MINNEAPOLIS — One day after the Warriors lost by more than 30 points to the Boston Celtics in early March, Draymond Green stressed that his team needed to attain three goals during the final stretch of the season: Better execution, improved defense and homecourt advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.
Weeks later, following another embarrassing home loss to the Phoenix Suns, the defending champs seemed to fall short of all three ahead of a strenuous four-game road trip featuring three playoff teams.
After wrapping up that trip with three wins -- including Tuesday's 117-107 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves -- the Warriors seem to be finding their rhythm at just the right time.
"Great trip," coach Steve Kerr said after the Warriors' win. "To go 3-1 against the caliber of competition with the difficulty of the back-to-back ... really good trip."
Tuesday's victory encapsulated Green's vision from nearly two weeks ago. Entering the matchup tied with the Denver Nuggets atop the Western Conference, the Warriors had one of their best offensive performances.
They dished out 39 assists to just 13 turnovers, and held the Timberwolves to 40 percent from the field. Stephen Curry, who struggled to find his shot in recent games, scored 22 of his game-high 36 points in the third quarter.
The win over Minnesota also capped a four-game trip where the Warriors ended the Rockets' nine-game winning streak, and produced their best defensive performance of the season against the Thunder. Plus, they added Andrew Bogut into the fold as DeMarcus Cousins sat with an ankle injury. Over the trip, Golden State held opponents to 41.3 percent from the field and just 29.9 percent from 3-point range.
Last season, the Warriors finished with a 7-10 record over the last 17 games. They also dealt with injuries to Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and were locked into the West’s No. 2 seed for much of the final stretch.
After the All-Star break this season, the Warriors lost five of their first nine games. The loss at home to the lowly Suns prompted a different approach on the road.
"It's definitely a different mindset," Kerr said. "Each game takes on more importance. Last year, I think the final 20 games, we kind of knew we were going to be the two seed, so its a little different this year, and I think it's going to help us."
In the first game of the trip, Golden State beat Houston behind 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists from Cousins. Three nights later, the Warriors held the Thunder to just 32.3 percent shooting, including a 2-of-16 performance from All-Star guard Russell Westbrook.
"The first two games were important to us, especially after that Phoenix loss," Durant said Tuesday. "To come out and beat two teams on the road, it was probably the best two-game stretch of the season for us, and we needed that, we needed to feel good about ourselves, going on the plane, going to practice the next day."
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Now, with 12 games left in the season, the goals Green laid out following the loss to Boston still are within reach.
Following Tuesday's win, Golden State is a half-game up on Denver for the West's top spot, armed with a tiebreaker and a home matchup April 2. For a team that's won three championships in the last four years, this is familiar territory.
"It's always good to set goals and reach something, but for us, we know exactly where we want to be," Durant said. "We've reached the point twice, and we had fun doing it. We were a two seed last year, and we started off on the road in the Western Conference Finals and won Game 1, so it's about playing great basketball. I think everybody's in a great rhythm, groove, I think that's way more important than trying to get a seed."
"We know what we're capable of," Curry added. "It's just a matter if we do it on a night-to-night basis."