Warriors' defense continues months-long slide

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

If Golden State's defense keeps on slipping, the Warriors might miss the playoffs.

After a loss to the 76ers on Saturday, the Golden State Warriors have dropped four straight and 10 of 13. A team that once looked like an unimpeachable lock to make the playoffs now sits just 3.5 games ahead of the No. 9 seed. Everything that seemed to go right early in the season now bounces the other way. A squad no one wanted to play in the first round now appears to be the shakiest contender.

What's happened?

For much of the season, Golden State's above-average offense kept the team humming despite just an average defense. That average defense represented a massive improvement from last season. The rule of thumb is that when you have a positive efficiency differential -- your offense is on average more efficient than your opponents' offense against you -- you'll have a winning record. The randomness of outcomes in close games (and possibly the hard-to-prove factors like clutch) can skew that, but it's typically true. And it should make perfectly intuitive sense: if two teams have the same number of possessions in a game, scoring more points on those than your opponent leads to a win.

Warriors_mediumBut something's happened over the last month, as the graph at right shows. While the team's offense has remained relatively stable, the defense has become much less efficient. For the season, as of 13 games ago the Warriors were giving up 1.029 points per possession. Now the team is up to 1.045. The defense has totally fallen apart to the point where Golden State's positive efficiency differential has disappeared.

And that stark trend is just a continuation of one which began around Christmas. The Warriors defense peaked in late December, and has been getting worse ever since. Meanwhile, the offense hasn't really improved much if at all in the aggregate, despite Stephen Curry's epic scoring season.

Now Golden State is No. 19 in the NBA in defense, and efficiency differential indicates that the Warriors should be under .500. At 33-27, it'll take some more losing to get there. But that doesn't seem unreasonable right now, does it?

Last week we compared the schedules of the playoff contenders in the West and found that Golden State was in a relatively good position thanks to plenty of games at home, and plenty against non-playoff teams. But this stretch is hardly inspiring confidence that the Warriors can follow through and survive into late April.

The next two opponents are the Raptors and Kings, both at ORACLE Arena. Those feel pretty important right now.

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