Goodbye, January. Hello, February.
The Golden State Warriors surely must be happy to turn the calendar after an up-and-down first month of the year. While the Dubs closed out January with a two-game win streak, most recently toppling the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City last Friday, the team is still looking to find some consistency.
Despite some dominant play at both ends of the court with their famous #fullsquad, the Warriors actually dropped further down the standings in the Western Conference. Golden State is now slotted in the seventh spot, and is a mere two games from falling out of postseason positioning altogether.
But the short-term schedule looks promising for the Warriors, who attempt to extend their win streak heading into the All-Star Game. Four of their next five games before the break are at home, the first of which is a Tuesday night tilt against the Charlotte Bobcats at Oracle Arena.
Though the Bobcats are currently slated as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, they do so owning a wincing 21-28 record. The Warriors’ aim heading into Tuesday’s contest is to refrain from continuing to play only at the level of their opponent. And given the uncertainty about Charlotte's starting point guard Kemba Walker’s health, it is important for Golden State to take care of business when it's supposed to: against a losing team, at home.
Here are five keys for the Warriors heading into their Tuesday matchup against the Charlotte Bobcats.
One main area in which the Bobcats have struggled this season has been their offense. The team ranks 26th in the NBA in field-goal percentage (43.4), 28th in scoring (94.4 points per game) and 29th in offensive rebounds.
Yes, Charlotte is not a great offensive team.
Of course, there has to be some leeway this season. Players must still be adjusting to first-year head coach Steve Clifford’s system. Prior to this season, Clifford had no formal head coaching experience, having served several years as an assistant to multiple college programs and NBA teams. So, one can forgive their shortcomings for the first part of this season as they continue developing their team chemistry.
On paper, however, it doesn’t look as though the Bobcats will break out of their offensive slump against Golden State. The Warriors’ defense is nearly the exact opposite of the Charlotte offense. Currently, the Dubs rank fourth in the league in opponents’ field-goal percentage (43.4), third in adjusted field-goal percentage (47.5) and second in rebounding (46.0 per game). Sabermetrically, their 99.3 defensive rating ranks fourth.
This does not bode well for the Bobcats, who have played their last seven games without their second-leading scorer Kemba Walker. Charlotte has scored slightly better on the road (96.3) but will be going up against a tough interior presence in the form of David Lee and Andrew Bogut. The Warriors’ frontcourt tandem have been dominant on the glass this season, combining for 20.4 boards between them per game. Rebounds will be hard to come by, and second-chance points will be scant for Bobcats’ forwards.
Look for the Bobcats to do most of their damage from the perimeter, attempting to exploit the Warriors’ defensive weakness. Charlotte ranks 20th in the league from the three-point line, however, with their forwards Josh McRoberts (37.4 percent) and Anthony Tolliver (43.2) lighting it up from outside. Their perimeter prowess is a big reason why the Bobcats do not have a strong interior presence. So if the Bobcats are not hot from downtown in this contest, it will be tough trying to win the battle of the boards and the key. It’s the only way they can come away with a win.
There is one Charlotte player who is a force to be reckoned with inside—center Al Jefferson. The 10th-year pro is having an impressive season for the Bobcats, racking up 19.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Jefferson’s been afire of late, going for 26.6 points and 11.9 rebounds in his last 12 games.
With Walker hobbled by an ankle sprain for the past couple of weeks, the brunt of the Bobcats’ offense has fallen upon Jefferson’s shoulders. Should Walker be immobile for Tuesday’s game, Jefferson will continue to be the primary offensive power source. (He has averaged 22.4 field-goal attempts per game in Walker’s absence.)
Jefferson will face quite a challenge against the defensive-minded Andrew Bogut. The Warriors' center is on quite a tear himself—at the defensive end. The Aussie is averaging 12.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks over his last 10 ballgames. Along the way, Bogut has chipped in tremendously at the offensive end, shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. Both centers are on their own respective hot streaks, representing their individual fortes.
This matchup between two talented centers is the key to Tuesday’s game. Expect a fierce battle between the big men, particularly focusing on Jefferson’s offensive game against Bogut’s physical defense. If Bogut is able to limit Jefferson’s efficiency, the Warriors will have a strong chance of keeping the Bobcats at bay. The balance of the game will depend on whichever player performs better at his respective strength.
Speaking of hot streaks: there is nothing hotter than a healthy dash of Stephen Curry.
