Mark Jackson loves his team. He says this repeatedly, with conviction and credibility. And his team has spent most of this season loving him back.
Now it's time for the Warriors coach to put some tough in his love, to go digging in search of whatever edge his team might have. It's time for the Rev. Jackson to deliver a few sparks of corrective discipline from his coaching pulpit.
The Warriors enter the defining weeks of the season with more unsolved problems than a trigonometry textbook. They can't repair the holes in their rebounding, can't break the habit of turnovers and can't figure out how to finish off reeling, susceptible opponents.
Moreover, they've lost the defensive pluck that was at the core of their splendid start, the 30-17 record over the first 47 games that convinced most of Planet NBA, and certainly their long-suffering fans, they belong in the playoffs.
The Warriors return to Oracle Arena on Monday night having lost four in a row and 10 of 13, looking like a team that gets less mileage from a hug than a blunt kick to the rump.
Jackson, generally measured and relentlessly supportive, no matter the circumstances, finally might be ready to deliver that.
He clearly -- and justifiably -- was irked after his team's 104-97 loss to a Philadelphia team that was on a respirator before the Warriors showed up Saturday.
Asked about sloppy offense (19 turnovers), poor rebounding (35 to Philly's 48) and
"We don't win games on the offensive end," he growled.
"Our problem was not offensively," Jackson continued. "Our problem was defensively. They scored (and) we turned the basketball over. So I'm not concerned about teams double-teaming (Curry). His numbers were impressive, so the double-team wasn't effective. Our offense is not going to win ballgames. Defensively is how we got it done, and taking care of the basketball. Those things right now are hurting us."
Poor defense is at the top of a substantial list of factors conspiring to undermine any chance of the Warriors maintaining their grip on a postseason berth. They're sitting in the No. 6 spot, just ahead of No. 7 Utah and No. 8 Houston.
And the Lakers, who have stabilized well enough to climb into the No. 9 spot, remain a serious threat as long as Kobe Bryant extends his savage battle with Father Time.
This 1-4 road trip surely influences the way the Warriors feel about themselves. Their self-assurance entering February was solid, as much a product of Jackson's constant praise as their own success. And, yes, the coach was right to express love and admiration.
Jackson knows he's the central figure in rehabilitating this abused franchise, one accustomed to futility that has punctured its collective self-esteem. His players are not familiar with NBA prosperity and needed positive reinforcement.
With the coach singing in the perfect pitch, playing notes in the right key, it was coming together beautifully.
But after a month of blown leads and amateurish cross-court passes, of failing to meet the elemental requirement of blocking out and missing shots at the rim, of standing idly as opponents stroll in for layups and dunks, the Warriors are back to wondering.
Where has it gone wrong? Are we as good as we thought? How do we fix this? Can we?
David Lee has regressed. Jarrett Jack has come back to reality. Klay Thompson remains in a maddening pattern, breaking your heart more often than he warms it. Rookie Harrison Barnes isn't bringing it every night and doesn't yet know how.
Though Jackson weeks ago sat among the leading contenders for Coach of the Year -- and remains in the hunt -- he now must skillfully navigate his team through the next 45 days to avoid the kind of catastrophic collapse that has gotten many a coach pink-slipped.
Quality NBA teams realize the games of November and December are irrelevant in March and April; how confident are the Knicks, who posted two 20-point wins over Miami before Christmas, after eating a six-point home loss to the Heat on Sunday?
The Warriors aren't as good as the 52-win pace set through their first 47 games nor as bad as the 19-win pace at which they've played over the past 13. They're somewhere in between. Where, exactly, depends on if they can respond after recalling how awful they were before discovering defense.
It's time for Jackson to remind them, to prove he can convey his love while providing strength and direction, guiding with a firm and demanding hand.
It's time the Warriors recover and grow up. If they can't do it at home, where they play 16 of their final 22 games, including the next seven, they don't belong in the postseason.