It’s all locking in right now for the Golden State Warriors. With a little more than three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors (40-31) are winning consistently and are poised to return to the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2007 and for only the second time in the past 19 years.
Yes, Stephen Curry sprained that same right ankle again on Saturday night against the Wizards, but it doesn’t appear serious. And we’ve already seen Curry shake off a couple of previous tweaks this season … so no real worries there.
But come playoff time, there are some things to worry about for the Warriors. No matter how the rest of the season shakes out, it seems apparent the Warriors will be underdogs in the first round.
If the Warriors remain in the sixth position, they will almost certainly play one of the following three teams: the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies or Denver Nuggets. If the Warriors fall to the No. 7 or No. 8 spot, they’ll likely open with either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.
As well as the Warriors have played this season, they’ll have to play at a higher level to win a first-round series. Each starter has to figure out a way to raise his game in the postseason … and here’s one person’s suggestion how:
Stephen Curry: It’s simple: Curry’s got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. Let’s face it, there’s always going to be a debate over whether Curry is a point guard or not, and when he treats the ball as he has lately it makes winners of those who argue he’s not a point guard.
In the 22 games leading up to Saturday, Curry had accumulated 150 assists and 83 turnovers, which averages out to 6.8 assists and 3.8 turnovers per game.
That ratio is very unbecoming for a point guard. One of the troubling aspects of too many of Curry’s turnovers is they happen at the top of the floor and frequently lead to quick transition buckets by the opponent. Those kinds of turnovers can sometimes be momentum-changers.
In the playoffs, when teams tend to play more in the halfcourt, turnovers become even more detrimental. If that’s the case, Curry either has to get more responsible with the ball or handle it less than he has.
Klay Thompson: It seems as if Thompson is developing a game that is solely reliant on his ability to make shots. And yet, it’s not as if his shooting numbers are off the charts.
If Thompson is going to be defined as a shooter, well then, he’s got to start shooting the ball better. Thompson has to become more efficient in his game. Yes, he’s averaging 16.4 points per game, but he shoots just 42 percent from the field. The good part is he shoots 39.7 percent from 3-point range, but that’s still down from the 41.4 percent he shot from beyond the arc last season.
The most alarming part of Thompson’s game is his inability to get to the free throw line, something that is a must from the two-guard position.
Thompson plays almost 36 minutes per game and he doesn’t even get to the line an average of twice per game. In early February, he went an entire road trip – four games – without going to the line.
It’s unlikely for Thompson to reverse those trends in the postseason, but if he can take a few less quick 3-pointers each game and make a conscious effort here and there to get to the rim, it will nudge the Warriors upward in their play.
Harrison Barnes: Most everyone seems to agree that Barnes “must be more aggressive,” but that’s far more easily said than done.
Look, it’s not easy for a first-year player to be aggressive when three of his teammates are, primarily, offensive players. Among Curry, Thompson and David Lee, Barnes is the No. 4 option and it’s tough to disagree with that when we’re talking offense.
Maybe Barnes does have to be more aggressive, but it’s not necessarily just putting more points on the board. Barnes needs to start doing a better job of allowing his athleticism to show through on this team.
Barnes should be rebounding the ball better and running better in transition. He should also be wreaking a little more havoc on the defensive end, not simply being satisfied with making sure to stick with his man.
David Lee: Lee’s defense – or lack of it – has been the topic of many a basketball discussion in the Bay Area the past few years.
The reality is we all know he’s not a defensive stopper and that sometimes he is even more of a liability in help-type situations. That said, Lee has had moments during his Warriors’ career when he’s done more than an adequate job against players such as Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and even Zach Randolph.
Lee is playing with certain physical limitations that he’s not going to be able to overcome. But he can perform admirably in stretches. Heading into the playoffs, Lee’s going to have to start extending those stretches – dare we say to the point of consistency.
Andrew Bogut: It’s great that when Bogut is feeling mobile on a particular night he can clog the lane, block some shots, grab some rebounds and even score a bucket or two.
But when Warriors owner Joe Lacob called acquiring Bogut a “transcendent move” a little more than a year ago, he certainly had more in mind than just this.
Bogut can make up for a very disappointing season by picking up his play from here on out and into the playoffs. How can he do that? Well, for one, he’s got to regain some confidence at the offensive end, particularly in the low post.
Bogut certainly isn’t a dominant back-to-the-basket center, but he’s a terrific passer from down there, has an ability to use both hands and can sometimes overpower smaller defenders.
Lee can sometimes struggle against length and athleticism and there will be plenty of that in the postseason. During those times, it’s vital that Bogut can give the Warriors something offensively on the interior.