All-Star Weekend is nearly upon us, but if you think this is the halfway point of the NBA season, you're mistaken. There are roughly 30 games left for every team, meaning we're headed for the stretch run. The playoff picture will clear, the awards will start to reveal themselves and the contenders will separate a bit.
Let's check last week's trends.
What's wrong with the Warriors?
If you weren't paying real close attention, you probably would be surprised to know that currently, the Warriors sit only a half game out of eighth in the West, and now four games behind the Rockets, are planting themselves in a 6-8 race.
And it's not just the fact they're 5-5 in their last 10 and 7-8 in their last 15. There are some apparent hiccups within the locker room, at least in terms of a poorly played game of coach-player-media telephone.
It started with Andrew Bogut's weird shoulder injury that Mark Jackson possibly attributed to sleeping on it wrong. Bogut didn't like that and sniped back, "[T]he sleeping comment is absolutely ridiculous. I don't know where it came from. I don't know if I should read between the lines with it.”
But that's the off court stuff. On the court, the big problem for the Warriors, surprisingly, hasn't been a defensive slip. Their last 10 games, they're allowing 97.7 points per 100 (which would ranked top three in the league, and over their last 15 it's a 101.4 defensive rating, which would be top 10.
The issue has been offense. The last 10 games, they're scoring 103.9 points per 100, and over the last 15, 104.8. Those two numbers would be mid-tier in the NBA and right on their season average, but remember: quite a bit of that's greatly inflated with their obliteration of the 76ers on Monday (take that game out and they're scoring 102.5 per 100 over their last 10). They scored just 75 in a loss to the Bobcats, 85 in a loss to the Wizards, and 94 in a loss to the Pacers. And when they have scored, the defense has slacked. They scored 120 against the Wolves, but gave up 121. They scored 121 against the Thunder, but gave up 127; 109 against the Suns, but gave up 122. The problem for the Warriors has simply been putting it all together.
And as the postseason approaches, it does begin to beg questions about how the Warriors get their points, and whether or not that would be sustainable in a seven-game series against the wrong matchup.
For example, compare the Spurs, who run a revered offensive system, and Warriors here (Spurs on the left, Warriors on the right):
It might be a little hard to tell, but the Warriors take a lot more shots from lower percentage areas, and get to the rim a lot less, and make a lot fewer in the restricted area. It's no surprise that the Warriors shoot more 3s, and I've got no issue with that. That's their identity.
(And let me use this as a sidebar: All this "live by the 3, die by the 3" talk is so silly. Because if you live by something, that's the identity of the team. That's like saying, "live by defense, die by defense." If you don't do well the thing your team typically does well, it's going to make it difficult for you to win.)
But again, the question for the Warriors is mostly about how this will translate to the postseason. When Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were red hot last postseason, they were tough. But then again, that only amounted to getting out of the first round. Currently, is this a cold spell for Thompson, or are teams figuring out how to close down the perimeter and with Harrison Barnes failing to provide a quality midrange/midpost option, the Warriors are suffocating a bit on the 3-point line.
Are the Warriors in a little February slump, or is this a problem? The team's talent suggests this is a title contender, but with the injuries they've been dealing with and the apparent issues with miscommunication, if they draw the wrong name in the postseason, they could be cooked in the first round.
And with them currently hashing it out for the six, seven or eight seed, there's a very good chance they're going to draw the wrong matchup. Plus, the chances of homecourt advantage in the first round is slipping, something that would be extremely valuable to the Warriors.
Their season has been littered with high highs and some lowish lows, so there's no reason to think that once they get a healthy Bogut back in the middle that they can't win six straight and re-enter the conversation. But for right now, they're
Change in Detroit
The question to me isn't "why did the Pistons fire Mo Cheeks?" It's, "why did they hire him in the first place?" The team's offseason plan was obviously to add a few quality, established players to an already youthful, budding core. Bring Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith in to go with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. It was a unique mismatched roster, with an awkward combination of big, small and in between. There was something interesting there, and putting the right guy in charge of it to cultivate it could've brought out some good.
And yet they selected Cheeks, a player's coach that never was going to crack down on the structure of the team. The Pistons probably should've looked for a) a younger coach and b) a coach that had a specific identity to his style. Cheeks is more of a coach to manage personalities, not to teach a team how to play together.
But then again, the move was odd considering the Pistons had won two straight, both by double-digits, and might've been turning a little corner. But don't look now: They're just a half game out of eighth in the East. The Eastern Conference: Where a three-game winning streak puts you back in the playoff conversation.
Dumb question. It means a lot.
Is the top seed for the West close to over?
When Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on Dec. 26, the Thunder were 23-5, and a half game behind the Blazers for the top seed in the West. Since: They've gone 19-7, and taken a commanding four-game lead over the Spurs, while securing the tiebreaker against them with a 3-1 season series advantage.
While there's still a lot of basketball to be played, it's hard to ignore the current trend. The Thunder are surging forward, and about to add Westbrook. The Spurs are fighting injuries all over and are 5-5 in their last 10. The Trail Blazers, who enjoyed a softer schedule to begin the season, are 5-7 over their last 12 games and now have the Clippers and Rockets on their heels.
The West isn't settled by a long shot, but the Thunder might have an opportunity over the rest of February to go up by six or seven games, and coast into the conference's pole position.