Warriors' five toughest stretches of 2019-20 schedule could determine fate

Warriors' five toughest stretches of 2019-20 schedule could determine fate

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The NBA Schedule has officially been released, and now the start of the season is in sight. With about two and a half months left before the first regular-season game in Chase Center history, Warriors officials can now prepare itineraries and accommodations for the 2019-20 season that spans approximately five and a half months.

It is too early for players or coaches to circle games and begin strategizing against their opponents, considering they haven't even seen their own team practice or play yet. However, it is not too early to examine some difficult stretches of games in the upcoming season that could very well dictate the fate of the Warriors.

Here are five of the toughest stretches in chronological order:

Oct. 24-Oct 28 (Three games)
vs LA Clippers, @Oklahoma City, @New Orleans
One back-to-back

Why are the first three games especially tough? Well because the Warriors will have no idea what to expect from themselves or these opponents. All four teams -- including the Warriors -- had massive offseason overhauls, so it will be quite difficult to scout or understand the opponent so early in the season. The Clippers are one of the early title favorites, so the Warriors will have their hands full in the first official game at Chase Center.

Heading out on the first road trip can always be a bit of a feeling-out process as well, so the Warriors will have their work cut out from them facing a veteran Thunder team led by Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari, and then a young, uber-athletic Pelicans team revolving around rookie phenom Zion Williamson.

Nov. 11-Nov. 22 (Seven games)
vs Utah, @LA Lakers, vs Boston, @New Orleans, @Memphis, @Dallas, @Utah
One back-to-back (@MEM, @DAL) 

This first gauntlet of tough opponents starts in mid-November, and it includes five of seven games on the road. Utah has upgraded their already talented roster to become one of the elite teams in the West, so a stretch with them as bookends is quite difficult. The first meeting with LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be an electric match up in Los Angeles. Boston, Dallas and New Orleans all have youthful yet highly-skilled rosters.

While Memphis should be one of the bottom-dwellers in the league, they will be the quintessential "trap game" as it will be on the front end of a back-to-back, and it will be easy to overlook them.

Jan. 20-Jan. 30 (Five games)
@Portland, vs Utah, vs Indiana, @Philadelphia, @Boston
No back-to-backs, three-day break between Indiana and Philadelphia

As the NBA schedule moves to late January, the league can hit a "dog days" type lull where teams anticipate the mid-February All-Star break and lose a bit of steam. The Warriors, however, will not have the ability to lose focus as they play a menacing stretch of five games with expected playoff teams, including three games on the road. Many think that Philadelphia could have the best starting five in the league, which should make the matchup that much more difficult.

Fortunately for the Warriors, they will receive a rare three-day break before they head over to Philly, giving them a chance to catch their breath and rest their legs. 

March 3-March 18 (Eight games)
@Denver, vs Toronto, vs Philadelphia, vs LA Clippers, vs Brooklyn, @Milwaukee, @Toronto, @Indiana
No back-to-backs

A couple of weeks after the All-Star break, the Warriors will play a grueling eight-game stretch that includes two matchups against their 2019 Finals foe. Despite losing Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors should still be worthy of an Eastern Conference playoff spot with Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam. The Warriors will also face four teams that are expected to be at the very top of the league in the Nuggets, 76ers, Clippers and Bucks.

Yet despite the stiff competition, unless there is an unforeseen setback, the Warriors will be at their best around this time as many expect Klay Thompson to be returning from his ACL injury around this stretch.

[RELATED: NBA schedule 2019-20: Warriors game dates, start times, TV/stream info]

March 29-April 15th (Nine games)
vs San Antonio, vs Denver, @Houston, @San Antonio, vs Cleveland, @LA Lakers, @LA Clippers, vs Portland, @Sacramento
Two back-to-backs (@HOU, @SAS and vs CLE, @LAL), four-day break between San Antonio and Cleveland

The Warriors will need Thompson to survive an arduous sprint to the end of the season. The final nine games of the season will feature seven teams expected to be in the playoffs, and another against Sacramento who could very well be in the hunt as well. Potentially the most difficult back-to-back will also happen in this stretch when the Warriors play in Houston followed by San Antonio.

Luckily for the Warriors, they get an ultra-rare four-day break after the game in San Antonio, which comes at the perfect time as they play another set of back-to-back games at home against the lowly Cavaliers, followed by a late-season showdown at the Lakers on the back end. 

Warriors believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

Warriors believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

SALT LAKE CITY - The Warriors have lost a lot in the last six months. 

The most obvious wound is the gutting of its Hall of Fame roster, and the injuries that crippled it. But perhaps the most essential damage to the team's evolution is its most recent struggle: Failing to close out games talent used to be able to overcome. 

In its latest effort -- a 114-106 loss to the Jazz -- the Warriors led for much of the first half before Utah took control in the third quarter. The loss came at a strange time for Golden State as their three All-Stars -- Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry -- were nursing injured back in California and their prized rookie Eric Paschall was in the locker room due to a hip injury. 

Nonetheless, the league's worst team left Vivint Smart Home Arena seeing enough progress to believe they're heading in the right direction, even if the scoreboard says otherwise. 

"There is a lot of good stuff," Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted. "But you want that to lead to a win and that's coming."

