On Monday, the NBA is talking about Anthony Davis’s majestic 59-and-20 masterpiece against the Detroit Pistons. Rightly so.
However, one episode from the past weekend in the NBA is worth revisiting — it contains a relatively small point of intrigue, but one which could turn into something big this spring.
Yes, we’ve turned the corner relative to the past weekend. In a 24-7 news cycle, the Golden State Warriors’ Friday-night loss to the Portland Trail Blazers is lone gone. Moreover, Golden State expectedly cruised past the Los Angeles Clippers (well, until the final 90 seconds) one night later. The Warriors were largely untroubled on a short (read: 20-hour) road back-to-back. It’s very understandable and logical to write off the loss to the Trail Blazers as an aberrational event.
However, one aspect of that game is certainly worth filing away for the latter stages of the coming postseason.
The first full night of NBA action after the All-Star break was predictable in its lack of predictability.
After a whole week off, the men of the NBA certainly played like athletes who were abruptly removed from a normal work pattern. The trends of the past month vanished into a sea of rust and rest.
The Golden State Warriors were not immune to this effect, no-showing in the second half in Portland.
The Warriors – blitzed by 42 points in the first quarter — staged a second-quarter rally on Friday night in the Pacific Northwest. After halftime, however, they evaporated against an unconscious Damian Lillard and the rest of the inspired Trail Blazers. Lillard scored 51 points to lift Portland to a 137-105 romp.
Stephen Curry once again sat out the final half of a fourth quarter… only this time, his team was on the receiving end of a laugher. What’s more is that Curry was himself laughing as the final minutes wound down. Naturally, he’s not going to be too concerned when his team’s record is still 48-5.
Facing their 5th loss, the Warriors are devastated. pic.twitter.com/sxSBbItOez
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 20, 2016
Golden State got swept up in a weird, weird night. The long All-Star break (which was a lot shorter two years ago) certainly played a part in shaping what we saw across the league, not just in Portland.
The Miami Heat won in Atlanta without Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Hassan Whiteside. The Indiana Pacers – mediocre at best, sometimes legitimately bad in the latter half of January – outscored the Thunder by 12 in the fourth quarter in Oklahoma City, winning by three. The Washington Wizards – playing the back end of a back-to-back due to a makeup game against Utah on Thursday – drilled the comparatively rested Detroit Pistons. Washington gave up just 61 points through three quarters, taking a 22-point lead into the final stanza and then coasting to victory.
That was hardly the end of Friday’s insanity.
Doug McDermott scored a career-high 30 points to lead Chicago – which had been sinking like a rock – to a come-from-behind win over the team with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors. The Minnesota Timberwolves went 31-of-31 at the free throw line and yet lost to the Memphis Grizzlies. A team being perfect at the foul line with more than 20 attempts – and yet losing – is an extremely rare occurrence. Friday night, though, was extremely rare across the board. The Warriors were just one part of the larger theater of events.
We should ask: Does it mean anything?
The answer: It probably won’t… but there’s one thing worth noting as this season continues.
Warriors have only two Sunday home games this season, on March 27 and April 3. What does this have to do with Friday’s loss in Portland? You’ll see soon enough.
The Warriors scheduled those two Sunday games at 8 p.m. Eastern time, 5 Pacific, to prepare for the NBA Finals, when Sunday games will start just after 5 in Oakland. The Warriors never miss a detail, and it’s a big part of why the organization has become (alongside the Spurs) the envy of the NBA. The Warriors wanted their players to acclimate to the odd start times which mark postseason basketball. They’re thinking one move ahead after a 2015 Finals series in which the team didn’t play its best in either Sunday Finals game (they were both at home, just after 5 Pacific time) against the Cavs.
The Portland loss enters the picture because it took place after a long layoff. That’s another regular aspect of postseason hoops which differs from the long grind of the regular season. The Portland game, of course, fit into the “long layoff” pattern. The Warriors were not sharp against an opponent which had a full week to not only rest, but formulate a game plan. This dynamic matches – or at least comes close to matching – Game 1 of last June’s Finals against Cleveland. The Cavaliers arrived with a rested Kyrie Irving and a rested LeBron James. Kyrie added to Cleveland’s offense before getting injured. LeBron’s jumper was better in Game 1, before the punishment of the series caused it to decline.
It’s true that in the 2016 playoffs, the Warriors will do all they can to combat the dulling effects of a prolonged rest between series. Nevertheless, interruptions are the sort of thing which can harm a team in one game, no matter the circumstances. Recall that the Warriors played poorly in Game 2 against Memphis last May in the West semifinals. With three days off before Game 3, they had a chance to fix things, but played just as poorly when they returned to the floor. They didn’t solve their problems until Game 4.
One could very reasonably say that the Warriors’ struggles in the 2015 playoffs flowed from a team which was not used to being the playoff favorite – the team with a bull’s-eye on its back. Accordingly, one could say that in 2016, the Dubs will be even more prepared for the scrutiny, the pressure, and for every team’s best shot. The Warriors are tending to the details of 5 o’clock local time games on Sunday. That’s a tangible thing a team can prepare for.
A week-long layoff between series, which could lead to a bad Game 1 and a generally sluggish start in a series? That’s going to be the harder nut for the Warriors to crack. It takes only one clunker at the start of a series to give an opponent hope.
The Portland Trail Blazers reminded the NBA champions of a potential playoff pothole in the months ahead. We’ll have to wait two and a half months to see what the Warriors do, but don’t dismiss the importance of this factor in Golden State’s pursuit of a repeat championship.