Golden State Warriors fans hoped it wouldn’t happen, but saw it coming.
A dramatic slump. A four-game road slide in which the team reverted to 2011-12 form. And 2010-11 form. And 2009-2010 form. And so on.
The Warriors’ outstanding season started to wobble last week and because of that, Tuesday night’s home matchup with Houston takes on extra meaning – much more than typical for a mid-February game in the annual 82-game NBA slog.
The Warriors, simply, must find themselves. Quickly, before it gets desperate.
Last week’s four-games-in-five-nights road trip was expected to be tough, with Golden State facing four playoff contenders. But the Warriors laid an egg four nights in a row, giving up an average of 67.3 points per first half (67 points per half!) and digging big holes each night. Only at Memphis were they even competitive after intermission.
That can’t continue.
So what needs to happen? How can the Warriors get back on track to earn their second playoff spot since 1994?
Simple: Defense and rebounding.
Those are the areas that coach Mark Jackson has emphasized this year. They are the reason the Warriors are nine games above the .500 mark. Both disappeared on the recent road trip, but can be regained, because both are largely a result of focus and effort.
There might be some great natural defenders and rebounders, but most NBA players who are good at either do so because they pay attention to it. The Warriors had laser-like focus on those two parts of the game for three months. They lost it last week and lost four straight games.
There are certainly other problems, as would be expected from a team that is in the middle of the NBA pack. Without Jarrett Jack (who is injured) coming off the bench, the offense struggles. Klay Thompson falls in love with long jumpers and becomes predictable. Carl Landry passes only when all five defenders surround him. Stephen Curry has to play limited minutes due to his fragile ankles. Andrew Bogut can’t play more than 25 or so minutes per game and can’t play back-to-back games.
But for the Warriors to find their way back to their status as the Cinderella of the NBA this year, it comes down to two things: Defense and rebounding.
Tuesday night, we find out if they’re willing to do it.
On to the topics du jour . . .
• It’s unfortunate that Pope Benedict announced his decision to step down Monday because it came just 23 days after the greatest Cardinal died.
Yeah, Stan Musial.
• Nice to see that the rivalry between the World Champion San Francisco Giants and big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers is off to a hot start.
Brandon Belt got some attention over the weekend when he pointed out that the Dodgers “can’t buy chemistry,” apparently ignoring Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles.
It was another shot across the bow in the rivalry, which will likely reach new heights this year. It’s nice that some things never change.
• I’ll say this about the papacy: It’s the first job in six months that former Oregon football coach Chip Kelly (now with the Eagles) isn’t the leading candidate.
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.