Remnants of Kerr's positivity showed through the first 24 minutes Friday evening. In the first quarter, they held the Jazz to 39 percent from the field, outscoring Utah 14-8 in the paint. By the end of the first half, they built a 56-49 lead, marked by promising plays from its young core. 

Six minutes into the first quarter, 6-foot-8 big man Omari Spellman pulled down a rebound, went the length of the court, bullying his way for a layup to give Golden State a 20-18 lead. A quarter later, center Marquese Chriss blocked Jazz guard Royce O'Neal at the rim, ran the length of the floor and received a pass for an easy dunk on the other end, pushing Golden State's lead to 13. 

Following halftime, the Jazz responded by outscoring the Warriors 37-28 in the third quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 10 of his game-high 32 points over the stretch, as Utah made a run that was all-too-familiar to Golden State. 

"They picked up their pace in the third quarter," Kerr said. "I'm sure they were not happy with their pace in the first half and so they played a great third quarter and put a lot of pressure on us."

Worse, even after the Warriors briefly took a 104-103 lead with just over two minutes left, the Jazz went on an 11-2 run to close the game, underscoring one of the team's biggest problems this season. Through 27 games, the Warriors are among the worst teams in the last five minutes of games. During the timeframe, they're posting a putrid 92.9 offensive rating, with a net rating of -33.6. 

For context, the 2017-18 Warriors -- featuring a healthy Curry, Green, Thompson and Kevin Durant -- posted a 112.2 offensive rating in clutch situations, finishing third in the league, leaving a mark the current battered Warriors are trying to fulfill.  

"I think we can win a lot more games than we have," said Chriss. "We've been in games that we could win and honestly that we should win. People try to say that our team is down and things like that but we're competing with teams that have their full roster. This team is full of fighters and teams that want to win." 

While the team is frustrated, their latest performance comes with a caveat. Clutch performances are built through experience, an attribute the league's third-youngest team has yet to gain. 

"I remember being in this position earlier in my career where you get the taste of winning, but you don't really know how to do it, you may just get lucky that night," said 23-year old guard D'Angelo Russell. "Other teams in the league that are solidified, they find a way to win and those other teams that aren't supposed to win find a way to lose so I think it comes with growth and experience."

[RELATED: Burks wants to stay with Warriors]

Late Friday evening, just before he left Salt Lake City for a late-night flight back to the Bay Area, recovering from yet another close loss, Kerr made a declaration for his young team, despite optics of the contrary. 

"I like where we're heading," he said. "I really do. I know it might sound crazy because of our record, but I think we're going to start winning some games. I think we're getting better."

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in deflating 114-106 loss to Jazz


Warriors takeaways: What we learned in deflating 114-106 loss to Jazz


SALT LAKE CITY -- Warriors big man Marquese Chriss said his team was "tired of losing" during his halftime interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke on Friday at Vivent Smart Home Arena.

Unfortunately for Chriss, the Warriors will have to wait at least two more days to erase their current skid, as Golden State lost 114-106 to the Jazz. 

Unlike most nights, the Warriors -- without Draymond Green and rookie Eric Paschall -- showed fight, taking a seven-point lead after the first quarter. However, a second-half Utah run doomed their chances as the Warriors' inability to finish crippled them once again. 

There are no moral victories in sports and the Warriors will take another loss back to the Bay Area. 

Here are the takeaways as the Warriors fell to 5-22 on the season: 

Fast start erased in one quarter

The Warriors have been immune to quick starts over the last week. On Friday, the trend changed. Through the first 24 minutes, Golden State outscored Utah 26-18 in the paint, while holding the Jazz to just 43 percent from the field. 

Utah's defense was out of sorts in the second quarter, as the Warriors built a 13-point lead. On one possession, Chriss blocked a shot on one end, ran the floor unguarded and received a pass wide open under the basket for an easy dunk. 

Then the third quarter happened.

Over the next 12 minutes the Warriors were outscored 37-28. Even when the Warriors fought back, a key missed dunk from Willie Cauley-Stein ended any hopes of a win. 

The Warriors have shown fight amid injuries, but the only mark of success is winning, a goal the team again couldn't accomplish in Utah. 

Alec Burks shines

Against his former team, Burks was effective, finishing with 24 points including two 3-pointers. Despite shooting just 41 percent from the field this season, Burks has shown the ability to carry Golden State's offense when needed. His downhill attack consistently puts the opponent on edge. 

The location of Burks' output is noteworthy. He spent eight years playing in Utah before injuries derailed his career. His affinity for the town was apparent from the time he walked into the building. Following his pregame workout, he spent most of his time exchanging pleasantries with former teammates and arena staff, causing a Warriors team official to jokingly ask, "When is Alec's statue going up?"

[RELATED: Burks wants to stay with Warriors]

Chriss shined despite scare

The first-year Warrior continued his reclamation bid, finishing with 12 points, adding 13 rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes off the bench. 

Chriss had a slight scare in the third quarter when he knocked knees with a Jazz player contesting a layup. He was later diagnosed as a left knee contusion. 

Following a rough start to his career, Chriss has become a valuable piece to the transitional Warriors, providing rebounding and scoring off the bench. Friday was yet another example of his contributions.