ORLANDO, Fla. — This season’s version of the Golden State Warriors is not the same as the one that won the NBA championship just five months ago. Their bench is struggling, their defense sits at the bottom of the league and they cannot win on the road. Those are areas that have been instrumental to their identity, and without them the Warriors are struggling.
Their 130-129 loss to the Orlando Magic on Thursday night was the most recent example of their struggles. And now, the Warriors sit in 12th place in the Western Conference with a 3-6 record, including an 0-5 record on the road after their fourth straight loss on the current five-game road trip.
It’s just the second time in NBA history that the defending champions have dropped their first five road games (1956-57 Philadelphia Warriors).
“We have to save us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Because nobody else is coming.”
The first step Kerr is taking to “save” the team is to examine his bench and rotation.
“We’ve had nine games now, so we’ve had a decent look at combinations. It’s time to try something different,” Kerr said. “Everybody’s gonna get a chance to play. We’ve got guys who are dying to get on the floor, and we’ve got to find combinations that play. We’ll look at that as a staff.”
The Warriors have seen a large drop-off in production during their bench minutes this season. Golden State’s starters — Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins — have a plus 24.1 net rating, the best in the league of any five-man lineup that has played at least 75 minutes together this season.
James Wiseman, in particular, has been struggling for Golden State. On Thursday, Wiseman finished with two points, one assist and just three rebounds. He also picked up three personal fouls and earned a technical for throwing the ball against a stanchion out of frustration.
But Wiseman isn’t the only problem for the Warriors’ bench. And despite Kerr’s vow to switch up the rotation, the bench isn’t the Warriors’ only issue.
“It’s our defense,” Green said. “We have to correct our defense.”
Against the Magic, Curry scored a game-high 39 points on 13-of-22 shooting, including eight 3-pointers, while Thompson had his best game of the season with 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting, with seven 3s. Green said that those numbers alone — particularly Curry and Thompson combining to go 15-of-30 from the 3-point line — should have been enough to win the game. But the team’s play on the other end cost it.
That’s nothing new. Defense has been the Warriors’ biggest issue all season, and statistically they have fallen to fourth worst in the league. The Warriors have given up a 30-point quarter in all nine of their games this season, and against the Magic, they allowed two 30-point quarters and 43 points in the third.
The Magic’s third-quarter run allowed them to come back from trailing by 16 with 10 minutes to go in the period to down just one at the start of the fourth. This loss ties the Warriors’ third-largest blown lead on the road under Kerr.
But Kerr said his team’s defensive problems started before that breakdown.
“Forty-six free throws for them, 15 for us,” Kerr said about what the Warriors’ biggest struggle was in Orlando. “It’s really hard to win an NBA game by giving up 46 free throws.
“This isn’t a case of our new guys or our young fouling; it’s everybody,” Kerr said. “By the time the second unit got on the floor in the first, they were in the bonus. … We set a terrible tone, and we’ve done that pretty much all year.”
Green agreed with Kerr that the younger players on the team, such as Wiseman, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, aren’t the only ones to blame for the Warriors’ fouling number and overall defensive issues.
“I’m not going to sit up here and point fingers,” Green said. “Yes, it is the young guys’ fault, but it’s not more their fault than our fault. Yes, they have some things to learn, but equally we have responsibilities we have to live up to, and we’re not doing that either .”
The Warriors complete their five-game road trip at the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.