The Warriors got up to play the defending champs Monday night, wiping away a double-digit deficit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers on their home floor in front of a national television audience.
Golden State's performance was encouraging in improving its record this season to 7-6, especially after seizing control of the game with an impressive fourth quarter in the 115-113 win. Playing against the reigning NBA champions brought the best out of the Warriors, but coach Steve Kerr knows that motivation won't necessarily be there in each of Golden State's remaining 59 games.
"One of my messages to the team today was that you can't rely on emotion for 82 games, or 72 games [this season]," Kerr said Tuesday in a video conference call with reporters. "The season is too long and difficult to think that you can be sky-high emotionally every night."
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The Warriors have practically alternated wins and losses all season. Their season-opening two-game losing streak was matched by two consecutive wins, and losses to the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets last week immediately followed back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors.
Golden State has proven capable of digging itself out of big holes, coming back from double digits to beat the Lakers and Clippers -- the Western Conference's two biggest title contenders -- not even two weeks apart. Yet the Warriors have also lost games that remained tantalizingly within reach, like their defeat to the Pacers, and barely held on when games once looked all but over, as in their win over the Raptors.
The Warriors are still trying to discover their identity, going through the typical growing pains of a revamped roster with the uncertainty of a global pandemic thrown on top of it. Greater consistency is a byproduct of an established identity, and Kerr believes Golden State needs to build a stronger foundation ahead of everything else.
"Where this team needs to make improvement is in our fundamentals and our habits," Kerr continued. "You can rely on habits for a full season. You can't rely on emotion, and this team needs to get better with our habits, with our details because there's gonna be games where we're fired up and sky-high, and there's gonna be games where we're exhausted. But we should be able to win regardless based on how solid we are fundamentally and how often we give ourselves a chance to win a game based on that."
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The Warriors' longest streak of wins and losses is two games, which isn't exactly a surprise considering their record after 13 games. Kerr's thinking is that better habits, specifically pointing to boxing out to improve the Warriors' league-worst rebounding and defensive rotations to better their up-and-down play in their own half of the court, will lead to more game-to-game stability.
A back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks, respectively, will test the Warriors' progress in those areas. If the mini-homestand ends in a split, it still could be a while before the Warriors' foundation is strong enough for sustained success this season.