The Warriors, off a nifty backdoor cut basket that would have made Pete Carril proud, beat the defending champion Miami Heat last night, 97-95. It was their fifth-straight win on the road after a disappointing loss to Orlando at home on December 3. They’ll be looking to avenge that loss tomorrow night, and it’s worth looking at how they’ve achieved the fifth-best record in the West while missing two valuable cogs in their rotation to start the season: Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush.
How have they been able to run the table during their trip east, and what are the chances they go 7-0 after visiting Orlando tomorrow night and Atlanta the day after? It’s also worth exploring how they’re able to keep winning with their Bogut still recovering from ankle surgery last April (something the team took some grief about since they didn’t original disclose how serious the surgery had been). Bogut only appeared in four games before sitting in street clothes, something the fans in Milwaukee are pretty familiar with. The Warriors also lost a highly capable guard to stretch defenses when Rush went down with a season-ending torn ACL in just their second game.
Yet the Warriors have remained above the fray of other teams hit hard by injury (no excuses Lakers fans). Despite losing Rush and Bogut, players that add immeasurable value to the team’s offense and defense, respectively, they’ve still managed to score near the top third of the league. They’re currently averaging 103 points per 100 possession, which is 11th in the league, while giving up 100.9. That last figure places them near the middle of the pack, but with Bogut sidelined, that’s still a commendable 12th in the league.
They’ve improved their perimeter defense, too, with Stephen Curry finally healthy. It’s not as crazy as you’d think for Mark Jackson to proclaim him the best perimeter defender in the league. While that’s primarily hyperbole on Jackson’s part (no stranger to embellishments from his old commentating gig) to boost up Curry’s ego a bit, he’s been pretty good at forcing opposing guards the wrong way on high screen-n-rolls. He did it again last night against Mario Chalmers.
As a team, they’ve designed a defensive philosophy on pick-n-rolls, and stuck with it, even when the results vary. They’ve allowed over 100 points 13 times in 22 games this season, but in two of those instances the game went to overtime, and one of those overtimes games – against Denver at home – was a double-overtime loss, their second in a row after starting the year 3-3. After falling to 3-4 after that tough Denver game, they’ve gone 12-3 and haven’t lost another set of games back-to-back.
Offensively, Stephen Curry finally getting healthy (knock on wood) and staying healthy has been a big plus, as it’s allowed them to run their team a lot more efficiently without many changes in initiating the offense. Jarrett Jack has also been nice as a second or third guard and a backup for Curry, and he’s actually involved in more Curry buckets than anyone else on the team, so it’s obvious they like playing together in the backcourt.
After starting the year shooting horribly, Curry has been shooting over 48 percent on three-pointers in his last five games, and 52 percent in his last 10. He’s also been better than 46 percent as a whole from the floor during their road trip, even though he’s at 43 percent on the year (per NBA.com). He still must finish better at the rim (he’s making less than half of them there, per Hoopdata), and he missed an easy one last night after rushing a shot as Joel Anthony rotated over. But that should all come as the season progresses. You can’t fault Curry for maybe being a bit shy about contact, (even though he hasn’t been – at least noticeably) although he is shooting less at the rim than he did two years ago, per Hoopdata.