Full-Strength Golden State Warriors Are Among NBA Elite

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIJanuary 2, 2014

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors speaks to Andre Iguodala #9 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 29, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors won their seventh straight game on Thursday with a 123-114 road victory against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. In the process, the Dubs continued to prove themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams when at full strength.

Since Andre Iguodala returned from a hamstring injury on Dec. 17 against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Warriors have compiled an 8-1 record. Without Iggy, Golden State was 5-7.

Head coach Mark Jackson explained Iguodala's importance to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

During the winning streak, the Warriors have won four road games and beaten three teams in the playoff picture: the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat. With their opening-night starting lineup intact, they’ve been downright scary.

In the win over Miami, Stephen Curry and David Lee put on an absolute clinic.

Lee dominated the Heat’s undersized frontcourt en route to 32 points (13-of-17 shooting) and 14 rebounds.

Curry—as he’s done so often this year—shot the lights out from beyond the arc. He finished 8-of-15 from three-point range (13-of-22 overall) for 36 points while adding 12 assists and four steals.

The Warriors poured in 38 first-quarter points and shot 63.2 percent overall in the first half.

With Curry, Lee and Klay Thompson leading the way offensively, as well as Iguodala and Andrew Bogut making a concerted effort defensively, the Warriors have enough fervor on both ends to compete with any team in the league.

But while Golden State's starting five has been tremendous at full strength this season, the second unit is still an area of concern.

According to HoopsStats.com, the Warriors’ bench is tied with Washington's for last in the NBA with just 22.7 points scored per game. Losing Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry—two veteran staples on the second unit last season—has really hurt this team’s bench production.

Having Iguodala back in the starting lineup, which pushes Harrison Barnes into the role of sixth man, will help in the long run. However, Barnes scored 15 points off the bench against Miami and the Dubs could still only muster 25 bench points overall.

Huge performances from Curry and Lee rendered that somewhat irrelevant, but the Warriors may need to shore up their bench via trade to become legitimate title contenders by year’s end.

With seven straight wins in the rear-view mirror, Golden State is the hottest team in the league. After their win over Miami, however, the Dubs are only the No. 6 seed in a loaded Western Conference.

The Warriors fell out of the playoff picture with Iguodala sidelined, but as long as they stay in contention prior to postseason play, they’ll be a nightmare first-round matchup for any team.