OAKLAND -- The Warriors' recent struggles have slipped them into a state of basketball purgatory: so close at times to looking like a contender, yet too often falling flat against the better teams in the Western Conference.
Golden State is just 4-10 against the other seven teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today and 6-13 against teams in the West with records at .500 or above entering play Saturday. It's enough to raise questions about the Warriors' 26-18 record. Just how good is this team?
"I believe in this basketball team," coach Mark Jackson said. "And I believe when we do the things we're supposed to and we're capable of doing, we're going to be just fine. So I'm not panicking here. But I'm going to demand of our basketball team that we do the things that put us in position to win."
On Sunday, the Warriors welcome the Portland Trail Blazers (33-11) -- owners of the third-best record in the conference -- to town to get a firsthand look at the NBA's most improved team, one much more deserving of being dubbed a contender.
"It's big," All-Star starting guard Stephen Curry said of the matchup. "You've got to establish yourself. The records will be what they are, but you remember the impressions you leave on teams throughout the course of the season. They came in here earlier this year and got a win in a pretty testy game, so we've got to be up for that challenge to make a statement against one of the top three teams in the West, on our home floor, a team we may see down the road."
The Warriors could see Portland quite a bit this season and not just because they have two games remaining against them after Sunday. Golden State is holding down the No. 6 spot in the West, so the teams would meet in the first round of the playoffs if the standings hold.
"These games should make us better because teams are no longer looking over us," swingman Andre Iguodala said.
The Warriors have lost five of their past seven since a 10-game winning streak. The recent stretch has called into question the defensive effort of a team that prides itself on that end of the floor. Golden State has allowed 115 points per game in those losses.
"We've done a bad job," Jackson said. "Everybody on the floor -- breakdowns. There's not one guy that's doing their job defensively. Everybody in uniform has been bad defensively for us, and it's disappointing right now."
Poor starts also are an issue. The Warriors have allowed 34.8 points per game in the first quarter in their past five, four of which have been losses. For the season, they are now giving up 26.1 points per game in the opening period -- tied for fifth-worst in the NBA.
"It's the NBA. There's talented guys," Curry said. "Guys are going to be able to score sometimes whether you play good defense or not. But you can't let early offensive outbursts by a team affect the game, especially when on the other end you're playing well. We've got to develop that toughness we had in the playoffs last year."
Jackson made it clear that as big of a star as Curry has become he's not enough to carry this team. Golden State needs Iguodala and center Andrew Bogut, the team's best defenders, to anchor that end of the court and for Klay Thompson, David Lee and the bench to get it done at both ends.
"At times we think we are good enough to just go through the motions and win ballgames," Jackson said. "We do not have Kevin Durant. We do not have LeBron James. The way we win games is collectively getting it done defensively and special nights by individuals. We're paying the price at times by not getting after it and not staying true to what our identity is, and that's a defensive-minded team."
"He's playing at an extremely high level, should be an All-Star," Jackson said. "It's good for the game the way he conducts himself, the way he competes. He's going to be a problem for this league, his opponents for a long time."
Lillard entered Saturday third in the NBA with 131 made 3-pointers, behind only Curry and Thompson.
Staff writer Diamond Leung contributed to this report.
Portland (33-11) at Warriors (26-18), 6 p.m. CSNBA
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