Ray Ratto

Warriors heighten expectations

curry_stephen_warriors_smiling_after_heat_win.jpg

Warriors heighten expectations

Once again Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors blew a golden opportunity to bring some calm, rational, sane perspective to their season.

They won in Miami. They won a close game in Miami. They won because a rookie saw a veteran overplay the wrong guy and another veteran not cover his overplay and broke to the basket wide open for the winning layup with .9 seconds to play.

[HIGHLIGHTS: Green's last-second layup gives Warriors win in Miami]

In other words, they continue to get people heated up about a season that would make We Believe look like We Feel Like Our Cough May Be Abating A Bit.

(It is at this point that we should warn those of you who are sarcasm-impaired that the rest of this story will continue along this vein. If you find that off-putting, confusing, or excessively left-handed, you should go somewhere else. Or grit your teeth and misunderstand it with all your might. The choice if yours. For the rest of you, we will continue).

In beating the defending NBA champions on their own floor for only the fourth time in 31 tries going back 20 years, the Warriors have done the unconscionable – they have forced a fan base accustomed to temper its hopes and expectations to ratchet them wildly upward.

And that means what, children? Demands, more expectations, more demands. Suddenly folks on the street are going to remember that they know more about basketball than the coaches and players, and that if they were only coaching or playing the team would be much better than the one which is currently on a pace to win 56 games.

(And yes, we know that “on a pace to” is the lousiest phrase in sports. Go with us here a bit, will ya?)

It means angst and arguing about what will happen when Andrew Bogut returns, and how Andris Biedrins should be in the rotation more, and when Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes are going to hit the rookie wall, and whether Carl Landry or Jarrett Jack should win Comeback Player of the Year.

[RELATED: Ratto -- What will Andrew Bogut's return mean to the Warriors?

It means bullying their way into conversations about the NBA that Laker and Heat and Celtic and Maverick and Spur and Thunder fans have been holding behind their backs for . . . well, 35 years now.

It means tavern fights.

All because the Warriors don’t know how to gradually escape earth orbit. They are 5-0 on a seven-game road trip, entering Orlando Friday night – the same Orlando that so thoughtfully reminded them that the NBA is no place for children by slapping them on their own floor a week and change ago.

And all because they couldn’t turn down the thermostat a bit by losing at Washington the night after winning at Brooklyn.

And all because they are doing this while the Lakers are aggressively stinking out the division. They’ve suddenly become some sort of ESPN charity case, as though the Staples Center was damaged in Superstorm Sandy and desperately needs not only Steve Nash’s return but a relief concert with Billy Joel and Paul McCartney as the septuagenarian headliners.

Now how do the Warriors expect the customers to hold their pants on with all that happening?

It is this level of wasteful emotion that imperils what we have all safely and comfortably predicted for them – a nice 38- to 42-win season in which improvement is evident yet not overwhelming. It is a classic example of getting out over one’s skis, as the tragically hip like to say. They are Peaking Too Early.

Not for themselves, of course. They presumably have been told that every win now is a game that cannot be a loss later, and that playing defense and rebounding are not just a jocular repudiation of the failed basketball of the last two decades, but a way of life. They’re doing fine.

But in doing fine, they imperil the rest of us. The bandwagon hasn’t even been fitted for the second axle yet and already it looks like a refugee ship. The carefully crafted plan for slow, solid growth that can last more than a few years is being abandoned for the more fashionable win-two-out-of-every-three-games nonsense that has attracted the Heat and Mavs and Lakers and Spurs and Celtics.

We are faced with a choice far too early in our development – buy in now, buy in later, or don’t buy in at all. The third choice seems increasingly foolish, the second seems prudent but a bit Elmer Fudd-like, and the first just seems throw-the-empties-out-the-sun-roof reckless.

Warrior fans are not used to this level of agony before Christmas. This is plainly wrong and unfair, and the mass vertigo of the moment cannot be good for anyone’s constitution.

Maybe what the Warriors need, then, is a Great Time Out.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll run out the back door so as not to be struck by any flying beer steins.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

warriors-rivals-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

Earlier we discussed how the Golden State Warriors have seemingly moved beyond hating on NBA officials (three technical fouls in 18 days is a stunning reversal of their formerly disputatious form), but we may have forgotten one new reason why they have found a more Buddhist approach to the cutthroat world of American competitive sport.

They lack someone new to hate.

Their much-chewed-upon rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers actually lasted two years, and now the Clippers are busy trying to prevent military incursions into their locker room from the Houston Rockets. Their even more famous archrivalry with the Cleveland Cavaliers seems to be imploding – with the total connivance of the Cavs themselves – before our eyes. Even cutting off their hot water made them laugh when two years ago not letting the Warriors' wives get to the game on time torqued them mightily.

And since we know that you locals desperately need a bête noire for your heroes (even though their biggest foe is actually their own attention spans), let us consider the new candidates.

HOUSTON

The Rockets have been among the Warriors’ most persistent contender/pretenders, having faced them in both the first round of the 2017 postseason and the conference finals in 2015. Both ended in 4-1 Warrior wins as part of a greater piece – Golden State is 19-4 against the Rockets in the Warriors’ bad-ass era, 10-2 at home and 9-2 on the road, and has finished an aggregate 59.5 games ahead of the Rockets in the past three and a half years.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include James Harden and Chris Paul, while Rockets fans loathe Draymond Green and Kevin Durant and work their way down from there.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 32,353): 19. The Rockets need to win a playoff series before even matching the Clippers, who as we all know came and went in a moment.

