(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Weekly Dish, Presented by Mountain Dew Kickstart
by Brian Witt
As the Warriors hit the halfway point of the 2017-18 season, they have to feel good about the direction they're headed.
For the week of Monday, Jan. 8 – Sunday, Jan. 14
When the game clock hits zero at the conclusion of tonight’s game between the Warriors and Nuggets, Golden State will be precisely halfway through the regular season. After going undefeated on a three-game road trip last week, the Dubs are guaranteed to have the best winning percentage of any team in the league at that point.
Through the first 40 games of this season, the Warriors have nearly matched their success of the last. Golden State went 34-6 through their first 40 games of the 2016-17 season on their way to their second championship in three years. Over those 40 games, they produced an offensive rating of 113.3 and defensive rating of 101.7, which correlates to a plus-11.6 net rating, meaning they outscored their opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions.
This season, the numbers are nearly identical.
Golden State currently sits two wins behind their pace of a year ago with a record of 32-8. They’ve produced an offensive rating of 113.0, a defensive rating of 101.9 and a net rating of plus-11.1. As of this writing, the Warriors rank first, third and first in the NBA in those respective categories.
If you factor in the high volume of injuries that the Warriors have suffered so far this season, it’s not going out on a limb to proclaim the Dubs have quite possibly had an even stronger first half to this season than they did a year ago. Going into tonight’s game, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, Omri Casspi, Patrick McCaw, David West and Nick Young have combined to miss 57 total games due to injury, illness, rest and/or suspension, a number that will be increased by at least one later tonight as Durant has already been ruled out and will miss his third-straight game with a right calf strain. Golden State has already used 13 different starting lineups after using a total of 14 in 2016-17, and Klay Thompson is the only Warrior to start every game so far this season.
It’s not just that they’ve had players out of the lineup; it’s which players they’ve had to play without. Still, amazingly, Golden State has a winning record in games missed by each one of those aforementioned players, so clearly they’ve been able to overcome significant adversity.
Last week was further evidence of that, as the Dubs took care of the Mavericks, Rockets and Clippers to improve their road winning streak to 10 games, tied for the second-longest road winning streak in franchise history. They also accomplished a franchise first, as Saturday’s win over the Clippers ensured Golden State swept their road games against both Los Angeles teams for the first time since the Clippers moved to L.A. in 1984-85. Given those victories and the fact that the Warriors are the only Pacific Division team currently with a winning record, Golden State appears well on pace to capture their fourth-straight division title.
That’s not the Warriors’ ultimate goal, but it’s an important stepping-stone along the way. Despite how they’ve made it look, Golden State hasn’t exactly had it easy up to this point given the injuries, but halfway through the 2017-18 regular season, the Dubs have to feel confident about the direction they’re headed.
Standout Spotlight: Stephen Curry
Perhaps the biggest reason the Warriors should feel that way has been the play of Stephen Curry since his return from injury. After missing 11 games due to a right ankle sprain, Curry has been on an absolute tear in his four appearances since, and was just named the Western Conference Player of the Week earlier today.
Curry helped lead the Warriors to a 3-0 week, capped off by a season-high 45-point performance against the Clippers in which he notched new career-highs in free-throws made (15) and attempted (16). All the more impressive, he did it in just three quarters before sitting out the entirety of the fourth frame with the victory well in hand. It was the third time in his career Curry scored at least 40 points in 30 minutes or fewer, the most such games for any player in the shot clock era (since 1954-55).
Prior to that scintillating performance in Los Angeles, Curry began the week by netting a game-high 32 points against the Mavericks, including the game-winning three-point field goal with 3.0 seconds remaining. It was Curry’s sixth career game-winning shot with less than five seconds remaining, and (poor Dallas), three of those six have come against the Mavs.
In the middle game of the week, Curry only posted 29 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the win over the Rockets. Slacker.
For the week, he averaged 35.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.66 steals in 33.7 minutes per contest on 53.3 percent shooting from the field and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc. In the four games he’s played after missing almost a month, Curry is shooting a ridiculous 53.8 percent (28-of-52) from three-point range, and the Warriors are averaging a blistering 121.3 points per 100 possessions.
He’s the straw that stirs the drink, and boy does that drink taste good right now.
The Week Ahead:
The Warriors will get a brief taste of home to start the week ahead, but then it’s right back out on the road for another extended trip. The Dubs open the week with home games against the Nuggets and Clippers tonight and Wednesday, respectively. Denver beat Golden State at Oracle Arena back on December 23 and the matchup with the Clippers will be their second in a span of five days, so there’s unlikely to be any love lost in those encounters. After those home games, the Warriors will get on a plane and head to some of the coldest cities in the Association for a five-game road trip, beginning with a back-to-back in Milwaukee and Toronto on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Bucks have given Golden State some fits in recent years, and the Raptors have lost only one home game all season. Then, looking just a little bit further, once the Dubs get through that brutal back-to-back, they head to Cleveland to face the archrival Cavs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Of all those opponents, only the Clippers sit outside of playoff position, and even they are just two games out of the final spot in the West. In terms of degree of difficulty, the week ahead ranks right up there with the toughest weekly slates the Warriors will face all season.
Till next week.