In one corner of the Warriors’ quiet locker room Sunday night, Jermaine O’Neal sat at his locker with ice bags on his knees and just stared into the distance. David Lee, who spent the evening in a suit on the bench, already had cleared out and gone home. Andrew Bogut never surfaced.
The Warriors are a “no-excuse basketball team,” as coach Mark Jackson loves to say. But they are suddenly looking like a worn-down and banged-up bunch at the most pivotal point of the season.
“You can’t ignore the fact that we’re short-handed,” Jackson said. “We don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘OK, you’re going to play tonight.’ We got guys who can’t play. We got guys that can’t run. Our job is to take care of business until those guys get healthy.”
That challenge has been difficult to overcome in recent games.
Bogut missed Sunday night’s troubling 89-84 home loss to the New York Knicks with a bruise in his groin and pelvic area, which he injured in Friday’s comeback win over Memphis when Marc Gasol kneed him while attempting a layup. Bogut also is expected to miss today’s game at Dallas and Wednesday’s game at San Antonio — and possibly more.
Lee has sat out two straight games with a strained right hamstring, and the injury has kept him from even running lately. Andre Iguodala has acknowledged that the tendinitis in his right knee is something he’s going to have to deal with for the remainder of the season.
And O’Neal is coping with pain in his surgically repaired right wrist and soreness in his aging knees.
With injuries piling up and other teams showing no signs of slowing down, the playoff spot that once seemed secure is no longer a sure thing.
The Warriors (45-28) began Monday in sixth place in the tight Western Conference standings with nine games remaining. While they were only two games back of fifth-place Portland, they were also just two games from being out of the playoff picture as they head to Dallas and San Antonio.
“We’ll see where we end up. We feel like we’re good enough,” said reserve Draymond Green, who has played both forward positions and center during this recent rash of injuries. “The urgency level is high, and we’ve got to continue to rise to that.”
Losses to teams with losing records — particularly at home — are adding up almost as fast as injuries.
Those bad defeats at Oracle Arena include games against sub.-500-teams such as New York, Cleveland, Charlotte, Denver and Minnesota. The Warriors also lost twice at home when San Antonio rested all or some of its starters, which are the sort of setbacks that could put Jackson’s job in jeopardy if they miss the playoffs.
“We’ve lost some games to teams that we’re better than,” Jackson said. “We are developing and we certainly own the fact that we’ve lost some games that we should have won.”
The Warriors are still on pace to surpass last season’s 47-35 record, when they finished sixth in the West and upset Denver in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Spurs in six games. But the conference is far better and far deeper than last season, and one team with at least 47 wins likely will get left out.
Phoenix (44-30) and Dallas (44-30) entered Monday only 1½ games behind the Warriors. Memphis (43-30) was one-half game behind the Suns and Mavericks for the final playoff seeds.
After the tough two-game trip through Texas, the schedule goes in Golden State’s favor the rest of the way. Six of its final seven games are against teams with losing records, and four of those seven are at home, though that hasn’t always translated into wins this season.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to go get two on the road against two good teams,” point guard Stephen Curry said. “They’re both still playing for something at this point of the season, so we’ve got to get our mojo back.”
Some healthy bodies might not hurt, either.