One of the big moments of the NBA’s Christmas games was the sight of the Lakers blowing the doors off the Warriors in front of a bunch of empty seats, with Golden State fans already on their way out of Oracle Arena.
It’s been more common than you’d think. The best team in modern NBA history, winners of three championships in four years, getting absolutely waxed in big games in their building.
“They’re good,” one NBA coach said. “But they’re just not as good.”
The loss to the Lakers was the Warriors’ fourth at Oracle, all coming by at least 20 points, all against teams with title hopes — the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Oklahoma City Thunder doing it before the Lakers.
"The bar's been set high. I told our guys that. I gave them that line today. ‘You guys have set the bar really high,’” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters the day after losing to the Lakers. “So everything takes on a little greater sense of urgency in terms of what happens around the team. We're maybe the most scrutinized team in the history of the league.”
Golden State lost at home to Portland the following night. In Kerr’s first three years, the Warriors never lost more than five games at Oracle. They dropped 12 there last season.
Kerr’s not wrong — everything the Warriors do feels like a big deal, the blowup between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green and a four-game losing streak in November being framed as season-altering incidents.
But there are current problems of varying severity.
The first issue is the most head-scratching — Klay Thompson’s shooting slump. Heading into Saturday’s game at Portland, Thompson, an all-time great three-point shooter, was shooting a career-low 33.3% from deep, and almost 20% in Golden State’s last eight games.
A free agent after this season, Thompson is a career 41.6% shooter from long range who’s never been worse than 40%.
During a recent interview, Thompson was asked if people are trying to talk to him about his shot, with Thompson dryly responding that if it’s not Ray Allen, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller or Kerr, then why would he listen?
That’s the consensus among Western Conference coaches and scouts — that Thompson’s slump is temporary, something that will end in a flurry of jumpers, and he hit four of five threes in scoring 32 points Saturday night at Portland. Though one NBA coach whose team played the Warriors this season said he thought they are running fewer plays for Thompson.
A bigger concern would be Green’s shooting, one of the things that made the Warriors’ offense so lethal, which is almost as bad as it’s ever been.
For the third consecutive season, Green is shooting the ball worse from deep than the season before, dipping all the way down to 22.6%, with teams simply ignoring him when he’s behind the arc.
Add in a depleted bench, and it makes sense that Golden State isn’t as dominant.
The addition of center DeMarcus Cousins the next month will help, but the Warriors are going to be cautious with him as he works back from a ruptured Achilles tendon. The Warriors need the bulk, but they’re still going to have to adjust their style.
A rival Western Conference coach scoffed at the issues — mere hiccups on the way to the Warriors’ third straight title. They still might be the favorites, but there’s some sense that the Warriors might be as vulnerable as they have been during this run.
Washington’s Wall problems
The government has been shut down because of a wall controversy and the Washington Wizards’ season and playoff hopes might get shut down because of their Wall problems.
Guard John Wall, owner of maybe the most untradeable contract in the NBA, will have season-ending heel surgery, the team announced Saturday, pushing the Wizards into full-on tank mode.
Wall, whose four-year extension kicks in this summer, will have Washington pay him more than $40 million in three of the next four seasons.
The Wizards, who acquired Trevor Ariza this month, could look to flip him before the trade deadline, with the Lakers presumably again looking to add him.