Warriors

Four reasons the Warriors are wary of the Thunder

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AP

Four reasons the Warriors are wary of the Thunder

OAKLAND -- After losing two of three games this season to Houston, the Warriors remain unconcerned. They quietly believe they’d smash the Rockets in the postseason.

Despite a 2-2 season-series draw with Denver, the Warriors feel the same way about the Nuggets. Some of that likely relates to their postseason inexperience, which is a factor that also applies to the Timberwolves.

The Warriors swept the Trail Blazers last April and the Spurs last May and feel nothing would change in the 2018 playoffs.

Oklahoma City is a different beast. The Warriors fear no team, but there is at least an iota of trepidation regarding the Thunder, whose 108-91 thumping of the Warriors on Nov. 22 in Oklahoma City was at the time the most lopsided loss of the season.

Which is why OKC’s first trip to Oakland this season Tuesday night is rather fascinating.

For no fewer than four reasons, it’s likely that no postseason series within the Western Conference would challenge the Warriors as much as one against the Thunder.

Reason No. 1 is that OKC has three players -- Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Russell Westbrook -- capable of creating their own offense. All three are comfortable in isolation or pick-and-roll, and there is more of each in the postseason.

Reason No. 2 is the Thunder’s defense. OKC has been a top-5 defense all season mostly because 6-foot-7 shooting guard Andre Roberson elite on that end, while 6-9 forward Paul George and 7-foot center Steven Adams are above average.

This factor has been compromised with the season-ending injury Roberson sustained 10 days ago. The Thunder’s defensive rating was 101.8 though Dec. 30. It’s 107.0 since, with Roberson missing 13 of the 18 games. In the five games, for of them losses, since he left the lineup for good, the rating has soared to 108.4.

“When you lose a guy who is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, with that kind of length and mobility, it’s only natural that your defense is going to suffer,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’re probably going through a little bit of a spell now where they have to adjust and figure out rotations and that’s never an easy time in the NBA to deal with that.”

OKC is 24-15 when Roberson plays, 6-9 when he doesn’t. The Thunder reportedly are interested in Utah guard Rodney Hood, a solid defender and a much better scorer than Roberson. For now, they’ve turned to 19-year-old Terrence Ferguson, who has struggled. OKC coach Billy Donovan on Monday declined to say who would start at shooting guard against the Warriors.

The absence of Roberson makes the Thunder a bit less imposing, but not enough for the Warriors or any other potential opponent to presume anything.

Which brings us to Reason No. 3: Adams. Relentless in the paint and the league’s best offensive rebounder, he was a problem for the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, and he’d be a problem in the ’18 playoffs. Adams is far more athletic than Zaza Pachulia and much bigger than anybody else the Warriors have.

Reason No. 4 is the sideshow that would come with Kevin Durant facing his former team in the postseason. Even if Durant wouldn’t be bothered by it, the Warriors would just as soon skip a subplot that surely would be overheated to the point of exhaustion.

The Warriors don’t put much stock in regular season results. They learned two seasons ago that wins alone are not a good predictor of postseason success. They learned last season that could sweep a team, San Antonio, that clobbered them by 29 on opening night, when they unveiled Durant to the Bay Area audience.

Certain games, though, quicken the collective pulse of the Warriors more than others and OKC has to be one of them. And it comes at a time when the Warriors are trying, and not always succeeding, to shake pre-All-Star-break tedium.

“The excuse we had last week is no longer an excuse,” Kerr said. “We’re going to be in our own beds for the next week. We’ve got great teams coming in. We should feel like this is a week we can take advantage of.”

As the Warriors cast an eye toward April, they also know these next nine weeks matter. That’s plenty of time for them to find the best of themselves, something they’ll need no matter the opponents in the second season.

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

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AP

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

And so ends a thoroughly confusing half-season for the Golden State Warriors – doing all the things you love and hate them for in one fell swoop.
 
In losing, 123-117, at Portland, they showed their full game. Big game by one of the Gang Of Four (Kevin Durant this time)? Check. Lousy start? Check. Big rally after lousy start? Check. Defensive lapses? Check. Impassioned yet disgusted pregame soliloquy by Steve Kerr on the manifest inadequacies of modern American thought? Check, and mate.
 
Of those things, the Kerr attack on the Florida school shooting was the most meaningful development of an otherwise meh evening, but Kerr’s having to explain to us again what we should already know is almost a default position now – like everything else about this season.
 
The Warriors go into the All-Star Break in second place in the Western Conference, which is pretty much what they deserve. They have lost the standings initiative through the sin of boredom, and even if leading the conference at the All-Star Break is essentially meaningless (which it is), it is still fascinating to see so many people buying the argument that “they’ll get it together when they need to get it together.” Never has the argument that the regular season doesn’t matter been put so succinctly; not even Sam Hinkie and his Process fetish did it as well.

In other words, Kerr's latest attempt to re-focus the players lasted about as long as you figured it would.

