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Long, Critical Road Trip Looms Over Head of Golden State Warriors

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Long, Critical Road Trip Looms Over Head of Golden State Warriors
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Golden State Warriors basketball player Harrison Barnes.

COMMENTARY | Playing on the road in the NBA can be one of the most challenging obstacles in sports, but playing seven consecutive games on the road is like the 10th layer of hell -- sometimes teams just don't recover.

For a Golden State Warriors squad with a record of 20-13, they are in the process of doing exactly that. And this tough road series, which spans 11 days, will be a massive test that could change the outcome of the rest of the season.

Golden State already handed out losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic, but big tests still await.

Without getting overly dramatic, the Warriors are third in the Pacific Division, trailing the Los Angeles Clippers and the surprising Phoenix Suns, who got torched by the Warriors on Dec. 27. But the next five games could be crippling to Golden State if it can't find a rhythm and ends up dropping five of seven. Or it could be the biggest momentum shift possible if the Dubs win five.

On the menu for Golden State is the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good, which is probably an understatement, is a match at Miami on Jan. 2. Also, a mediocre 3-seed in the Atlanta Hawks will be a tough opponent Jan. 3. The bad includes the Washington Wizards on Jan. 5 and the Cavs. And the ugly includes the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 8, the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 7 and the Magic.

Of all 7-game road trips, this Eastern Conference visit could be much, much worse. Only two of the seven teams, Miami and Atlanta, have records better than .500. But the beauty, or lack there of, of playing on the road is that home-court advantage adds just enough energy to the home team to turn potential blowouts into close games.

The Warriors can't look past the handful of teams who all appear to be playing their own style of tanking and stay attack-minded with a focus on finishing the opponent.

Three Keys to Road-Trip Success:

1. Be consistent: Easier said than done, but the Warriors need to come hard every single night with the same energy. They can't take a game off just because there's a JV team staring at them across the court. If the Dubs can play their style of fast-paced, high-energy offense, they should return home with plenty of wins.

2. Leadership: In a tough situation like this, there needs to be a leader to control the team on and off the court. And Steph Curry needs to be that leader. He's the best player on the floor in almost every single game and he needs to put his team on his back. There will be times when the offense struggles and weak legs appear and that's when true leaders take over.

3. Don't Slow Down: What can happen after a long stretch of games, especially on the road and especially against weaker teams, is a subconscious release of the gas pedal. The Warriors should be able to take a strong lead against most of these teams, excluding Miami. But the Warriors of old, the ones who would play just well enough to lose a one-possession game, can still reappear if they don't keep slamming the ball down their opponents' throats. Keep piling it on.

Brett Appley is the former sports editor of "The Orion," the Chico State student-run newspaper and WestCoastBeat. He is from the Bay Area and is an avid follower of local teams. He has been published on sites such as sfgate.com and latimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrettAppley.

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