While some Golden State Warriors fans might think the season’s championship aspirations are all but lost with Kevin Durant going down to injury, that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, it could prove as a blessing in disguise for a team that needs to get re-acquainted with its roots.
The Dubs will be without their leading scorer for four weeks until he’s checked out by the medical staff again — and sure, a 25.3 points per game clip is no easy task to make up. But looking into the broader spectrum of things, the Warriors can prove themselves by overcoming hardship, and a vast one at that.
Golden State’s main issue throughout the season hasn’t been offense, or defense, or finding enough touches for any of their top three players, which can be seen as grave problems for a team to address. The team’s headaches have rather revolved around playing down to their opponents and at times getting too comfortable with being the offensive juggernaut that they are.
The Warriors will need to hone in on certain aspects in order to rise to the moment and establish themselves as a championship contender once again, then solidify themselves as the team to beat if Durant can come back healthy with a few games left in the regular season.
KEEPING THE LEAD
This is the main issue that has haunted the Warriors since the start of last season.
There’s been numerous times when Golden State has led by 15, 20, or even more points by halftime and let an opponent catch up, waiting for Steph Curry to come midway through the fourth quarter to put the game away.
The 2015 championship team was such a powerhouse because they carved big leads and kept big leads, even extending them due to the quality of its bench. The likes of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Curry were often seen resting on the bench through the last period of play because the game was blown so wide open, there was no further need for them to play.
While the Warriors don’t have the star-studded bench they had during their championship season, being able to maintain a lead or not letting one vanish can be helpful to this team. Especially during the last 20 games of the season, when the legs start to get heavy and the grind starts to take a toll on the body of those playing 30-plus minutes on a nightly basis.
GROWING BENCH ROLES
The addition of forward Matt Barnes can play a huge asset for the team, as he can be a likely starter for the team once acquainted with the system. Assuming coach Steve Kerr chooses to keep Andre Iguodala in his usual sixth man role, the Warriors’ bench will need to become a reliable working unit once again, with the Splash Brothers as the only two offensive stars to score the ball consistently.
Defensive responsibilities and movement-heavy offensive sets is what it will take for the Golden State bench to contend in Durant’s absence.
DO WHAT IT TAKES-MENTALITY / THE MATT BARNES EFFECT
This is where Barnes signing pays huge dividends for the team at this time of need. While the 36-year-old is nowhere near the offensive powerhouse Durant is, the UCLA product possesses a lot of his traits — he can score, rebound, shoot from deep, be a reliable source of defense, and be trusted to make the right play at the right time.
Barnes is the one player people love to play with but absolutely despise playing against. His gritty attitude and in-your-face demeanor is enough to rattle most players’ cages and can become the X-factor as he once was with a Baron Davis-led “We Believe” team back 10 years ago.
This reunion can prove just as influential, as the skillset the 6-foot-7 forward possessed back then, is still very much the same he has to this day — though in a much more experienced individual.
If Durant can come back with a couple of games to go in the regular season, or even sometime in the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors are good enough to get into the Western Conference Finals with the team as it stands — but will need their heavy artillery to get the last eight wins to clinch a title.
If the team can re-discover these traits and become less dependent on Durant and his all-around game, his imminent addition will prove much more impactful to a Warriors team that is bound to make waves when it counts the most.