Things can certainly change between now and June; most NBA observers are still banking on it. The notation “pulled attention span, questionable” does not enter their thoughts. They still see the Warriors as clearly superior in any series, and barring catastrophic injury regard them as essentially invulnerable over a seven-game series – which is an interesting analysis given that they’ve only played two, and lost one of those.
 
But unless the Warriors put on a game-by-game pyrospectacular from this point forward and wipe out all traces of this half-plus of the season, this year will be remembered as the oddest of their run. They seem to have given in to their own hype, believing as we all do that they are merely a toggle switch that only needs an educated thumb to start the engines churning again – which they might well be, no matter how occasionally dissatisfying that may seem to the proletariat.
 
If they win their third title in four years, they will meet expectations without exceeding them, and this season is the first of their four long and delightful seasons that actually seems to be providing more length than delight. This is not condemnation, but rather a reminder that not every plan goes according to plan, and winning gets harder each time it is accomplished. That is the lesson of 2018 – so far, anyway.

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Steve Kerr is hurt and disillusioned and angry. He is completely fed up with government inertia in the face of epidemic gun violence that frequently manifests itself in mass shootings such as that which occurred Wednesday in Florida.

The Warriors coach is on this subject among the broadening chorus of voices, every one of them existing in a vacuum.

Everybody hears it, every time, but those within power structure never listen, for if they truly did they would take responsible preventive action.

In the wake of this latest tragedy it was evident Kerr, even as he prepared to coach the Warriors against the Trail Blazers in Portland, was particularly shaken.

His visage wore the news of another unhinged soul shooting up a school. At least 17 are dead, the vast majority of them students at Majory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. And the casualty count is likely to rise.

“Nothing has been done,” Kerr said with visible contempt. “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death, day after day, in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country, to actually do anything. And that’s demoralizing.

“But we can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they’ve financed their campaign.”

Yes, he went there. Kerr urged American voters to seek out and support political candidates independent of the powerful National Rifle Association and, therefore, willing to generate momentum toward enacting responsible gun laws.

He barely bothered to address the current government, opting instead to plead with the voting public. Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

There is every indication that voices such as that of Kerr will not be silenced. He spoke passionately and from personal experience. His life was touched by gun violence in the most extreme fashion when his father, Malcolm, an educator, was assassinated at a school in Beirut 34 years ago last month.

Kerr is not alone in this quest for action. Many others joined in.

Former player Steve Nash, a Warriors consultant bound for the Hall of Fame, expressed his feelings on Twitter: “The rest of the world is having success prohibiting access to guns. I don’t see what the debate is about. It’s not working here. People are dying at alarming rates. If you value guns more than life and safety I don’t understand.”

Jared Dudley, a member of the Phoenix Suns and one of more respected veterans in the NBA, spoke up via Twitter: “So sad man! Gotta change theses Gun laws! I’m tired of the slogan guns don’t kill people only people kill people.. Change the Law!”

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell kept his message to six words, printing “End gun violence” on his right shoe and “Pray for Parkland” on his left.

Mitchell’s mother is a teacher.

Here’s Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins: “How do we stop this? When will there be proactive change from our government leaders to address the complexity of why this keeps happening? Praying for those affected in Parkland. And Orlando, and Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and every other senseless and tragic shooting.”

And former NFL player Damien Woody: “I’m just over here thinking about how we as a society use the term ‘pro life’ . . . days like today doesn’t do it justice.”

And Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, quote tweeting the obligatory “prayers and condolences” tweet from President Trump: “Yea.. but the fact is that they AREN’T safe. Just more rhetoric and no action. WAKEUP!!!!”

Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

Wednesday was the 45th day of this calendar year -- and the 18th school shooting. Quick math tells us that equals two every five days, 10 every 25 and 20 every 50.

Many children of color grow up with violence. Studies have proved that the experience traumatizes them to varying degrees. There are neighborhoods all across these United States in which children are as afraid of law enforcement as they are of street gangs. It’s how they grow up.

The powerlessness and apprehension is growing each day. And each time our elected leaders choose to look the other way while holding open their duffle bags to accept NRA cash, the sense of despair gets deeper.

How many children will go to school today and tomorrow and all the days after that feeling anxieties they should not have to bear in a so-called civilized society?

They’ll be looking over their shoulders. They’ll be wondering about the student whose temper is a bit too quick and hot. They’ll be trying to avoid the student who is too much of a loner or makes threats. They’ll be wary of the bully and the bullied. They’ll be trying to escape those that pose with firearms on social media.

The despair is real, and if you look into the eyes of the young you can feel it.

“Hopefully, we’ll find enough people first of all to vote good put people in,” Kerr said. “But, hopefully, we can find enough people with courage to actually help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues, not building some stupid wall for billions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety, but actually protecting us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semiautomatic weapons just slaughtering our children. It’s disgusting.”

Kerr is among those willing to speak up and advocate for change. There are others. And they will be joined by many more who will make it their mission to follow the example of most every civilized society.

If the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, a single day, could persuade our government to take steps to make air travel safer, how many deadly events does it take to grow the principle and power to say no to the NRA and yes to the safety of children?

Is anybody listening?