Nov 18, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) dribbles the ball as Golden State Warriors small forward Andre Iguodala (9) defends during the second quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors: Smoother Sailing From Here?

The Golden State Warriors haven’t gotten off to the roaring start people were expecting when the news broke that Andre Iguodala would be coming to the Bay Area. This was a team that had a stacked starting lineup and a newly acquired perimeter lockdown player/perennial glue guy that could make them truly elite. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson would have another year under their belts, Andrew Bogut was healthy and the Warriors’ biggest problem was figuring out a starting lineup because of Harrison Barnes.

At 16-13, the Warriors are barely clinging to the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, a position they just recently acquired Monday night in a win over the Denver Nuggets. For a team that had a memorable playoff run last season and was/is expected to build on that success this year, fans understandably feel like the Warriors are underachieving. What too few have failed to realize, however, is just how tough Golden State’s schedule has been for the first third of the season.

So far, the Warriors have played a grand total of four teams from the Eastern Conference. FOUR. It cannot be understated how brutal that is, especially since A) Golden State played 12 games with their best perimeter defender on the sidelines and B) the entire Eastern Conference has only three teams with a winning record. The West has a 92-43 head-to-head record against the East. Other Western teams viewed as contenders like the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets have all boosted their records a tad thanks to 11 games against the East, and the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t far behind with eight.

The only teams in the Western Conference with losing records against the East are the Utah Jazz and the Sacramento Kings. But two days from now, more of the Golden State Warriors’ remaining games will come against the weaker conference in basketball than their fellow Western juggernauts. And since 16 of their first 29 games have been on the road, that means Golden State will also enjoy a few more home games against Leastern Conference. Have you backed away from the panic button yet, Dubs fans?

If you’ve still got a tentative finger on the button, don’t forget that the Warriors missed Andre Iguodala for 12 of their 29 games, a loss that cannot be overstated. This gave Harrison Barnes a lot more playing time, but he failed to step up in that time. Now that Iggy’s back and shaking off the rust offensively, the Warriors will get fully back on track soon, especially since he’s a top-20 3-point shooter in the NBA percentage-wise (43.1 percent from downtown this season). More importantly though, is that Golden State’s defense has held opponents to 90.3 points per game in the four games he’s been back.

Four games is a small sample size, but the Warriors were also limiting teams to just 96.7 points per game before Iggy’s injury. In the 12 games without him, Golden State surrendered an astonishing 105.3 points per game. In case math isn’t your thing, that’s nearly a 10 point differential, which is a ridiculous swing based on one player’s absence/presence. In today’s Christmas matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers, we’ll likely see a ton of points and a fast pace. But a healthy Iguodala on the perimeter could make all the difference in an offense-first game like this.

Was a 16-13 start ideal? No. But as long as Golden State stays healthy and continues to grow together against a much easier schedule moving forward, the Warriors should be able to climb their way higher up the Western Conference ladder. After watching Stephen Curry put on ridiculous third quarter spectacles in the playoffs last year, and based on what we’ve seen from him so far this year, the only thing preventing this team from being a dangerous postseason opponent once again is the health of its stars. Should the Warriors win tonight against Lob City, everyone will start taking them seriously as contenders again. And if not, well, at least the road ahead gets a little easier from here.

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