The Warriors’ hopes of a strong finish hinge on addressing troubling road issues

Should the Warriors tumble into the play-in tournament, or worse, the pre-playoff diagnosis will be simple and short and deeply ominous.

Lousy defense, starting with drowsy first quarter, on the road.

Another forgettable start on the road Tuesday night set another dire tone, and the lack of recovery punched another hole in the Warriors’ hopes of sending a fearsome late-season message to the rest of the NBA.

A 137-128 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City dropped them to 0-16 this season when trailing after a quarter on the road.

For the 25th time in 32 road games, the Warriors trudged into the visitors’ locker room wearing defeat, searching not for answers but for reasons.

“I wish I knew,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at the Paycom Center. “Obviously if I knew, I would tell the team what happened. But the slow starts have been really consistent. We changed the grid tonight and it didn’t make a difference. We still fell behind right away.”

It took a little more than three minutes for OKC to take a 13-2 lead, and a 9-0 run in the final minute of the first quarter created a 40-30 lead. The Warriors got back into the game, but never really slowed down the Thunder’s offense.

“We executed very well; we shot 53 percent from the field,” Klay Thompson. “Our defense wasn’t very good at all.”

And yes, once again, the defense—or lack thereof—deserves most of the blame. Golden State, whose road defense is rated only ahead of the Spurs and Rockets, saw OKC shoot 53.2 percent from the field, including 45.9 percent from deep.

Can’t send a menacing message without posing a threat in road arenas, especially when that’s where Golden State will play most of its remaining games.

The Warriors are down to their last 16 games, seven at the Chase Center and nine elsewhere. As defending champions trying to revive a faltering dynasty, the task has been much more difficult than they might have imagined.

“I don’t care what you’ve done in the past or what type of talent you have, there are certain more momentum swings that make it even more difficult,” said Stephen Curry, whose 40-point barrage came to nothing. “And we haven’t proven that we can overcome them with raw talent. We’ve got to keep holding ourselves accountable to those moments where you give the other team life, whether it’s a turnover or a missed box-out or not driving back in transition.”

There were turnovers, 21. There were missed box-outs, a factor in the Thunder’s 44-33 rebound advantage. And there was poor transition defense, which this season has become a fixture.

All of these obligations will be revealed during video review, just as they have been revealed in previous sessions. The problem is not the inability to see the problems, but the failure to consistently solve them along the way.

The Warriors are the NBA’s third-best defensive team (108.1 rating) at home, the league’s 28th-best (119.0) on the road. Thus, the 27-7 record at the Chase Center, the 7-25 record away from the nest.

Back-to-back road losses to teams — the Lakers on Sunday in LA — that sat below them in the Western Conference standings dropped the Warriors from fifth to sixth — the lowest possible guaranteed postseason berth.

And now they are on their way to Memphis, where Golden State meets the Grizzlies on Thursday, who had a tenuous hold on second place, but who own the league’s second-best record (26-5) at home.

“We’ve got some things to clean up if we’re going to turn this around on Thursday,” Thompson said.

“I’m always confident. That’s why we show up,” Curry said. “But you want to have something to show for it at some point.”

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It’s just that. The Warriors have discussed these issues ad nauseam. They know poor defense is the reason. They also realize, 66 games into the season, that they haven’t found a solution.

They are 0-2 on the road since switching to playoff mode last week. It causes no fear among opponents, and such sloppy road performances will be their undoing, whether before or during the postseason.

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