The Warriors Are On The Verge Of Missing The Playoffs

In the final stretch of the NBA season, every single game counts. For seeding purposes, that may have never been truer for the Golden State Warriors than it is this year.

A familiar foe in the Houston Rockets have caught fire with a 9-game winning streak that’s threatening the Warriors’ hold on the 10th seed. Currently, the Dubs are still a half-game ahead of Houston and own the season tiebreaker at 3-0 – they’ll meet one more time before the season is over on April 4th. But it’s not the direct meeting that the Warriors should be worried about since they’ve historically owned the Rockets and haven’t dropped a game to them since before Christmas day in 2019: Instead, we’re looking at the current 4-game road trip after a rough late loss to the 3rd-seed Timberwolves on Sunday, a stretch where Houston could look to take the driver’s seat if they can rack up wins of their own.

Game one is tonight against Miami. The Heat are currently the 7th seed in the East after a late-season resurgence and are only a game out of skipping the play-in tournament over the Indiana Pacers. Heat-Warriors always ends up as a fun matchup, but in a season where every win counts from here on out, there’s no time for fun and Golden State will have to get the job done against them without making things interesting.

The Magic, Hornets, and Spurs all follow the Heat game to close out the road trip, and while Orlando has historically been effective against the Warriors, all of these games are must-wins even if the Rockets drop a few against some of their tougher upcoming opponents, which is a very plausible outcome: Houston will play a gauntlet of top teams in the West in the Thunder and Timberwolves, as well as a game against their in-state rivals in Dallas who have put together some quality wins themselves. Tacking on a matchup with a scrappy Jazz team (who are probably well out of the play-in at this point), and they could fall back down to earth from their winning streak even if they pull a few wins out.

The Warriors will also play the Mavericks before their matchup with Houston, a season series that looked pivotal when the standings were a bit closer but isn’t so much now. While Golden State could theoretically catch the Lakers if they capitalize on playing a stretch of weaker opponents, LA’s schedule looks a decent bit friendlier, which would allow them to cement themselves in the 9th seed to match up with whoever wins the race between the Rockets and the Warriors.

But how did we get to the point where Houston is threatening playoff position despite what looked like a strong start post-All Star break? It has just as much to do with the Warriors losing a clear identity and fading as the season goes on as it does the Rockets getting lucky from what looked like a horrid offseason from their front office, and new franchise cornerstone Jalen Green’s elevation as a player.

It’s often said that this team goes as far as Steph Curry can carry them, and that seems to be the case since their recent losses have seen him go cold or play limited minutes against an opponent where even a 2-minute stretch of his brilliance could be the difference. Steve Kerr’s comments about the difference (or by his perception, the lack-thereof) between Steph playing 30 minutes or 32 minutes has hinted at his approach with the 36-year-old superstar, not wanting to wear him down or rely on him too much.

When compared to guys in Curry’s echelon like Kevin Durant or LeBron James, it becomes a little mind-boggling that Steph’s in arguably the best shape of any of them, is the youngest of the group, and is still the most effective driving force on a team where he’s said himself that he can do be on the floor more… Yet Kerr refuses to rock with the guy who delivered the Bay Area 4 championships. With this team’s roster construction, that’s starting to look like that’s a necessity: He may not be at the age where he could pull off an April 2021-esque run, but Golden State is running out of options to get going down the stretch and are in serious danger of fully wasting another year of Curry’s prime without doing the bare minimum and getting into the play-in. That’s an indictment on quite literally everyone, and very well could result in a full cleaning of the house to get back towards contention.

This season is starting to look more and more like a throwaway, and losing the 10th seed to the Houston Rockets of all teams would be the ugliest way to do that. Since they can’t fix the roster issues with so little time left in the season, something has to change about the Warriors’ approach if they can’t capitalize on a very winnable stretch of games on the road and at home; but by the time the upcoming road trip ends and there aren’t 4 more wins on the books, it may just be too late.

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