Warriors

A unique strategy is one of the secrets to Warriors' prolonged success

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AP

A unique strategy is one of the secrets to Warriors' prolonged success

OAKLAND -- After 23 consecutive days in the state of California, nearly all of them at home, the Warriors are gliding into 2018. Despite injuries to three starters, two of them All-Stars, they were 13-2 in December and now own the NBA’s best record.

There are obvious reasons for this, and for the success the Warriors have enjoyed in recent seasons. Great talent and depth, healthy chemistry, exemplary work habits and skilled coaching has vaulted them to three straight trips to the NBA Finals while being the first team to average 69 wins over three seasons.

Another secret to their success is that the Warriors don’t do hard labor.

To ask players and coaches when the Warriors last endured a 5-on-5 scrimmage is to get a pause for recollection followed by a similar response.

“Training camp,” assistant coach Mike Brown says three months after training camp.

“I don’t think we’ve scrimmaged all year,” head coach Steve Kerr says.

“A full, 5-on-5 scrimmage?” Shaun Livingston says with a quizzical glance. “I don’t think we’ve done that since training camp.”

This approach is by design an important component of what essentially is a maintenance program put in place by Kerr and members of the training staff.

Unlike the NFL, where training camps last about three weeks, or MLB, where spring training goes on for about six weeks, NBA camps generally last about one week. All teams scrimmage in camp, but the vast majority still believe in regular scrimmages during the regular season.

The Chicago Bulls were scrimmaging two days before their season opener when forward Bobby Portis launched his fist into the face of teammate Nikola Mirotic, causing him to miss the first six weeks of the season.

Doc Rivers once put the Boston Celtics through a two-hour practice in January. And this was a veteran team with NBA Finals appearance in two of the previous three seasons. Ray Allen was 36, Kevin Garnett 35 and Paul Pierce 34.

The Warriors don’t see the value in that, particularly with this team.

“That’s a huge part of it,” Kerr says. “We definitely practiced a lot harder the first year I was here. We scrimmaged a lot more. Any time we had two days off before a game, we always scrimmaged on the second day. I felt like we needed to play.

“Now I feel like we need to NOT play. It’s about seeing the big picture. And there’s a comfort level in knowing what we are.”

Livingston, 32, is something of an authority on training and practice methods around the league. He has played for eight different teams in the 13 seasons since he was drafted fourth overall in 2004.

“There were teams, that if they lost a game, they were back practicing hard the next day, two hours maybe,” he recalls. “It was different. You would think coaches that played wouldn’t be like that. But I think some of them just believe this is the way to do it. ‘We did it this way, so this is the way you’re going to do it.’ I went through it, especially early on, with the Clippers and Mike Dunleavy. Larry Brown was that way in Charlotte.”

[RELATED: NBA Power Rankings -- Warriors ride Curry to the top]

Just because scrimmages have always been part of the regimen doesn’t mean the regimen always makes sense.

For the Warriors, most of their “practice time” is spent watching and studying video, rather than running the court. There is plenty of sweat, to be sure, but the idea is to keep players from feeling exhausted as they leave the facility.

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is known to push his players particularly hard. Starters on his teams in Minnesota, and when he was in Chicago, were always among the leaders in minutes per game. That the Timberwolves approach the midway point of the season as the NBA’s worst fourth-quarter defensive team is more likely natural result than coincidence.

His practice habits were no different. Thibodeau once called for a practice the day after the Bulls had played three games in four nights and seven in 11 days. His assistants and veteran players talked him down. He settled for a team meeting.

The Warriors on Saturday completed a stretch of three games in four nights and seven in 11 days. What did Kerr do? He gave the players consecutive days off. When they return to practice Tuesday, it’ll be in the wake of 60 hours of personal time.

“It’s a balance and a feel thing. Some days we get it right, some days we don’t,” Kerr says. “The biggest job for a coach, at least in my position, is to navigate the season, see the big picture.”

The Warriors believe in life/work balance as well as taking preventative steps to enhance health. Stress levels of the players are monitored regularly. There are yoga sessions with players and coaches following the lead of Lisa Goodwin, the team’s senior director of corporate communications and a yoga instructor.

The idea is to put players in position to perform at their best when it matters most and keep them as fresh as possible for a season that could last nine months.

This perspective is one reason David West is so comfortable with his decision to return to the Warriors. In the weeks after the Warriors won the NBA Finals last June, the 37-year-old forward/center pondered retirement. He’d finally achieved what he’d spent his career chasing. He earned himself a ring.

Retiring players, in almost every sport, don’t walk away because they’re tired of playing games. They generally cite practices and training routines as the factors that pushed them away from doing what they love. Why put up with the aggravation and put out the energy required to play well?

“That’s the luxury of being in a place like this, being with coach and people that understand that,” West says. “That’s not necessarily an issue in this environment. That’s what makes it work and why I’m able to play.

“Steve gets it. He understands that this is a long-haul thing and he understands that the way to get there should have the players’ health and sense of self and understanding and mental needs in mind.”

There was a moment earlier this season when Kerr thought maybe a scrimmage was in order. The Warriors, with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant sidelined, were defeated by the lowly Sacramento Kings at Oracle Arena and, on the following day, Kerr contemplated his response.

“We’d played very poorly down the stretch and we’ve got guys banged up,” Kerr says. “What are we going to do?”

Kerr consulted with his staff, and it was decided that the Warriors would do less, not more. The big picture always seems to win.

“We did a defensive segment that we shortened to six minutes, instead of 12,” Kerr says. “And then we did some skill work, conceptual work that’s not going to tax them but give them a good groove and work up a sweat.

