Around the NBA: Does Golden State’s win streak make them a title contender?

January 10

(Associated Press)

When the Golden State Warriors took a glance at their schedule before this season, it’s likely that many of their players began to dread the turn of the calendar year. Beginning on Dec. 29 and stretching through Jan. 8, the Warriors played seven straight road games against Eastern Conference teams, their lives confined to a couple of suitcases for 11 days.

But while the Polar Vortex’s freezing temperatures swirled around them, the Warriors emerged as the NBA’s hottest team, extending their winning streak to 10 games before falling to Brooklyn in Wednesday’s road trip finale. Had Golden State won that game, the Warriors would have stood as the first team to ever go 7-0 on a road trip.

The mantra among coaches is that teams look to play their best basketball come playoff time in April. But with Golden State’s winning streak vaulting it within one game of the first-place Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division and road-game success serving as a key attribute for postseason success, for some, the Warriors suddenly have the look of a championship contender.

The last time Golden State won 10 straight games was during the 1975-76 season, when the Warriors finished with a franchise-record 59 wins and just a year after they won their last NBA championship.

Of the 23 teams ranked among the top 25 win streaks in NBA history, 10 went on to win the title, including last year’s Miami Heat, which won 27 in a row, good for second-best in the record books.

What’s more, in this 10-game stretch, the Warriors defeated six teams with winning records and did so in convincing fashion, recording a Net Rating of 11.1, nearly twice their season average of 5.0 (the stat measures the difference between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions by a team). Currently, the Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs top the league in Net Rating at 8.7.

“It sounds good,” Warriors Coach Mark Jackson told reporters following Tuesday’s win against Milwaukee, their 10th straight. “I’ve seen it be good for teams and I’ve seen it be bad for teams. It helped us last year, and I think we came in with the right mind-set. We’ve had a together group from Day One, and we’ve gotten healthy with a first unit that can play with anyone.”

That starting unit — Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Klay Thompson — has gone 19-3 when all five are in uniform. And while the Warriors, led by “Splash Brothers” Curry and Thompson, have built an identity as a high-scoring, three-point-shooting team, they have demonstrated defensive proficiency by holding a league-best 15 teams to worse than 40 percent shooting in games.

As Jackson admitted following last week’s win at Washington, with the NBA season not yet halfway done, the Warriors’ win streak technically means “nothing.” After all, with just three teams in the East having winning records, a seven-game stretch against the conference is likely a welcome feast for the West.

But with Clippers star guard Chris Paul out up to five more weeks with a shoulder injury and 13 of their next 18 games at home, the Warriors stand to make even more headway toward a top four seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, where they currently rank sixth.

“We gained ground in the West, you’ve got to win road games to stay above water,” Curry told reporters following Thursday’s loss to Brooklyn. “Obviously, all the attention was on the streak. Maybe tomorrow we can look at the big picture and realize we can capitalize on a home-heavy schedule.”

BY THE NUMBERS
50,000
Amount in dollars that New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith was fined Wednesday for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct” after he twice tried to untie an opponent’s shoelaces during games. Smith was then benched for the Knicks win against Miami on Thursday.

21,854
Votes separating Miami’s LeBron James from Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant as the top overall vote-getter after Thursday’s NBA all-star balloting update. The annual contest will be held Feb. 16 in New Orleans.

QUOTABLES
“We can’t have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that play good minutes just sitting there and not getting up during timeouts. We all need to be in this together. That kind of [upsets me]. We’re supposed to be a team” -Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, in reference to the behavior of teammates J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s loss to Phoenix.

“When the opportunity was brought to me, I basically just told him, ‘If he’s willing to listen, if he’s willing to take my advice, then I’m willing to give it and he was all for it.’ … Throughout this whole season I would text him weekly before the games, after the games, and I didn’t know it would lead to obviously us being together now as far as business, but I was happy to help him.” -Miami Heat star LeBron James on his relationship with Texas A&M Johnny Manziel, who reportedly is expected to sign with LRMR, the management company that represents James and is owned by his close friend Maverick Carter.

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