WARRIORS SEASON PRIMER
Ten big dates on the schedule
Oct. 30 vs. Lakers
It's always a big game for the Warriors because of the rivalry between the fan bases. Usually frenetic and sometimes Golden State gets caught up in the emotion of it all. But getting off to a good start is vital, as is beating inferior teams.
Nov. 8 at San Antonio
This is the biggest game on this early four-game road trip. Presuming the Warriors handle beatable teams in Philadelphia and Minnesota, beating the team that knocked them out of the playoffs could be a real momentum builder.
Nov. 14 vs. Oklahoma City
Arguably the Western Conference's best team comes to town. Though the Thunder will likely be without star guard Russell Westbrook, this is still a good statement game for the Warriors. OKC will certainly test the Warriors' supposedly improved defense.
Dec. 13 vs Houston
The beef between these squads is real. Now they're competing for a top-four seed in the West. They play three times, two at Oracle. Golden State needs to win both of those to take the season series, which could be a deciding factor late.
Dec. 25 vs Clippers
Another team the Warriors have some bad blood with. Golden State won the season series last season and their celebrations made them a marked team for the Clippers. With the Pacific Division title at stake, and before a national audience on Christmas Day, this one will be intense.
Jan. 5 at Washington
This is usually one of the sleepy games on the trip. It's on a Sunday, a bit earlier than normal. Against a beatable East team with a sparse crowd. In the middle of a seven-game roadie, sandwiched between uninspiring games at Atlanta and Milwaukee. This is one of several trap games in the schedule, and the Wizards are good enough now to take advantage.
Feb. 12 vs Miami
Any time LeBron James comes to town, it's a big deal. His one visit is a chance for the Warriors to measure themselves against the two-time champions. A win would be the perfect way to head into the All-Star break.
Feb. 19 at Sacramento
The Warriors come out of the All-Star break to face a nemesis. What better way to get ready for the stretch run than facing a team that gives you fits? The Kings were up for the preseason meeting between the two teams. You can only imagine the statement they'll want to make, especially if their season is going poorly as expected.
March 5 at Boston
The end of a six-game road trip out East, the second night of a back-to-back, against a team they should beat. This will be a good test for the Warriors and their West Finals hopes. Games like these are what make you a legit contender.
April 16 at Denver
The regular-season finale is on the road against the team they upset in the playoffs last season. The Nuggets probably won't be as vaunted but they are likely still a tough win at home. And this game might have seeding implications.
The three key players
This is his first season as an elite player. He really hit a new level in the second half of last season. After the All-Star break, he averaged 26 points on 47.6 percent shooting (46.1 percent from 3) with 7.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds. If he can continue that pace, look out. But even if he hovers around his averages from last season -- 22.9 points and 6.9 assists -- that would be enough to open things up for the other weapoins.
The Warriors scrapped and clawed to respectability without him most of the regular season. But it was clear in the postseason how vital he is to the team. Golden State's biggest hurdles in the West are teams with size. San Antonio. Oklahoma City. The Clippers. Houston. Memphis. Bogut is their answer to that. Small ball just isn't going to do it at this level.
He takes the team's talent quotient up a notch. If he's simply the player he's always been, he fills a lot of holes for the Warriors. He gives them a desperately needed second facilitator in the starting lineup. He gives them an elite athlete who can slash and finish, which should help their transition game. Perhaps most important, he gives them an elite perimeter defender to guard the big-time scorers. That is a valuable weapon, especially for a team that relied too heavily on a vulnerable zone down the stretch.
The secret weapon off the bench
Just ask George Karl. Green was huge for the Warriors in the playoffs. He's one of the few guys off the bench who affects the game on both ends. He tends to get a lot of open shots (and he knocked them down in the playoffs) and promotes fluidity on offense with his passing and screen setting. He's also a playmaker on the defensive end.
But that's not all. Green's an enforcer. He's the trash-talker who gets in the heads of the opponent. He's the motivator who stays in the ear of his teammates. He brings an aura of bravado and toughness that his teammates feed on.
Will meet high expectations if...
1. Harrison Barnes has a break out year. The Warriors were practically unstoppable when he became a force in the playoffs. With the outside shooting of Curry and Klay Thompson, and the usual production of David Lee, Barnes gets a lot of one-on-one coverage and mismatches. If he can consistently seize them, the Warriors would be next to impossible to defend.
2. The Splash Brothers get more easy baskets. The greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, per Mark Jackson, combined for just five made free throws per game. With teams terrified of their 3-pointer, they've got to take advantage of what that opens up. Despite their shooting prowess, inside-out is still the most effective offense. And they need a place to go when the three ball isn't falling.
3. They dominate at home. The Warriors had the fifth most road wins in the Western Conference and ninth most in the NBA. But what separated the leagues elite was being dominant at home. Eleven teams had more home wins than Golden State (28-13). The top five seeds in the West all had at least 32. If the Warriors get 30-plus home wins, they'll be in good position.
Will struggle and underachieve if...
1. Key players get hurt. If Stephen Curry has more ankle issues or Andrew Bogut misses significant time, the Warriors' are in trouble. If any of their top six players miss too much time, that's a big blow. Golden State's whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Start taking away parts and this thing could crumble.
2. Young players regress. The Warriors are banking on Klay Thompson continuing his development, Harrison Barnes growing into a star, Stephen Curry maintaining at a high level. Even the development of Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore will matter. If too many of these young pieces take a step backward, it will have a negative impact.
3. The chemistry is gone. Certainly, losing Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry was a blow. They were veteran players who produced big time for Golden State. But mostly, they were key cogs in the locker room, especially Jack. The roster renovation leaves the Warriors with some real uncertainty. Will the new guys buy in? Will stretches of limited minutes cause friction or ruin confidence?
Vegas says ...
Odds to win NBA Championship: 16 to 1
Odds to win Western Conference: 7 to 1
Over/under for regular season wins: 51.5
MVP Winner: Stephen Curry 33 to 1
Points per game leader: Stephen Curry 14 to 1
Rebounds per game leader: David Lee 40 to 1