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Slumping Warriors to use next month to re-establish identity

NBC Sports

Projected to finish with fewer than 50 wins but confident in zooming past that figure, the Warriors’ overachieving ways over their first 33 games of the 2021-22 NBA season validated their faith and gave them ample margin for error.

The last seven games have provided sufficient evidence they’re going to need it.

In the 17 days since a Christmas Day victory over the Suns in Phoenix put the Warriors firmly atop the NBA with a 27-6 record, they have lost more games than they’ve won.

They’re 3-4 over the last seven after donating a 116-108 gift to the dangerous Grizzlies on Tuesday night at FedEx Forum in Memphis. Golden State is officially searching for ingredients to rekindle the mojo of the first two months.

It’s certainly too much to expect the return of Klay Thompson (14 points, three assists, three turnovers in 20 minutes) to produce instant magic – particularly with Draymond Green (calf injury) leaving the lineup as Thompson entered.

“In a strange way, these next three-four weeks are going to be about re-establishing our identity as a team,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We did a great job these first 40 games of becoming a great defensive team. A lot of guys have played important minutes and have established roles. Now that’s going to be shaken up a little bit because Klay is going to play a huge role.”

 

The next three-four weeks begin with the next three days. The Warriors (30-10) on Thursday face the defending champion Bucks at Milwaukee, followed 24 hours later by the Eastern-Conference-leading Bulls in Chicago.

Golden State’s championship aspirations, clearly in focus weeks ago, have turned hazy during the least effective stretch thus far. The defense, their bedrock, generally has been solid, but the offense, such an asset most of the season, has been more miss than make. That should become a fairly reliable strength once Klay finds his rhythm.

The element that most threatens the Warriors’ chances of becoming great is turnovers, which occasionally bit them in recent years even when they were at their dominating best. It was their undoing on Tuesday, as they quickly fell behind when six first-quarter giveaways led to 11 Memphis points.

The Grizzlies scored 26 points off 17 giveaways, taking 100 shots to Golden State’s 82.

Only one of Golden State’s 10 losses came with the opponent committing more turnovers. The Warriors are 14-9 when they commit the same number or more turnovers than their opponents, 16-1 when they commit fewer.

They know the numbers, know what they mean and expect it to get better.

“We’re right where we want to be,” said Stephen Curry, who scored a team-high 27 points. “We just have to understand in the margins of what it takes to win basketball games at this level. This is a good reminder of how hard it is, how difficult it is, especially when you’re playing good teams.

“The discipline to know how to start games better, taking care of the basketball, controlling what we can control, will put us in a better position.”

The Warriors are 30-10, one game behind the Suns in the West. The sky is not falling. Not even close. But the floor is rising, and they can’t sit around shrugging and watching. 

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If these past couple weeks have told the Warriors anything, it is that they need to re-stabilize to get where they want to go.

“We’ve learned a lot about some of our young guys,” Kerr said. “So, this next month or so we’re going to shuffle the deck a little bit and try some different combinations and try to get everything in order for the stretch run and the playoffs.”

The best of these Warriors should come after the Feb. 17-23 All-Star break. They’ll have roughly seven weeks to peak before the playoffs.

Meanwhile, to blow through the 50-win mark, they’re going to need a few wrenches and screwdrivers and maybe a couple power drills. There is some fixing to do.

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