SAN ANTONIO

The previous platinum standard in Western Conference basketball, the Spurs have never really gone away, though they have aged. Their pedigree is not in dispute, and Steve Kerr has essentially become the next generation of Gregg Popovich. It is hard to create a rivalry out of such shamelessly mutual admiration.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include . . . uhh, maybe Kawhi Leonard for winning two Defensive Player Of The Year Awards instead of Draymond Green, though that’s not much to go on, frankly. Spurs fans hate Zaza Pachulia for stepping beneath Leonard and ending last year’s series before it started.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 23): 1. If they didn’t have to play against each other, I suspect these two teams would date.

OKLAHOMA CITY

The Thunder’s 3-1 collapse in 2016 is all but ignored now because the Warriors did the same thing one series later, but lifting Kevin Durant was quite the consolation prize for Golden State, and the definitive finger in the eye for the Thunder, who turned their team over completely to Russell Westbrook, for good and ill. Even with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are still trying to relocate their stride.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Westbrook and Anthony for defining the I-need-the-ball-in-my-hands-to-function generation, and owner Clay Bennett for Seattle SuperSonics nostalgics. Thunder frans hate Durant, followed by Durant, Durant, Kim Jong-un, Durant, leprosy, Draymond Green’s foot, and Durant.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 440): 220. Westbrook is a human lightning rod, Anthony is the antithesis of what Warriors now regard basketball (they’d have loved him a quarter-century ago), and Stephen Adams for getting his goolies in the way of Green’s foot. Plus, some savvy Warrior fans can blame OKC for extending their heroes to seven games, thus making the final against Cleveland that much more difficult. This could work, at least in the short term.

PORTLAND

Damian Lillard is a much-beloved local. Plus, the Blazers have never interfered in the Warriors’ universe save their 1-8 postseason record. There are no truly hateable players on either side, though Stephen Curry threw his first mouthpiece in Portland, and Green is a perennial.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 1): 0.

BOSTON

The new pretender to throne, with the Eastern Conference’s version of Kerr in Brad Stevens. Even better since taking advantage of Kyrie Irving’s weariness with LeBron James, and until proven otherwise the team the Warriors should most concern themselves with.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Irving, who made the only shot in the last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, while Celtics fans hate Durant for not signing with them.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 67.7): 26, though this will rise if the two teams meet in the Finals. The last time they did, Bill Russell owned basketball.

THE REST OF THE EAST

Still too remote to adequately quantify, though Toronto, Miami and Milwaukee are clearly difficult matches for the Warriors. If you put them together, Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Hassan Whiteside with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe coming off the bench, coached by either Eric Spoelstra or Jason Kidd, would make a fun team for the Warriors to play against. Probably not functional, but fun.

And finally:

SACRAMENTO

Some decade the two teams’ geographical proximity will matter, but for now, they remain essentially two full professional leagues away from each other. We just mentioned them so Kings fans wouldn’t feel any more slighted than they already do.

How? Why? In 2018, the Warriors have been borderline zen

ref-kerr-steve.jpg
USATSI

How? Why? In 2018, the Warriors have been borderline zen

On a day and night when 21 technical fouls were called and five players ejected over 11 National Basketball Association games, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers received none of either in a game that should have created enough tension to warm the Yukon. This clearly makes no sense . . .

. . . unless of course the Warriors, having set a new trend early in the season for agonized dissent, have moved on to whatever the next thing is.

While a simmering uncivil war has bubbled between officials (and the management types who started this whole thing by telling officials to cut down on conversations and calm interactions with players and coaches), the Warriors have been on as close to their best behavior as they can manage.

Since the new year turned, the Warriors have played eight games and amassed only three technicals, one to Steve Kerr and two to players (Zaza Pachulia and, yes, you guessed it, Draymond Green). Oh, they still lead the league with 29 spaced over eight players and Kerr, plus seven ejections led by Kevin Durant’s three, but their seemingly insurmountable lead has been reduced to three over Oklahoma City and Phoenix (Phoenix?) and four over Houston and Charlotte (Charlotte?).

Indeed, you’d think that they could have mustered up at least one Monday night in Cleveland given the hype for this seemingly dying rivalry. I mean, the league even offered up one of its best and most strident officials in Scott Foster, whom Warrior fans are convinced is deliberately mean to the Warriors.

But here, too, is an outdated trope. The Warriors are 14-1 in their last 15 regular season games with Foster, and their postseason record of 7-5 with him is more a measure of him getting the maximum number of Finals games, where the Warriors have seven of their 16 postseason defeats. That doesn’t prove bias as much as it does frequency of use.

But we wander into the woods here. The point is, as the new discussion point is the much-advertised summit meeting between officials and players union officials at the All-Star break, the Warriors have been borderline zen. Why? Who knows? Maybe player performance maven Chelsea Lane is putting tranquilizers into their athletic drinks. Maybe they’ve taken up chanting. Maybe they can turn their ire on and off as they do the rest of their game. Or maybe these are the dog days for mouthing off at The Man.

Except that everyone else in the league seems to be taking up the cause of the revolution, so that last one can't be it.

Now we are willing to accept the possibility that so many day games Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday put the players off their typical routine, although the biggest incident of the evening happened in the night game between Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers.

It may simply be, then, that the Warriors either have nothing more to complain about, have taken to heart the lectures about their lectures, or they really have moved on to the next thing that separates them from the field.

Maybe never losing a road game ever again. Although, tediously enough, that is a record already held by . . . yes, them.