The Golden State Warriors' surprise season is taking them from possible title contenders to barely making the playoffs. This trend started when the Warriors suffered their six-game losing streak in early February.
Physical and mental exhaustion were tabbed as being the reason for the start of the decline, but in reality, it is their lack of defense. The team has gotten into a rut of sloppy and lazy play as of late. This style has the Warriors allowing way too many points and huge first-half deficits that are insurmountable.
Hand down, team down: Mark Jackson calls out the slumping Warriors for poor defense. on.nba.com/ZhwWUs— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) March 7, 2013
The Warriors have a recent knack for allowing opponents to open up more than a 10-point lead in the first or second quarter of games. They have come back in a few of the games, but they have to use a huge third or fourth quarter to make up the difference, like when they held off the Toronto Raptors on March 4.
The Warriors are overcommitting to double-teaming players and leaving trailers wide open for easy three-pointers. As seen in this clip from the Warriors' loss to the Rockets, Harden drives to the hoop and kicks it out to Carlos Delfino for the triple.
This has been the most common problem as of late. Players are not staying with their assignments and instead trying to make a play on the ball. In the end, they are getting burned. The momentum changes instantly and teams start to go on six- to eight-point runs.
Another common problem for the Warriors is that they are slow to the ball when perimeter players are running off screens and giving up open looks. As you can see in this clip from March 9, the Warriors got beat on the same play twice.
J.J. Redick runs cross court and gets free off the screen. He catches the ball and looks for the open three, but instead pushes the ball over to the open Brandon Jennings. Jarrett Jack can’t get there on the first go-around and Stephen Curry gets burned the second time.
The Warriors would be a lot better if they didn’t give the extra spacing when defending opponents. If they get beat off the dribble, they have a better shot with David Lee and Andrew Bogut in help defense.
Bogut still looks slow since coming back from the back injury, but he can be the catalyst of the return of the defense. He brings the attitude, but because of his inconsistent play he hasn’t been the defensive trendsetter as of late. He needs to turn that attitude up in a hurry.
Against Toronto, he shows how he got his reputation.
Jonas Valanciunas tries to back down Bogut in the paint, but Bogut holds his ground and swats away Valanciunas’ attempt. The Warriors need a lot more from Bogut, even if it is in limited time.
Coach Jackson needs to figure out what the right mix is with Bogut. Until he gets his legs underneath him, it would be better if he played 20 to 25 minutes so he can provide the maximum impact.
Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins can substitute in the meantime, and Ezeli has been a lot more aggressive down below lately. His biggest problem is he is way too quick trying to pass the ball once it is in his hands. He has committed too many turnovers by passing it directly to a defender once he has possession.
Jackson needs to start breaking down the basics with his team. The big men need to protect the paint and not commit to players that are over-extending their spacing as it leaves gaping holes for opponents. It is better to take a chance on a lesser percentage shot than give up a layup or a dunk.
He also needs to really get on the perimeter defense. The Warriors are not doing their jobs lately and that is why opponents have been shooting the three so often. The Houston Rockets set up a case study on how to exploit the Warriors, and they haven’t done anything to correct it.
The Rockets had a field day in this game as almost every attempt was wide open with a Warriors player running late to the ball.
The perimeter players need to expend more energy and anticipate passes and opponents' moves. Shooting percentages dramatically decrease when a defender is in a shooter’s face. Jackson needs to reteach his players how to avoid and break through screens.
Jackson also needs to include more of his depth in the rotations. With his players working harder, he can use Richard Jefferson and Kent Bazemore more often, even if it is just to give other players more rest.
The Warriors have a 5-12 record in their past 17 games and even though they will be playing 12 out of their final 18 games at home, the opponents will not be getting any easier. They still have to face the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. Oh yeah, they also have to face that Rockets team in Houston, which has beaten the Warriors three times this season.
Jackson needs to get an ironclad commitment from his team leader, Curry, and from Bogut. Defense can be contagious, and if both of those players step up and lead by example, that will help close out some of the upcoming games.
If the Warriors truly want to take a step forward and move away from the image of a plagued franchise, they will need to right the ship and start buckling down on defense. The playoffs depend on it.
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