Warriors Cavaliers BasketballAt the start of the season, I really thought this Warriors team could play close to .500 for the season and contend for the final playoff spot in the West. I think it’s safe to say I was completely wrong.

After trading Stephen Jackson, and with rumors that Monta Ellis and Don Nelson could both be on their way out soon, this Warriors team looks much more likely to challenge for the top pick in next summer’s NBA draft than sniff anything close to a respectable record this season. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot to play for.

In my opinion, the key to the rest of this season will be determining which of the Warriors’ young players are worth building around. Guys like Stephen Curry, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Morrow, among others, need to play starter’s minutes the rest of the season, and they need to be allowed to play with the confidence and assurance that they will be allowed to play through mistakes (this means Nelson needs to give them a very long leash). At the end of the season, educated decisions can be made about this roster. Can Curry, Randolph and Morrow progress toward stardom while playing together on this team? Once that question is answered, it will be easier to make plans about how to shape this roster going forward.

We got a glimpse Tuesday night when the short-handed Warriors played the Cavaliers close in Cleveland. In that game, Curry played 41 minutes, Morrow 35 and Randolph 24. Each had moments in which they demonstrated their immense potential. Each also had moments in which they showed how young and inexperienced they are. We need to see more of those moments.

Against the Celtics tonight, I’m looking to see how Curry matches up against Boston’s dynamic young point guard, Rajon Rondo. Play Curry 40 minutes again and see how he attacks and defends Rondo. Play Morrow 30 or more minutes and see how he matches up against Boston sharp-shooter and veteran all-star Ray Allen. Whether you start Randolph or bring him off the bench, give him more than 30 minutes tonight and see how those comparisons to Kevin Garnett hold up in person. Let him play through his mistakes and see what he can do against the Big Ticket. That’s what the rest of this season should be about, sending out the Warriors’ youth against the NBA’s elite and determining their progress (or decline) each game.

We should also keep an eye on Ellis (as long as he’s here), Maggette, and some of the other Warriors’ veterans to see how they fit in with Golden State’s future plans. Should the Warriors keep them and their big contracts around, or look to trade them for young talent and cap space (if available) to try and speed up the rebuilding process?

I think a win is a near-impossibility tonight in Boston. A close loss would be a major moral victory. A double-digit loss is more likely. Let’s hope for an inspired, gutsy performance like the Warriors gave against the Cavaliers, and for more impressive play from the Golden State youngsters.

Here’s the Associated Press preview for tonight’s game.

Here’s a statistical comparison of the two teams.