Warriors have health on their side 40 games into season

Warriors have health on their side 40 games into season
January 16, 2014, 9:45 pm
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Despite a career-low three-point shooting percentage, Stephen Curry has been the Warriors' MVP through 40 games this season. (USATSI)

OAKLAND – Through the first 40 games, the Warriors like where they stand. They're 25-15, a pace that puts them at 51 or 52 wins. Far more important, though, is their overall general health.

The Warriors have enough evidence to know that as long as their top seven – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green – are up and running, they are one of the top 10 teams in the NBA.

"The biggest hope is that we're healthy going into the postseason,'' general manager Bob Myers says. "First, you have to get to the postseason. But when you get there, health – whether you've won 50 games or 48 or 54 – is the most important thing.

"You can win a lot of games, and not go into the playoffs with a healthy roster and I think you're going to suffer for it.''

Meanwhile, the Warriors continue to shape and define their identity.

Part of this is natural, the evolution of offensive-minded leaders like Curry and Lee being influenced by teammates and coaches who grasp the relationship between defense and championship basketball. That it is, after all these years, still absolutely essential is something coach Mark Jackson and his staff jackhammered into the team after a listless performance in a defeat at Phoenix on Dec. 15.

The team's response, aided by the return of Iguodala two days later, has been encouraging and at times tremendous.

There are nights when the Warriors smother opponents, which, along with some lightweights on the schedule is how they managed to win 10 consecutive games – and 12 of 15 since their Arizona Moment.

And there are long stretches, sometime entire games, nights when the Warriors leave their defense in the locker room.

[RELATED: Rewind: Defense lets rested Warriors down vs. Denver]

"We can't take anything for granted,'' Bogut says. "We've been down in the dumps and up high as well, all in one season so far. We just have to know what the recipe for success is for our team.''

The formula is defensive pressure igniting uptempo offense. The Warriors are 12-3 when holding opponents under 40 percent shooting, 18-2 when holding them to less than 100 points.

"The numbers tell me that we as a team are one of the top five defensive teams in this league,'' Jackson said. "That's with whoever we put on the floor.''

That was in direct response to a question about Bogut's absences, but it also serves to remind us that statistics draw an overall picture but do not apply to every game. The Dubs are fourth overall and No. 1 in the Western Conference in opponent's field-goal percentage.

But until those numbers are a truer reflection of nightly performance, the search for true defensive identity continues.

MVP: Curry. As good as Thompson was in November and Lee has been in January, as essential as Iguodala and Bogut are to team success, it's not even close.

Curry's status is beyond dispute despite his relatively wayward money shot; he's shooting a career-low 3-point percentage. It's beyond dispute despite Curry leading the league in turnovers per game. For the record, Curry is among good company as Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose also are near the top in giveaways.

When Curry's on the floor, good things usually happen for the Warriors, particularly on offense. He attracts so much attention it creates space for teammates. Thompson, Iguodala and Barnes all breathe easier when playing alongside Curry.

When Steph takes a breather, the offense becomes constipated. The difference is statistical – points per possession decline dramatically – and exceedingly visible. Even fans at Oracle slump in their seats.

The Warriors hope that this problem will be solved with the addition this week of combo guard Jordan Crawford to come off the bench.

[RELATED: Curry, Thompson should benefit most from Crawford trade]

ON TOP OF HIS GAME: Lee/Bogut.

Lee in recent weeks has been the most offensively efficient power forward in the league. After playing beneath his standard for the first month, he has spent the last month shooting as well as he has at any time since firing at 60 percent in his second season. He has shot better than 60 percent in nine of the last 20 games, going under 50 percent only five times.

Bogut's defense continues to prove itself an essential ingredient of the team's success. He blocks and alters shots, while discouraging some shooters. What's coming along now, though, is a modicum of offense. He doesn't get many shots but on average makes four of six. He's enough of an offensive threat – as a scorer or passer – to warrant more touches.

BENEATH HIS GAME: Barnes.

He has regressed most stunningly on offense, where he misses too many open shots for such a capable scorer. Where is the guy who was so spectacular in the postseason and so phenomenal in summer workouts?

Barnes shot only 37.2 percent in December and 31 percent on 3-pointers. He's up to 43.5 percent through seven games in January and hitting 9 of 17 3-pointers – including back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter of Wednesday's loss to Denver. It was an encouraging sign for the Warriors, who privately concede he has been struggling to reach the level he has flashed in the past.

THE NEXT 13: Of the 13 games remaining before the All-Star Break, nine will be played at Oracle Arena. Three are against projected playoff teams: the Thunder, the Trail Blazers and the Clippers. Two will be against the best the Eastern Conference has to offer: Indiana and Miami. It will be no less than a time of revelation.

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