The Golden State Warriors are on a two-game winning streak for the first time since the beginning of December, and this time, it's for real.
The Dubs pulled off an impressive victory on Monday, beating the Denver Nuggets 89-81 in a defensive battle. The Nuggets' 81 points were the fewest scored by a Warriors opponent this season since the San Antonio Spurs beat Golden State 76-74 on Nov. 8.
Monday's victory came after a 102-83 drubbing against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday; the 19-point victory was the Warriors' second-largest margin of victory since Nov. 4.
This two-game winning streak marks only the fourth time Golden State has won two or more games in a row this season. Despite inconsistent play, a few qualities of the Dubs' victories during their winning streak indicate their recent winning ways are a sign of things to come.
The Warriors Showed They Can Win Without Relying on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
Curry and Thompson combined to hit just 11 of their 30 shots in Monday's win, and that was an improvement over their combined 10-of-30 performance on Saturday. That translates to a 35 percent shooting percentage for the Warriors' backcourt starters. While that is concerning, the silver lining is that the Warriors found ways to win each of those games despite off-nights from their two best shooters.
The Warriors have shown they are actually a better team this season when Curry doesn't pile on the points. They are 2-5 when their point guard scores 30 or more points, 14-5 when he does not. This doesn't mean Curry shouldn't continue to shoot three-pointers, as his .418 success rate on threes is still efficient.
However, the Warriors cannot consistently win games against top opponents if the backcourt continues to struggle with its shooting.
The victories in the two-game winning streak came against a pair of mediocre teams (Lakers' and Nuggets' combined record: 27-28), and the bad shooting will not suffice against top opponents. Just look at the Warriors' Dec. 13 loss to the Houston Rockets. Curry and Thompson were 2-of-12 from three-point range in that game, yet they lost by only four points.
This means that if those two can shoot to their abilities, the sky is the limit for this team. Despite his recent struggles, Thompson is doing his part this season; his .449 field-goal percentage is a career high. If Curry can revert to his 2012 three-point success, few teams will be able to stop the Dubs.
David Lee and Andrew Bogut Are Currently Playing Fantastic Basketball
Lee and Bogut have both grabbed double-digit rebounds in their last nine games, and they're now averaging a combined 20.5 rebounds per game this season. While much of the Dubs' success relies on the shooting duo of Curry and Thompson, the play of their big men is equally important.
The Warriors rank seventh in the NBA in rebound differential, a total they must further improve upon if they are to take the next step and contend in the Western Conference.
Lee has also stepped up his offensive game, averaging 25 points in the Warriors' past four games. During that span, he's connected on 55.3 percent of his shots. Bogut doesn't take a lot of shots (5.8 per game this season), but he's efficient on the shots he does take. In fact, Bogut has not finished a game with a shooting percentage below .500 since Nov. 18.
The Warriors' Upcoming Schedule Is Underwhelming
The Warriors haven't exactly had an easy schedule to start the season, with nine of their 13 losses coming against playoff teams. Now, they will finally be compensated with a relatively easy stretch of upcoming games.
Their next two games will be tough, as they face the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, fourth and fifth seeds in the Western Conference, respectively. But if the Warriors can get through those games, both of which take place at Oracle Arena, they have smooth sailing ahead.
After those two games, the Warriors play teams with losing records in six of their next eight games. The only caveat: The first seven of those games are on the road. They begin by facing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic, who are 10-17 and 8-20, respectively. Then they travel to Miami to take on the Heat, and it goes without saying that will be one of their toughest games this season.
Yet the Warriors match up very effectively against the Heat. Miami is last in the NBA in rebounding, one of the Warriors' major strengths. The Warriors can also put Andre Iguodala on LeBron James, which should at least have some impact on limiting James' effectiveness.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves in analyzing a game that is over a week into the future. The bottom line is that the Dubs have a very favorable stretch of games that comes against many of the Eastern Conference's weakest teams. That should help the Warriors build momentum heading into the season's second half.
Andre Iguodala Improves the Defense Tremendously
In the four games since Iguodala's return, the Warriors have held opponents under 100 points in three of them. That includes the last two games, in which the Lakers and Nuggets scored 83 and 81 points, respectively.
"He's a guy that makes life so much easier for everybody on the floor," coach Mark Jackson said, via ESPN, after Iguodala's Dec. 17 return against the New Orleans Pelicans. "His ability to make plays, his ability to read and react, we missed him. Glad to have him back. And then there was a carryover effect."
The Dubs offense has been surprisingly underwhelming this season, as it ranks 11th in the NBA in points scored. This means the defense must carry the load, at least until the Warriors can improve offensively. Their recent stretch of solid defense is a promising sign moving forward, especially now that Iggy is once again a member of the starting five.
The Bench's Level of Play Was Acceptable Against the Lakers and Nuggets
According to HoopsStats.com, the Warriors are dead last in the NBA in bench points. Their average of just 21.4 points per game from non-starters is absolutely deplorable, but the past two games have been rather promising.
The victory over the Lakers was a particularly big step forward for the bench, which scored 33 points in the 102-83 victory. The bench also had five steals and three blocks while pulling in a respectable 14 rebounds.
The bench only scored 18 points in the victory over the Nuggets, but in a defensive battle where only one Warriors starter eclipsed 14 points (David Lee had 28), a drop-off in bench scoring is not surprising. Additionally, Draymond Green recorded three blocks in only 17 minutes, and Marreese Speights connected on three of his four shots.
These aren't numbers that stand out, but they are a step above the production Golden State got from its bench in the 27 previous games this season. Continuing this level of play is a must for the Warriors going forward.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise noted.