In order to get where they are now, the Golden State Warriors have had a lot of their offseason wishes come true, but will need more to happen in order to make the postseason.
From their improved defense, surprising rookie contributions and up-and-down bouts with health, the Warriors have surged to their best start since the 1991-92 55-win season.
Unlike other seasons where the Warriors have a couple winning stretches and flame out, this team has the feel and probability of a team that should contend down the stretch for a playoff spot.
With a couple days off to recover after the tough Lakers loss, the Dubs will look to recuperate and get better for the upcoming 10-game stretch that pits them against nine teams who made the playoffs last season.
Since this is the season of giving, there are several aspects of the game that the Warriors would love to get a hold of in order to sustain their run.
A playoff spot would need a minimum of two or more of these things to hold up. Or just the last one.
After the past couple years of playing terrible defense and ranking near the bottom in defensive efficiency, the Warriors have stunningly improved their defense to a middle-of-the-pack version, ranking 15th according to TeamRankings.
However, in the past few games, the team has regressed back to its below-average ways, allowing over 100 points in each of its last three games and a season-high 131 to the dysfunctional Sacramento Kings.
The numbers represent a trend, and if the Dubs want to keep succeeding with tough grind-it-out defense, they'll have to keep executing the same philosophy, explained here, they have had all season.
With solid improvements from perennially bad defensive players in David Lee and Stephen Curry, coach Mark Jackson will need to keep pushing all the right buttons to keep the defense firing on all cylinders.
Rebounding is mostly predicated on hustle and toughness so it would stand to reason that the Warriors haven't been good the past couple seasons.
In fact, after ranking dead least in total rebounding rate in 2011-12, they have jumped all the way into the top 10, holding the ninth spot with a 51-percent rebounding rate, according to TeamRankings.
The change starts with David Lee, who is boxing out his person and letting players like Curry, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green do all the boarding.
Curry is averaging over four rebounds and Lee over 11 for the third time in his career. It's been a team-wide effort that has the Warriors outrebounding their opponents on a daily basis.
A change in mental philosophy has improved that aspect of the team by leaps and bounds. Amazing what a change in mindset can do.
In order to keep winning, they'll have to continue to keep other teams off the boards because of their lack of size.
Stephen Curry's Ankle
The Warriors have been blessed this season with the good fortune of a healthy Stephen Curry ankle. He did sprain it in a November game against the Dallas Mavericks, but it was as if that was a wake-up call—and he proceeded to pour all his frustrations out on the Mavs from then on, scoring 31 points en route to an overtime victory.
From then on, Curry has had an All-Star first half and is one of the few players in the NBA averaging over 19 points, six assists and four rebounds. Only LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are in that club. Safe to say that's elite company.
The key factor not only for this season but for the playoffs will hinge on the troublesome ankle of Bogut.
It recently came to light that the Warriors had been hiding the true details of his microfracture surgery that has caused the slow healing process. After a couple games of sporadic playing time, Bogut finally shut himself down and admitted to coming back too soon.
He hasn't been heard from since.
If the prognosis was indeed accurate from the offseason, Bogut should be nearing full strength in the next month or so.
If that is the case, the Warriors would cure many ills at once with the dominant presence of the seven-foot Australian.
Combine his offensive post presence—while Festus Ezeli has been decent this year at center, he is offensively nonexistent with his Kwame Brown-esque hands—with his defensive dominance and the Warriors would become legitimate playoff contenders.
Plus, Warriors fans are sick of seeing Bogut next to Kent Bazemore's celebrations.
There have been recent cracks in Mark Jackson's late frontcourt rotations, especially the Lee-Carl Landry combination. There simply isn't enough size there to compete, and if one of the two isn't clicking offensively, the offense gets bogged down and defense becomes mediocre.
So while sustaining the early-season production of the first three wishes is integral to their playoff implications, simply having Andrew Bogut back at or near full strength would single-handedly maintain the current successes and push the team to new heights.
*All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/24/2012.