If there is a troubling aspect to this year’s Warriors season, it’s that thus far they are having a heck of a year but have little to show for it.
The Warriors entered Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Sonics11 games over .500, which in past seasons would have Bay Area fans delirious with the team’s success. Any other year and the talk would be whether or not the Warriors could secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Not this year. The Warriors are barely holding onto the eighth playoff spot in the brutal Western Conference, and it will likely be a very fidgety ride through mid-April.
When the season opened, it was logical to believe the Warriors could improve on last season’s 42 wins by a handful of games or so. Forty-four or 45 seemed realistic. A few more than that would be a very nice year.
Yet so far, the Warriors have exceeded expectations. They are on pace to win 50 games. But here we are in late February and the playoffs are anything but assured. There’s consternation instead of joy.
For the Warriors to make the postseason, they’re going to have to keep it up — not simply go .500 for the rest of the season, not just take care of home games. They’re going to have to keep winning three out of every five games, with or without Yao Ming’s injury.
Question is: Can they?
The Warriors have essentially the same team as a year ago — minus Jason Richardson — but have a much better record than they did this time last season (26-29). That’s pretty remarkable if you think about it. Can they keep it up?
The answer here is that the Warriors can, but only if good health and some bench production accompany them.
Scary as it is, the Warriors have not had a significant injury. In fact, they’ve been downright fortunate when it comes to roster availability. For all those who lamented last year that the Warriors could never get whole, there is no such issue this season.
Stephen Jackson missed seven games early but that was because of suspension, not injury. He missed two games before the Seattle game with an ankle injury. Baron Davis, whose durability always seems to be a topic of conversation, hasn’t missed a game.
Davis has played in 83 consecutive games for the Warriors (last year’s playoffs included), his longest uninterrupted streak since 2001-02. Monta Ellis has missed just one game, and Andris Biedrins missed only his second game of the season Tuesday night.
In other words, the Warriors’ four most important players have missed a combined five games this season because of injury.
The Warriors also have won consistently this season despite subpar bench play. Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus, two key role players in 2006-07, are having poor seasons.
In a perfect world, or at least one in which the 16 best NBA teams would make the playoffs, coach Don Nelson would be figuring out how to rest his stars as the Warriors plow through to the No. 4 seed.
Instead, Nelson is going to have to demand big minutes from Davis, Jackson and Ellis and get way more help from peripheral players from here on out. Problem is, that still might not be enough.
Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.