The Warriors return home this week an appreciably better team than the one that left Jan. 17 for a 12-day road trip. They are now the team the rest of the NBA had hoped would never materialize.
The focus is tight, the shooting is sharp, the ball movement is dazzling, the defense is effective and, above all, spirits are soaring.
It was all on display Monday night in a 132-100 thrashing of the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Warriors have won 11 in a row and it’s conceivable they could sprint into the All-Star break with an 18-game winning streak. Stephen Curry, speaking to reporters in Indianapolis, said he is thinking precisely that way.
“I don’t know how many games we have before the All-Star break,” Curry said, “but the goal should be to win them all and continue to get better as we get deeper and deeper into the season.”
The number of games is seven, with five of them at home, including Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Of those games before the Feb. 14 break, the toughest games are the back-to-back set at the end. The Utah Jazz come to Oracle Arena on Feb. 12 and then the Warriors head to Portland to face the Trail Blazers on Feb. 13.
If the Warriors play as well as they have on the 5-0 road trip punctuated by a convincing win over Indiana, it won’t matter much who they play.
“Unbelievable trip ... just a really good way to finish it, too, with everyone playing and contributing,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We had the lead from start to finish. I was a little worried about this game, everyone is anxious to get home. We finished off the trip the right way, and it’s great to see.”
The contributions from up and down the roster may be the most satisfying component of the win streak. One night, it’s Curry doing most of the damage. The next night, it’s Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson. The bench, led by Andre Iguodala, has also been an asset.
But the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, who missed the first 45 games while recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon, has provided a lift that has been as much emotional as physical.
Cousins submitted a season-high 22 points Monday, adding six rebounds and four assists. He took a hard fall in the first quarter, but ended up playing 25 minutes. The team’s offensive rating is 118.3 since he returned, largely because his huge presence in the paint makes the Warriors incredibly difficult to defend.
“We’ve been more dialed in the past month than we have all season, and for much of last season,” Kerr said. “You can just see . . . the turnovers are down, we’re just more conscientious as a group and guys are moving the ball, 39 assists tonight. We’re in a good groove, we’re in a good place and just got to keep going.”
The Warriors (36-14) tore apart the Pacers early. After a Darren Collison 3-pointer pulled Indiana into a 16-16 tie with 5:30 remaining in the first quarter, the Warriors went on a 24-3 run and never really let up.
That’s typical of their work during the win streak that began immediately after the most devastating loss of the season, blowing a 20-point lead, and losing, at Oracle Arena, on a buzzer-beater by James Harden back on Jan. 3.
The Warriors are averaging 128.9 points and 33.3 assists per game during the streak. They shot 52.1 from the field, 41.3 from beyond the arc on Monday.
If there is a surprise, it is this: their defense has improved with Cousins. They went from a porous 113.3 rating in the first six victories to 103.1 with Boogie playing over the last five.
And yet, the Warriors maintain they can get better.
“We’re not playing perfect basketball by any stretch,” Curry said. “But we’re playing consistent, focused basketball. We’re still working out some kinks with rotations and stuff like that, and understanding what play calls we want to run.
“But the little things to help us win a championship, defensively in transition, boxing out, those are things that swing a game, a possession or two here and there in the playoffs. If you really want to nit-pick, that’s the stuff that we have to focus in on.”
If the rest of the NBA has to look that deeply find a weakness, yes, an 18-game win streak is absolutely achievable. Scary, huh?