We’re well past the halfway point of the regular season, and the Warriors can’t figure out what kind of team they are.
When he was asked about his concern level for the Warriors last week, Golden State wing Klay Thompson was nearly offended by the question.
“None. Zero. Just get us [to the playoffs] healthy… hopefully with a good seed,” he said.
Thompson is not alone — or unjustified — in being confident about this team.
But when Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked why the Dubs couldn’t close out Sunday’s game against the Nets, he provided an opposite answer.
“We’re 23 and 24 for a reason,” Kerr said. “We’re not good enough, yet, to close games.”
“We got what we deserved.”
Kerr is right, too.
So is this a great team that’s simply not applying itself, or is it an inexperienced team that needs to learn how to win?
The Dubs clearly hold both beliefs.
And they might not be wrong to do that.
The Dubs are exactly where they want to be this season.
The Dubs are woefully underachieving this season.
Both things can be separately true at the same time.
Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) dribbles against Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving (11) and Brooklyn Nets’ Seth Curry (30) in the second quarter at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
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But as the Warriors try to discover themselves this season, one truth persists above all others:
“We’re a different team than we were last year,” Steph Curry said upon his return from injury on Jan. 11.
And while this new team is unquestionably talented, it lacks an identity — core basics it can count upon at all times.
“We’re capable, but it’s a matter of execution and being able to sustain it,” Curry said. “There’s another level to get to that we haven’t gotten [to] in terms of putting together a full 48 minutes.”
And for whatever reason, this team is now really testing the limits of the benefit of the doubt the Dubs’ four previous titles provided.
At some point, they need to put together more than a few “full 48s” to compare it to the NBA’s best teams this season.
So far, we’ve seen that best in spurts: Last week’s near-win over the Celtics, the Christmas win over the Grizzlies. a December win over Boston at Chase Center.
But those moments of excellence — you can’t even call them all wins — are being diluted by critical moments of low-IQ basketball.
For a team that built a dynasty on the back of on-court smarts, it’s a jarring way to lose games.
Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) and Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole (3) vie for control of the ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Perhaps last year taught the Warriors the wrong lesson. They started exceptionally strong and then struggled for months going into the playoffs.
Then the playoffs started, and the Warriors were world-beaters again. Their reputation preceded them in the playoffs, giving them a significant leg up in every series they played.
But that reputation is lapping the actual team right now.
Perhaps if the Western Conference were better, the Warriors would try harder. The Dubs might be in 10th place in the West standings — good for a spot in the play-in tournament — but they’re one game back of a true playoff spot and three games back of a seed that would provide them home-court advantage in the first round.
There won’t be any external incentive. The Warriors’ pride needs to force the team to play better. And the Dubs’ pride seems pretty pliable.
The Warriors’ highs might be the league’s best, but Golden State’s bad far outweighs its good this season. It will take more than a big win or two to change that.
And the team is running out of time to put together the kind of run that affirms its summer plans.
First, they were unbothered to find their best ball before Christmas. Then it became Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The team has 35 games left in the regular season, with eight coming before the trade deadline and 11 before the All-Star Game.
This team needs to stretch together a couple of weeks of good basketball. Right now, it can’t stack positions.
It’s not crunch time — where only one reality can survive — quite yet, but it’s approaching fast.