How Warriors' recent upswing could impact NBA trade deadline approach

How Warriors' recent surge could impact trade deadline approach originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Upon returning to the Bay Area in late December after a 1-5 road trip punctuated by back-to-back blowout losses to the Knicks and the Nets, the Warriors were teetering on the edge of despair. With a 15-18 record and at least seven defeats in the “humiliating” category, some within the organization were pleading for help. Maybe a lot of help.

There was consideration for at least one trade and maybe two, according to league sources, but standing pat was not an option if the defending champs were to climb back into a position of power.

Six weeks later, desperation has subsided. The Warriors have since gone 11-6 and their recovery – which has not been without turbulence – began with a 14-point smackdown of the hubristic Memphis Grizzlies on Christmas Day. Golden State has won three in a row by getting back to the basics, a motion offense heavy on ball movement.

“Yeah, but the sample size is still small,” Stephen Curry reminded reporters Monday night after the victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City. “We want to maintain the positive vibes that we’ve been creating, but we know we have a lot more work to do.”

Already, the Warriors have done enough to indicate they’re trending upward. Though one trade remains a possibility, according to league sources, two deals now seem less likely.

Among the factors cited by one source is the increasing effectiveness of Jonathan Kuminga, who has become a solid point-of-attack defender and continues to make strides on offense. Another pointed to JaMychal Green, who has looked better lately than he did in October and November.

“He’s not a star by any means,” the source said of the veteran forward. “But he’s starting to make a few shots, which wasn’t the case earlier. They have to decide if he can defend well enough to stay on the floor. Against some teams, he can. Others, maybe not.”

It is believed that the next two games, Wednesday night at Minnesota and Thursday night at Denver, will have some influence on how aggressively the Warriors proceed approaching the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.

A split of the two games would suffice, particularly with some regulars almost certain to rest against the Western-Conference-leading Nuggets – despite Stephen Curry saying, “I usually campaign to play every night." That places a high priority on beating the improving Timberwolves, who have won 11 of their last 15 games.

The more important game, taking the long view, is that which tips off Thursday night at Ball Arena.

The Nuggets’ recent history has been plagued by a tendency to be beasts in the regular season who crumble in the playoffs. Despite the formidable presence of back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic, Golden State needed only five games to oust them in the first round last April.

This group deserves to be taken much more seriously. The additions of Jamal Murray – who missed last season after ACL surgery but is putting up numbers typical of his career – and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have been crucial to vaulting Denver to the top of the conference. Aaron Gordon is playing stellar defense while also playing the most efficient offense of his eight-year career.

All five starters are a scoring threat in the Nuggets’ offense, which has an NBA-leading 117.4 rating. The defense, often their downfall in the postseason, was significantly upgraded in the offseason and has a 111.4 rating (fourth in the league) since Christmas.

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The Warriors know the second-place Grizzlies, believe they know how to beat them and have the evidence that supports their belief. The new Nuggets are more of a mystery. The teams have met only once this season, with Golden State giving away 30 points off 19 turnovers and losing at Denver while Murray watched from the bench.

“It’s a tough back-to-back,” Draymond Green said on Monday. “But I think they’re two winnable games. If we go and we play our brand of basketball, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”

Curry might indeed campaign to play, even if the Warriors beat Minnesota – maybe especially if that happens. Green might do the same.

Any pleas they make won’t be persuasive. Training staffs utilize scientific methods to determine who should sit, and when. Push too hard now, when the team is going well, and there might be a delayed cost.

And the last thing the Warriors want is an injury that shoves the front office back into high-anxiety mode, with urgent shopping to follow.

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