Warriors Can't Beat the Team They're Chasing, Memories of Themselves

The Golden State Warriors are routinely losing ground these days to the one team they can't realistically beat – the idealized memories of themselves.
As for the rest of it . . . well, that depends on your mood.
A lot of basketball observers and fans went into this season wrapped in the warm embrace of the Warriors-Are-Invincible narratives – maybe even the Warriors themselves. The evidence, though, is that these Warriors have limitations that the last three versions did not – starting with a defense that is nearly average (currently 11th in adjusted defense per 100 possessions after being fourth, first, seventh and second) after four straight years of being either elite or borderline elite. Their team metrics are down, their individual metrics are down, and defensive coach Ron Adams is very down.
And despite everything you've been told about the Warriors' offense as a breathtaking force (which is mostly true), it has functioned best when sprung from a superior defense that provides easy-to-uncontested baskets and lightens the collective physical load. These days, especially since Christmas, they have been relying on their scoring to hide the fact that they don't mind the other team scoring, rather than the other way around.
As a result, the number of teams that play afraid against them has been diminished. Oklahoma City, which boxed them 125-105 Tuesday night, isn't afraid of them. Houston, which has won both games against them this year, isn't. Boston, which split, and Toronto, which lost by five and two points, aren't either. The best way to break another team's will in the NBA is to show that you can keep it from scoring, and the Warriors are clearly less adept or willing to show that side of themselves.
But they can fix their defense, and they can re-establish their place on the necks of the rest of the field. What they cannot do is beat the hype that surrounded them this summer, when people suggested they could be at their apex as players and as a team.
Right now, they are on a pace to finish 62-20, with a smaller point differential and more games allowing 120 points and fewer scoring them, losing more games by double digits and winning fewer. They look less Warrior-y than at any other time in the Happiness Era, which is why one can see cracks in the palace drywall. 
If one wants to see them, that is. And that, too, includes the Warriors.

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