Oh, those wacky Warriors.
How can a team lose to the Cavaliers at home, then win at Portland two days later, as these guys did in mid-March? Or lose to the Knicks at home (March 30), then come right back with a win at Dallas (Apr. 1)?
As the season wore on, it almost became a running gag. If the Warriors played the Heat or the Thunder, you could expect them to perform like champions. If they played the Pistons or Bucks, don’t even bother to watch, at least not sober. Nobody plays up or down to the level of competition like Mark Jackson’s team, right?
When I asked Rick Adelman, who was then coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he scoffed at the idea that the Warriors were any more volatile than other NBA teams. “That’s so overboard,” he said. “I mean, you’re gonna lose games. We beat Miami at Miami. I don’t think they figured that. And we beat Indiana. We beat San Antonio. It’s not something that’s unusual.”
Was Adelman right? I built a little chart to examine the issue as part of my playoff advance.
I took the eight NBA teams that won 50 or more games this year, and looked at “extreme performances”: how many losses they had to opponents with losing records, how many times they lost to truly awful teams (which I defined as those with 48 or more losses this year, which may be arbitrary but seemed to include the right teams) and how many wins they got against other elite squads (50+ victories). I figured a loss against, say, the Lakers should count twice in the tally, while falling to the Hawks should count once. I also eliminated losses taken on Wednesday, when many contenders sat their starters.
In theory, teams with more checks in all the columns should be considered more volatile. The Spurs might be a better team than the Warriors, so they would likely have more wins against elite opponents; they should also have fewer losses to bad teams.
Here are the numbers I came up with:
TEAM SUB-.500 LOSSES TERRIBLE LOSSES BIG WINS TOTAL
Warriors 6 2 8 16
Spurs 3 1 9 13
Thunder 7 5 15 27
Clippers 7 4 10 21
Pacers 8 3 9 20
Heat 12 7 10 29
Blazers 6 5 10 21
Rockets 8 5 12 25
The analysis: Are you freakin’ kidding me?
In this admittedly flawed exercise (it doesn’t take into account things like injuries, or close wins against dreadful teams), the Warriors emerge as pictures of stability. Only the Spurs – the famed, role-model, so-consistent-they’re-boring Spurs – were less volatile in 2013-14. Look at the Thunder, with their 15 wins against elite teams but plenty of stumbles. Look at the mighty Heat, who lost a dozen times to losers, and seven times to absolute dogs. Seven.
Hey, Mark Jackson, is it too late to say we’re sorry? Rag the Warriors for their over-reliance on perimeter shooting, or for never figuring out what to do with Harrison Barnes, but not for tanking against bad teams. We may not have known it, but we were watching Spurs Lite here in Oakland all year.