The All-Star point guard poured in 27.5 points per game in the month of January, and is even more alit of late, averaging over 32 points in his last five games. Despite missing three games this season due to injury, Curry is leaps and bounds ahead of the field in both three-point field goals attempted and made. The Warriors’ guard continues to ascend higher toward NBA superstar ubiquity.
There is, however, a caveat to Curry’s spicy scoring. In fact, the hotter Curry is, the colder the Warriors are. In the 13 games this season in which Curry has scored 30 points or more, Golden State has only won five times. This includes his 43-point output at Charlotte last December, a game in which the Dubs eventually lost 115-111.
Is this inverse relationship a real issue for the Warriors? Does this really mean the Dubs are better off when Curry scores fewer points?
Maybe. Probably. Yeah, sure.
After all, the Warriors’ hang their hats on the notion that when their starting lineup is intact, the team is nearly unbeatable. Having the full squad with an uninjured Curry and Andrew Bogut, the Warriors can go toe-to-toe with any team in the NBA, particularly with the added well-rounded defense of a healthy Andre Iguodala.
It’s that diversity and dexterity of the entire lineup that makes the Warrior so special—at both ends of the floor. And each individual has his own unique skill set that makes the offense seem so indestructible.
But why, then, does the team hurt more when Curry scores more? Because he simply can’t be the sole scorer on offense tossing up 25 shots a game. The team doesn’t work well when that happens. The Warriors need him to orchestrate the offense better and have contributions from everyone—the balanced attack they pride themselves on.
If Curry rains down a plethora of points against the Bobcats, it will make for an exciting spectacle. However, if he’s taking more shots than his season average, it probably means the Warriors are behind in the game; and ultimately they could end up on the short end of a victory.
One reason Steph Curry has taken it upon himself to score more of late is the sinking production of his Splash Brother running mate, Klay Thompson. For the month of January, Thompson’s shot went kerplunk, as he eked out a 38.4 field-goal percentage. This includes a 3-for-20 bricklaying against Utah last Friday.
So what gives?
Why is Thompson mired in such a funk?
The truth is there’s no mind-boggling answer to this problem. Jump-shooters go through slumps, sometimes even prolonged ones. And Thompson’s game unfortunately isn’t dynamic enough to compensate. Yes, he can post up and he can cut to the basket on double-teams. But he doesn’t do both of those exceptionally or often enough. In general, Thompson’s game is fairly one-dimensional. He doesn’t collect a lot of free throws, and he doesn’t finish in the key well enough to get a ton of easy buckets.
Which is fine.
Thompson is still honing his all-around scoring. The mere attempt at posting up opposing shorter guards is threatening enough. It adds a wrinkle to the Warriors’ offense, which makes their arsenal all the more dynamic. The real issue is whether Thompson can impact the offense in other ways, passing better out of the post to spot-up shooters Curry and Andre Iguodala or getting to the free-throw line more frequently when his outside touch is a bit off.
Fortunately, Thompson’s shooting is light years better at home (47.4 percent) than on the road (39.8). And he has been magnificent when the Warriors have had three or more days of rest between games (61.5 percent). So look for Thompson to have a stellar game against the Bobcats on Tuesday.
Which Warriors team will show up Tuesday night?
The Golden State squad that thoroughly dismantled the Los Angeles Clippers a week ago? Or the team that skunked it up against the Washington Wizards at home on January 28? The Warriors club that ran roughshod over the Portland Trail Blazers? Or the stinkers who fell flat against the Minnesota Timberwolves the game prior?
Who knows? Nobody can predict.
The Warriors have been the most confounding team in the NBA, reaching peerless levels of success against some of the league’s best (e.g., beating the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder) while additionally losing in glorious fashion to seemingly far inferior teams (Charlotte, Wizards).
Coach Mark Jackson has repeatedly claimed the Warriors only play to the level of their opponent. When facing an elite team, the Warriors maximize their intensity, focus and talent. Against the teams with the top 12 records in the NBA, the Warriors have beaten 10 of them.
On paper, Charlotte is not a top-level team. It doesn’t even have a winning record. The Bobcats are 6-12 against the Western Conference. They have a sub-.500 road record.
But that doesn’t mean anything when facing the Warriors. Golden State has been known to underwhelm in games they are supposed to win. Will the Dubs do the same against the Bobcats on Tuesday?
Uncertainty is not a good sign.
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