Warriors take first long strides towards playoff mode

Warriors take first long strides towards playoff mode

OAKLAND -- Here comes the experimenting, followed by the evaluation, followed by the fine-tuning by the coaches.

And here come the players, with fuller engagement and higher focus and a dose of fury.

The Warriors opened the stretch run of the season Thursday night with a performance that was part rehearsal, part examination and part petri dish. They also won.

For much of the a 134-127 victory over the Clippers, the Warriors looked like a team taking its first long strides toward the finish line and for what’s to follow -- the playoffs, 51 days away.

“We’re definitely approaching it differently,” Draymond Green said. “We’ve kind of paced the whole way through, kind of talked about staying healthy and getting through the season the right way and getting ready for the playoffs.

“But we also understand that we’ve got to prepare for the playoffs. There’s 23 games left. You want to start building the right habits, go into the playoffs rolling.”

The Warriors quickly addressed one of their biggest issues, starting the game as if it mattered from the opening tip, closing the first quarter with a 34-23 lead. They shot 66.7 percent while holding the Clippers to 41.7 percent.

Hoping for an energy boost as well as the seeking the athleticism and length to deal with LA center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors coach Steve Kerr started JaVale McGee for Zaza Pachulia.

The move worked out fine; McGee generally did what was needed.

“We’ve got two centers that play two different ways,” Kevin Durant said. “Zaza comes in and gives us a different punch with his physicality and his smarts in the pick-and-roll, passing the basketball. And JaVale comes in and gives us guy that can put pressure on rim. Coach felt like we needed more pressure at the rim and it kind of opened us up a bit on the wings.

“We’re going to need both of those guys.”

Kerr’s tinkering didn’t stop there. He played 10 players in the first quarter, including the three veterans -- Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West -- who normally open the second quarter.

The Warriors also resorted to a lot of high pick-and-roll, particularly when the game tightened in the fourth quarter. It worked, with Stephen Curry repeatedly scorching the LA defense, scoring 11 of his game-high 44 points, including three 3-pointers, in the final 6:50.

“We’re just tweaking a couple things, just to take a look,” Kerr said.

“A lot of that is on us as players to be mindful of that and understand what’s working,” Curry said of the strategy. “Until a team stops it you have to continue to milk that play, that set.”

This was by no means a textbook show. There were too many live-ball turnovers, 15, leading to 24 LA points. There were some fundamental errors, particularly with boxing out, allowing the Clippers to put up 11 second- and third-chance shots.

And, moreover, there was the blowing of a lead that was as high as 18 early in the second quarter. The Clippers cut it to 12 at the half and got as close as two in the final minutes.

“We could’ve knocked them out earlier,” Kevin Durant said. “We had three turnovers in a row. I think that gave them life. When we’re up by that much we just have to be solid, make the right plays, continue to hit singles like we talk about and know that we’re up 17, the next play we might not knock them out but if we hit two or three good plays in a row, they might be done.

“Once we get to that, we’re going to take the next step and go to the next level. We’re already at a high level. “

There will be more experimenting by the coaching staff, and some of it will involve Jordan Bell, who has been out for five weeks but could return as early as Saturday. There will be greater focus and fewer careless turnovers.

“We had our moments tonight,” Kerr said. “Our talent took over. But we’ve still got some work to do.”

That they do. The All-Star break is over. If their work against LA is any indication, the Warriors are altering their mentality, increasing urgency and aggression. They looked like a different team than that which went 4-4 over its last eight games.

The coaches know what it takes to, and so do the players. They’ve done it before. They have the goods to do it again. That much was evident Thursday night.

Gameday: What Warriors team will show up first game after All-Star break?

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USATSI

Gameday: What Warriors team will show up first game after All-Star break?

OAKLAND -- The Warriors open the stretch run of the season Thursday night, when they face the Los Angeles Clippers at Oracle Arena.

Coverage on NBC Sports begins at 6:30, with tipoff scheduled for 7:35.

The Warriors (44-14) in recent weeks have been inconsistent by their standard, going 4-4 since their Jan. 27 victory over Boston. At the sight of the Clippers, the defending champs usually find their bearings.

LA (30-26) has undergone major reconstruction over the past eight months, trading perennial All-Stars Chris Paul (last June 28) and Blake Griffin (Jan. 29). In their place are Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris. Bradley will not play Thursday night.

BETTING LINE

Warriors by 11

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Stephen Curry vs. Austin Rivers/Lou Williams: Rivers has missed much of the season with an ankle injury but has returned to the starting lineup. Rivers is averaging career-highs in points (15.5 pg) and assists (3.7 pg). Curry doesn’t mind teaching a few things to the league’s youngsters. Williams is back in his Sixth Man role, but Curry remembers Jan. 10, when Williams torched the Warriors for 50 points. That’s the kind of thing that lights Curry’s competitive fire.

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: F Jordan Bell (L ankle inflammation) and G Pat McCaw (L wrist fracture) are listed as out.

Clippers: G Avery Bradley (sports hernia), G Patrick Beverley (R knee surgery) and G Jawun Evans (lower abdominal soreness) are listed as out.

LAST 10

Warriors: 6-4.

Clippers: 7-3.

GAME OFFICIALS

Mike Callahan (crew chief), Nick Buchert, Gediminas Petraitis.

SERIES HISTORY

The Warriors have won two of three meetings this season, 141-113 on Oct. 30 in Los Angeles and 121-105 on Jan. 6 in LA. The Clippers prevailed in the most recent meeting, Jan. 10 in Oakland, snapping a 12-game losing streak against the Warriors. The Warriors are 13-2 against the Clippers in the Steve Kerr era.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

THE 1Q BLUES: The Warriors have entered the second quarter trailing by double digits in four of their last five games. They’re 3-2 during that span. It’s a tendency they want to shed and, given the rising stakes at this point of the season, likely will.

Klay 10K: Klay Thompson has 9,995 career points and needs two points to surpass Joe Barry Carroll and move into 10th place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Thompson is five points away from the 10,000-point milestone for his career.

THE BENCH: The Warriors have gotten big boosts from their second unit, with David West, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston joining Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. They’d to see a bit more consistency from Nick Young and more production for Omri Casspi. Now would be great time to show it.

Jordan Bell scrimmages with Warriors, inches closer to return

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AP

Jordan Bell scrimmages with Warriors, inches closer to return

OAKLAND -- Jordan Bell, who has missed the past five weeks, participated in a full-contact scrimmage Wednesday and could be available to return to the Warriors as early as this weekend.

“He looked good,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He went through everything, no noticeable limp or anything like that.”

Bell sustained a bone bruise of his left ankle on Jan. 17 against the Bulls in Chicago. The injury resulted in lingering inflammation. He will be reevaluated Thursday to see if he is ready to be cleared.

The rookie forward sounded as if he’s very close to returning to the court.

“I think it should be as soon as possible,” he said. “I thought today I had a good practice. It didn’t give me any problems. We’ll see how it reacts tomorrow.”