The Golden State Warriors are probably a play-in team but are clinging to this contender narrative because of their past. In so many ways, they are not the team they used to be. They can't score, shoot or create like they used to. They can't defend like they used to. They can't overcome their lack of size like they used to.
Just about the only things that they do do the same as they did in their glory days are foul and turn the ball over like crazy. In the old days, they could make up for this boneheaded stuff. Now they can't. Their margin for error is basically zilch.
It burned them again on Tuesday, when the Warriors, who came in needing a 12-point victory to advance to the knockout stage of the In-Season Tournament, coughed up an 18-point second-half lead to the Kings as Malik Monk capped off the comeback with a game-winning bank job. Final score: Kings 124, Warriors 123.
The Warriors led this game by as many as 24 points. They were in total control. Of course, this is what the Warriors have always done. Giving away big leads is nothing new for these guys. Twenty turnovers? Thirty-one fouls? Sounds about right. The Warriors commit more turnovers per game than all but six teams, and only two commit more fouls.
What's different about these Warriors is when they decide to get serious and reach into their proverbial hat, there is no rabbit to pull out anymore. The magic is gone.
You want to sling the ball around with the precision of a leaf blower? You want to send the Kings to the free-throw line 42 times? You're going to lose. The Warriors have now dropped eight of their last 10 games after starting the season 6-2.
Even that start was deceiving. It required two game-winning shots, one against these Kings and another against Oklahoma City. Golden State is a few seconds from being 6-12 right now.
Two guys have taken the bulk of the blame for Golden State's sluggish start: Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins. Neither has been good. Wiggins has been especially bad. But he was great on Tuesday, scoring 29 efficient points to go with 10 rebounds.
Thompson had 20. Draymond Green was back. Curry had 29. The Warriors shot over 41% from 3 as a team. Gary Payton did his thing. On the flip side, De'Aaron Fox missed eight free throws and Domantas Sabonis struggled, which is becoming a real theme against the Warriors.
The point is, just about everything went right for the Warriors on Tuesday. And they still lost. Because they are undisciplined. They hack like fools and value the ball only as waywardly as they can throw it. And they are not good enough to dig out of their own holes anymore. It's as simple as that.
If you want to swig out of a half-full glass, there are signs of life for Thompson. After failing to reach 20 points in his first 13 games, he has now done so in three of his last four. His 3-point percentage has been climbing. His "what in the world are you doing?" shot selection has, relatively speaking, become more palatable. You can tell yourself this will be the start of a Wiggins resurgence.
But right now, these are just hopes. And not very high ones. The bar that Thompson and Wiggins have set for themselves this season isn't exactly difficult to clear. They're going to sprinkle in good games and even good stretches. But there's a lot of evidence that the bad will increasingly outweigh the good.
Of course, it's easy to say all they have to do is stop fouling and turning the ball over. Those sound like, and to some degree are, self-inflicted wounds. But at this point the turnovers are a product of deeply ingrained habits. They are simply a part of the Warriors' free-wheeling fabric, same as hotheaded technical fouls are part of the Draymond Green experience.
For the Warriors, to just decide to stop turning the ball over is about as likely as Draymond just deciding to keep quiet.
As for the fouling, yes, some of it is a matter of discipline, or lack thereof. But some of it, if not most of it, is that the Warriors are just overmatched. They're small. They're slow on the perimeter.
Fans always think the fix is in when their team is on the wrong end of the whistle, but more often than not the whistle goes in the favor of the aggressor. The Warriors are like an aging boxer trying to grab and hold their faster, stronger opponents just to stay in the fight.
That said, the Warriors are fighters. Don't ever doubt that. They still compete like crazy. It's commendable. There is not one part of their collective basketball soul that has ever rested on its laurels. Even in their heyday, the Warriors played every game like a team that had never won a thing, because they are comprised of a core that will never forget the doubt they endured.
Curry basically wasn't recruited. Thompson was more famous for his father than his college career at ho-hum Washington State. Green was a second-round pick. All three of them have held tightly to the chip on their shoulder. Thompson is still out here trying to prove something. Green remains a madman. Curry is an all-time competitor.
The Warriors are still a good team, I believe. Just not good enough to overcome the worst of themselves. Which, unfortunately, is part of who they are. And who they've always been.