The Golden State Warriors have won five in a row - though they haven't exactly played elite squads over that stretch, so it really doesn't prove much. The bigger concern, or at least the bigger cause for interest, is that they had lost five of seven before that. Teams go through funks, but it had been a couple of years since we had seen even a glimpse of regular-season mortality from this Golden State squad. It was easy to assume that they were above that.
It's been an odd season for the team. They are still cruising to the best record in the league, the threat from the Spurs seems to have dimmed slightly, they will win more than 80 percent of their games, and their ultimate goal seems as likely as ever. They have 14 losses in 71 games, though, after losing just nine all of last year, so you can't deny that this season is different. What is worth looking at, then, is why it is different, and what that means for bettors. Here are five factors to consider:
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Durant: The addition of Durant was widely viewed as a stone cold lock when it came to success - not popularity, but success. With most of the season behind us we can say that it has mostly worked as expected. They have worked through chemistry and role issues and seem to be finding what works. He has been good and has managed to fit into a very different role than he had in Oklahoma City without too many issues. It doesn't seem like a fluke, though, that the game in which Durant was injured was the first of those five losses in seven games. Perhaps that's the most alarming thing - the team seems not only to have accepted Durant but has come to rely on him. Now, there are definitely worse things than relying on a top three talent in the league to make a team work.
This is not exactly the first injury that Durant has ever had, though. Reports are optimistic of late that he'll be back for the playoffs. If he goes down, though, it would be a shame for this team to throw away a good season, and a great opportunity this year, because they can't live without him. In that sense, then, perhaps the current run of easier opponents was just what the team needed - a confidence builder that they can play without him.
Steph Curry: It's tough to know what to think about Curry right now. His numbers aren't what they have been in recent years, but they don't have to be with Durant around - and it would be unreasonable to expect them to be. He and the team have also been more conscious of managing his effort this year, and that will pay off in the playoffs. There is clearly no reason to panic.
What I can't shake when I watch him, though, is the feeling that he needs to turn the knob up on the swagger just a little bit. It feels like he deferred a little bit to Durant when he arrived - welcomed the savior - and he hasn't quite moved away from that. Last year Curry felt like an irrepressible force whenever he stepped on the court. His success felt inevitable. Purely on a gut and visual basis I can't help but feel like that isn't quite the same. It can't all be blamed on Durant. Of course, it wasn't quite the same in the playoffs last year, either, and we know how that turned out. Curry's greatest strength is that he believes in the power of Curry. He just needs to remember that.
Priorities: Last year it was all about the record wins in the regular season. It was an exhausting and ultimately costly pursuit. This year you get the distinct feeling that all they really care about is making the playoffs and playing at home for a round or two at worst. They don't sweat losses the same - this recent losing skid aside - and they are far more aggressive in resting players. It also feels like they are far more open to tweaking and experimentation - recognizing that success comes in having it dialed in for the playoffs.
It hasn't made for as much must-see TV, but it's the right approach to take - as long as they do indeed have the ability to up the focus and play well in the playoffs unlike they did last year.
Cavs: The most interesting storyline to me this year is the Cavaliers and what impact they have to be having on the Warriors. It's obvious that Cleveland is the team that Golden State cares about. That loss last year burns, and they want their revenge. The Cavs have had issues all season, though, and are a mess right now - they have lost six of 10, are bickering internally more than usual, and every step Kevin Love takes could be his last of the season. That's not really anything new - they lost 25 games last year and have only 24 losses so far. You can't help but feel, though, that there is an edge of vulnerability to the team that hasn't been there before. Golden State must see that - it's like blood in the water to a school of sharks. The key will be to use that positively - to sharpen their focus and not to act as a distraction.
Betting performance: This is the most interesting aspect of all of this team. Last year they were unstoppable against the spread. Everyone knew they were going to win every game, yet at 45-35-2 ATS they were the most profitable team in the NBA. That's just incredible. Impossible, really. This year, with the best record in the league, they are a dismal 32-37-2 ATS. That's far from profitable, and it sits 21st in the league.
It's striking for a lot of reasons - they are still winning plenty of games, they aren't nearly as publicly adored as a team this year because of the amount of dislike of the Durant move, and so on. That's not the only striking reversal, either. Last year they went "over" the total 45 times. Only Houston went over more, so the Warriors were among the most consistently profitable total teams, too. This year they are even more profitable, but not on the over - they have gone "under" 44 times in 71 games. Their defensive numbers are basically static from last year and they are scoring more points, which means they have a higher point differential. That makes the shift in totals even more striking. It's clear that public expectations went through the roof when Durant arrived - to a level the team just can't live up to.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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