’s advantageous and pulling back when it’s prudent. Iguodala does what he perceives is needed at a given time, and if there were a Mensa for basketball intellect he’d be in the club.
“We’re going to be without a lot of brain power,” assistant coach Ron Adams conceded.
“Along with (Festus) Ezeli,” Adams added, “that’s two of our first seven guys that are out.”
The Warriors hardly skipped a beat when Ezeli went down Jan. 25. They were 41-4 then and they’re 18-2 since, largely because Marreese Speights found his game when it was needed most.
But the loss of Iguodala puts the Warriors in an altogether different predicament. There is no individual who replaces his comprehensive contributions. Shaun Livingston will play more, and so will Brandon Rush. Livingston is capable of filling the playmaking gap, while Rush surely can fill the shooting gap. The rest of the gaps, and Iguodala fills a great many, will go unplugged.
The substitution patterns, as seen in a laborious Saturday night win over Phoenix, are all over the place and Kerr and his staff will search for complimentary combinations.
“We’re going to experiment and see how things look,” Kerr said. “You’ll definitely see more of Shaun, within reason – we don’t want to wear him down – but he’s going to have to play a few more minutes to make up for Andre’s absence.”
Livingston is fine playing 15 to 24 minutes a night. If the number pushes toward 30 minutes, the hard years and the multiple surgeries required to keep his body game-ready could conspire a physical revolt.
While the bench brigade surely must become more consistently dynamic – a challenge in itself – the starters also must extend themselves. More will be needed from Steph Curry, who is playing at MVP level. More will be needed from Klay Thompson, particularly on defense. Much more will be required of Harrison Barnes, who has spent recent weeks on his own private island.
The Warriors face the Spurs three times in the final month, and Iguodala certainly will sit out at least once. He won’t be there to defend Carmelo Anthony when they face the Knicks on Wednesday. Igoudala is going to miss the Mavericks twice and the Clippers too.
So it’s more, more, more. And more. And it’s all because one man is not available.
“That’s something we have to get used to for however long he’s going to be out,” Curry said of Iguodala. “We run the same offense. It’s just one less playmaker, ball-handler and big-time defender.”
That’s Curry, for whom nothing is impossible, breaking it down the core, analyzing a problem and preparing an application that brings a solution.
The quest for the No. 1 overall seed, which the Warriors have wisely stated as their top priority, remains very much within their grasp. It’s almost certain should they accomplish another of their goals, winning the remaining 11 home games to be the first team ever to post an undefeated season at home.
But going 14-3 down the stretch, without Iguodala, is a lot to ask, even of a team that has done more than any other so deep into a season.