Five Warriors factors that will determine fate in second half of season

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Five factors that will determine Warriors' fate in second half originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

It took two full months to get here, but the Warriors finally have become the team Las Vegas bettors and nearly everybody expected before the NBA season tipped off.

It was presumed that injuries would be a factor, and they have been.

It was known that they would be snags while navigating the delicate balance between promising youngsters and veterans with championships, and there have been.

It was believed, because of the aforementioned issues, that the Warriors would be capable of beating any team and equally capable of losing to any team. As it has been.

After winning 27 of their first 33 games, surprising all observers, the Warriors are 4-6 over the last three weeks. They have impressive wins at Phoenix and Utah and double-digit losses at Dallas and Minnesota. Stephen Curry, a leading MVP candidate in December, is missing shots at the highest rate in his career.

Klay Thompson takes the floor for the first time in almost 31 months and Draymond Green limps out of action. Jordan Poole has been by turns brilliant and erratic. Gary Payton II has been a revelation. Unsung Kevon Looney and unappreciated Andrew Wiggins have been relative beacons of consistency.

Who are the Warriors? Not even they know.

“We understand what’s going on right now,” coach Steve Kerr said after losing three of four games on the road last week. “We’re in a tough spot, just like every team faces every year. And this is our time right now, with some of the injuries.

“It’s OK. We’ll bounce back.”

The Warriors were not going to keep the pace that pushed them to a 27-6 record. After 43 games we’ve seen enough to know they are not as mediocre as they have been during the skid that dropped them to 31-12.

“We obviously have stuff to work on,” Curry said last week. “But it’s not like a situation where we don’t know what to do and how to get it done.”

When they come home Tuesday to open a seven-game homestand, during which they’ll be without Green, the Warriors will try to solidify their status as a top-two team in the Western Conference.

Here are five factors that will determine their fate over the final 39 games:

1. Remember the dawgs

Though the most satisfying wins came on Christmas Day in Phoenix and New Year’s Day in Salt Lake City, the one that best revealed who the Warriors must be came on Nov. 16 at Brooklyn.

Two nights after opening a four-game road trip with soft defense in a close loss at Charlotte, the Warriors rolled into Barclays Center with an attitude. They were 11-2 and couldn’t stomach the idea of back-to-back losses. That meant not getting roasted by the incomparable Kevin Durant and wily James Harden. Pride was at stake.

Leading by seven at the half, the Warriors unleashed junkyard dogs in the third quarter, limiting the Nets to 18 points. KD was 0-of-8 from the field in the quarter. During a decisive six-minute stretch, Brooklyn missed 12 of 13 shots and committed two turnovers. The Warriors took a 22-point lead into the fourth quarter, Durant and Harden watched from the bench.

They demoralized a very good offense by raising the ferocity and showing no remorse. Six terrific minutes can do that in almost any game.

2. The return of Chef Curry

A couple times each season, Curry will hit a dip in efficiency. The Steph Slump is practically a ritual. It comes out of nowhere, lasts a few games and is gone. Death by fire.

This season, however, the dip has been particularly stubborn. Curry was very good in October and fabulous in November. He struggled through most of December and January is making a bid to be the worst month of his 13-year career. Only twice in his last 20 games has he shot at least 50 percent from the field, and he shot below 40 percent from deep in 15 of the 20.

This will not last. An all-time great shooter doesn’t lose it at 33. It’s the last skill that leaves and can sustain players approaching 40.

It’s coming. Curry knows it and his teammates and coaches expect it. Klay’s return and the threat he provides will make life easier. When his production is typical, it cures pretty much anything that ails Golden State’s offense.

3. Here comes Klay

Thompson is shooting 35.7 percent beyond the arc and 35.7 percent inside it. His long shots are short, as are some of his short ones. He always has been prone to bouts of poor shot selection, but that’s the price paid to get the best of himself.

This is going to take time. How much? Impossible to know. Klay is that guy who can score 10 points while shooting 3-of-15 on Monday, and then pour in 38 on 14-of-19 on Wednesday.

The Warriors have 39 games remaining on their schedule. Klay is projected to play in about 80 percent of them. Don’t expect it to get much better between now and the Feb. 17-23 All-Star break – but don’t dismiss the possibility of a game or two of Hot Klay.

The goal for Thompson, and the Warriors, is to play their best ball in March and April, to finish as they did last season. Expect his shot to be where it should be more often than not.

4. Make functional use of Wiseman

James Wiseman has been sidelined for the first 43 games and could remain so for another eight or 10. For most of the time he was out, the 7-footer wasn’t missed.

When he is ready, there will be a role. Wiseman is going to need a few weeks, at least, to get his legs beneath him. He hasn’t played in nine months. The number of minutes he has played since high school is roughly equal to the number Kevon Looney has played this season.

RELATED: Steph not on injury report ahead of Pistons game

The Warriors will have to be skillful with how, and when, they use him. As much as they rely on small ball, and as well as it often succeeds, there is no substitute for Wiseman’s vertical spacing. And assistant coach Dejan Milojević has, by all accounts, been making tremendous strides.

The Warriors over two seasons effectively used JaVale McGee as a lob threat and defensive presence? Wiseman should offer no less than that.

5. The input of Kenny Atkinson

Kerr hired Atkinson last summer to do for his staff what Jerry West (hired in 2011) did for the front office and what Draymond does for the entire room. Bring strong opinions. Be the skeptic necessary for growth. Push, prod, coax and call out.

Back in October, when the Warriors were shocking the NBA, Atkinson was Kerr’s right-hand man. Ideas were exchanged and solutions discovered. They were good for each other.

Atkinson missed two months with a leg injury, made a brief return for home games and last week got back on the road – only to get knocked down last Thursday by health and safety protocols.

He’ll be back, probably this week. His presence should make an impact in the coming months.

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