OAKLAND – The next thing anyone knows, the Warriors are 16-2. They have run off 12 victories in a row. They have a double-digit win streak for the fourth season in a row, they have the best offensive rating in the league by a wide margin, and have an improving defense, all while playing more times on the road (10) than at home (eight).
On the other hand, they’re on pace to only win 73 games, just like a season ago, so there is the obvious question surrounding coach Steve Kerr’s job security. Indications are that Kerr will survive to work Thursday night against the Rockets at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT)and probably even clear into next week, although there is no confirmation from the nonsense factory that gave oxygen to Klay Thompson trade rumors a couple weeks ago. (Obviously the front office did salary-cap gymnastics in the summer to sign Kevin Durant just to break the team up after 12 or 15 games.)
The actual debate, minus sarcasm, is whether 16-2 is more impressive than 18-0 last season, en route to a record 24-0 opening, because that team was established and mostly settled beyond the health issues that forced Kerr’s absence and this one is anything but. Durant is here. Two starters from back-to-back Western Conference champions, Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, are not. The bench is different. A rookie second-round pick, Patrick McCaw, is averaging 13.9 minutes. And yet, 16-2, 12 in a row, top of the West.
While the start to 2015-16 probably holds an edge over its time-travel opponent -- the defense was better back in the day, the way the Warriors owned opponents felt a lot more bug-vs.-windshield -- this progress is about the best-case scenario as the 2016-17 season approaches the quarter pole. It may even be better than best case, a heady statement considering the expectations for the season.
“If I had to be 100 percent honest with you, I think we’re ahead of where I thought we would be right now,” All-Star Draymond Green said. “I just thought it would take a little longer to adjust to everything and yet everything’s coming together. There will be times when it doesn’t look like we’re together and of course we’ll have that one game where we suck and everybody will say, ‘Oh, man. It’s not working.’ Even if it came after 20 straight wins it’ll be like, ‘Aw, man. It’s not working.’ And, ‘They’re not going to ever put it together.’ That’s just the nature of where we are as a team. But all the pieces we have, it’s going to happen.
"We’re honestly ahead of where I thought we would be. It’s great because I didn’t expect it to go this quick. I’m not say that we are where we are going to be, because we have a lot of room to grow and that’s the exciting part. But we’re moving in the right direction. That’s all you can ask for.”
Yes, the outside comments. The talking point of Golden State as villains, mostly because of Green’s play in the postseason and Durant leaving the Thunder in free agency to sign with the team that had just beaten him, is overdone but also part of the scenery as it travels the league. A lot of people -- non-residents of Warriors Ground, of course -- were rooting for a chemistry project gone horribly wrong.
After the 129-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the opener -- at Oracle no less -- Kerr’s frequent preseason insistence that the transition would take time had come to life. Five games after that, a night after the emotions of Durant facing the Thunder for the first time, the Lakers beat them by 20 in Los Angeles. The scenery rejoiced.
That was Nov. 4. The Warriors haven’t lost since.
They didn’t always play great -- while the offense was increasingly syncing, the defense especially remained a work in progress -- but wins came during a soft stretch of schedule. New Orleans. Dallas. Denver. Phoenix. At Toronto stands out. Then Boston and Milwaukee.
The real shift came, for whatever reason, on Nov. 21 at Indiana. The Warriors played a complete game in winning 120-83, all the more impressive as the fourth game in six nights on the road. They then followed up with another in their return home, a 149-106 rout of the Lakers. Golden State had 47 assists on 53 baskets, a sign of a team in rhythm, even against a bad L.A. defense, a franchise record and the most in the league in almost exactly 25 years. Two games in a row. Kerr was clearly pleased.
A ragged performance in beating the Lakers two nights later for the 10th consecutive win later left Kerr clearly not pleased, but then came home victories against the Timberwolves on Saturday and the Hawks on Monday and the undeniable bottom line. The Warriors were, at worst, living the best possible outcome for an opening quarter of their transition season.
“To be honest, I had no expectations,” said Durant, having an MVP-type start at 27.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 57 percent shooting. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had a little indication on how we’d play, but for the most part I didn’t know how it was going to work together. I know how to play basketball, I know I’m a great teammate, and those two traits make it a smooth transition. I’m just trying to fit in with the team as much as I can but I’m still going to go out there and be me at the end of the day. It all works well when we play for each other and make the right play. Nobody cares who scores the most points, who gets the assists, rebounds. We just go out there to play a good game.”
Those good games are coming more often now, after so many incomplete ones that resulted in wins anyway. The Warriors are on 73-win pace while figuring out new lineups on the fly, while improving on defense and while playing a schedule heavy on road games. They may have reached the best-case scenario. They may have gone past even that.
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