Warriors already in a playoff crucible

OAKLAND, Calif. -- With the Golden State Warriors, regular-season games don't look like regular-season games anymore. It's not just the thousands showing up early to watch Stephen Curry loft shots solo, or the palpable buzz that follows a team off to the best ever record through 51 games. It's also the games themselves, where opponents play stars over 40 minutes and install playoff adjustments months early. Golden State's 123-110 win over the Houston Rockets was a reminder of how teams would rather get creative than surrender to inevitability.

On Tuesday night, Houston, as Oklahoma City did before them, had a wing play defense on Draymond Green. Trevor Ariza, traditionally tasked with stopping Klay Thompson, was asked to defend Golden State's versatile power forward. It's not a bad idea, considering how this setup allows Ariza to switch onto Curry when Green screens for his point guard. It also paid some dividends on a night when Thompson wasn't punishing Houston.

After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the tactic, "Teams are doing that more and more because he is such a good playmaker. It makes sense and it's a good strategy, but we have lots of playmakers and we feel comfortable no matter what people do."

It might have proved decisive if not for Curry's 19 first-quarter points (35 total, nine assists), Golden State's balletic transition plays and Andrew Bogut's defensive dominance around the rim. In short, putting a wing on Green was a good idea that was undone by everything else the Warriors can be on a random evening in February. Thompson goes cold, but Harrison Barnes steps up and Andre Iguodala plays with force. None of it works without Curry, but the Warriors almost always have enough applied talent to compensate for whatever else goes wrong.

Maybe, just maybe, the league is only augmenting this monster of their nightmares, forcing it to grow even more fearsome.

"We get everybody's best shot and it makes us a better," Curry said of the defensive adjustments this season. "I think it'll test us and allow us to be even more comfortable when the playoffs do roll around because we pretty much have seen everything."

Bogut struck a similar chord, saying, "I think it's good for us. There won't be any surprises once the playoffs turn around for us. We've seen everything at this point."

Bogut added: "They've put smalls on Draymond, they've put bigs. They've tried everything in the book. We have counters to pretty much anything that they try."

So far, nothing opponents do is working. It's been 10 games since the Warriors trailed at any point in a fourth quarter. Golden State eventually has to hit a rut; nobody stays up forever. Maybe it'll have something to do with center Festus Ezeli missing time due to exploratory left knee surgery. So far, in typical Warriors fashion, the misfortune of Ezeli's absence seems to have propelled Marreese Speights into improved play. In this charmed season, even calamity has silver linings.

In the meantime, teams will continue to test Golden State, hoping to crack them, hoping to solve what's flummoxed a sport. Ironically, and maybe tragically from their perspective, it might help the best get even better.