“It’s just a feel thing. It helps that I played.”

What the Warriors are doing isn’t exactly revolutionary. The concept is not that different from the approach taken by the NFL Seattle Seahawks and their coach Pete Carroll, someone from whom Kerr has borrowed a few theories.

There is an acknowledgment of the needs of the players, on and off the court, something Kerr picked up from two of his coaches, Phil Jackson in Chicago and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, two of the top five coaches in NBA history.

Kerr believes in strategically resting players in certain games and going easier on the veterans, occasionally excusing them from even the usual light drills.

“From a player’s standpoint, especially an older player, you look at is as being able to preserve and prolong your career,” Livingston says. “It’s amazing. It’s the best job in the world, but we only get so long to do it. There’s a window. But if you can increase that window, what more could you ask for as a player?

“This situation provides a unique opportunity to do that. Steve likes to make sure guys are fresh for the games and the playoffs, so he doesn’t run us into the ground.”

Warriors brief: Klay Thompson on pace for best playoffs yet

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USATSI

Warriors brief: Klay Thompson on pace for best playoffs yet

When it comes to scoring, Klay Thompson is way ahead of pace of his previous playoff runs. It is clear that Klay has reached a comfort zone to start off the 2018 playoffs, scoring nearly 26 points per game on 63 percent shooting from the field and 65 percent shooting from deep. He has not scored less than 19 points through three games, and has not shot less than 50% from deep so far.

In last year's postseason, Klay struggled to find his shot. He only scored 19 points or more in four of the 17 games played, and shot 50 percent or better from three-point range in five of the 17 games. 

In the 2015-16 playoffs, Klay Thompson performed at an exceptional level. In 16 of his 24 games Klay scored 19 or more points and in 10 of the 24 games, he shot 50 percent or better from deep. 

As of now, he is far and away ahead of pace of even his stellar performance a couple years ago. It has only been three games, but so far, so great for Klay. 

It's hard to find a fault in any of Kevin Durant's play of late. His defense has jumped up a notch since the end of the regular season malaise, his rebounding numbers are consistent as usual, and he has even shared the ball with much success, averaging over six assists per game thus far in the playoffs. It takes a little nitpicking to find any issues in his game, but right now his three-point shot is just not falling. 

Deep Impact

Over the first 63 games he played in the regular season, Kevin Durant shot 43 percent from deep, which would have been a season high in long-range shooting and high atop the NBA leaderboard. However in the last eight games, including the playoffs, Durant has shot 28 percent from deep (15-of-53, to be exact). Durant really has not found any consistency with his three-point shot of late, especially if you eliminate the second half of Game 2 against San Antonio in which he made three of four attempts from deep,

Having said all of that, Durant has averaged nearly 27 points per game during that same eight-game stretch, and he has shot over 52 percent from the field in the playoffs so far. So a fair warning to the playoff challengers that lie ahead for the Warriors: Watch out for when Kevin Durant gets back into a three-point groove. 

With health No. 1 concern, Warriors aiming high for sweep of Spurs

With health No. 1 concern, Warriors aiming high for sweep of Spurs

SAN ANTONIO -- The Warriors now know that if they come into Game 4 Sunday with the same level of energy displayed so far in their first-round matchup against San Antonio, they’ll accomplish a series sweep.

They’re also starting to feel they might need to get a sweep.

They’ll be shorthanded again Sunday and could use the time to heal before the next round begins, as soon as next weekend. Five days to a week between games is as good as it gets.

With Stephen Curry out since March 23 -- and for at least another week -- the Warriors picked up two more aches in the final minutes of Game 3. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston both rolled their left ankles and left the game.

An hour later, Durant was walking without a discernable limp. Livingston spent plenty time on the trainer’s table and was walking with a very discernable limp.

Livingston wouldn’t rule himself out of Game 4, saying he’ll take Friday off, receive some intense treatment, and then see how he felt prior to practice on Saturday. Based on the visual, he’ll be sitting. And should be sitting.

Curry’s status was updated Friday. He has been cleared for “modified” practice activity beginning Saturday and will be reevaluated next April 27.

Game 1 of the next round of the playoffs could be as early as April 28.

In the hours after the Warriors’ 110-97 victory in Game 3 on Thursday, Klay Thompson pointed out some of the advantages of advancing as quickly as possible.

“Limit our road travel, expand our time to rest and get our best guys healthy, like Steph, KD and Shaun,” he said.

The Warriors almost certainly will need their best selves to deal with their next opponent next weekend.

There are 16 teams in the NBA playoffs, and none has been more surprisingly spectacular than the Pelicans. Suffocating the Trail Blazers on one end and shooting them into submission on the other, New Orleans is up 3-0 and on the brink of advancing.

It was evident from the buzz in the postgame locker room that the Warriors are impressed with the No. 6 seed Pelicans’ demolition of third-seeded Portland.

A week into the postseason, only the Warriors’ net rating of 20.2 is better than New Orleans’ 11.3. The Warriors are second in offensive rating, the Pelicans fifth. The Warriors are third in defensive rating, the Pelicans fourth.

New Orleans is thriving because point guard Rajon Rondo is fully engaged, Anthony Davis is playing with gusto and combo guard Jrue Holiday is reminding folks how terrific he was before his career was temporarily rerouted by injuries to himself and a serious health scare to his wife, former soccer star Lauren Holiday (nee Chaney).

“People forget, but he was really good when we were teammates,” said Andre Iguodala, who spent three seasons with Holiday in Philadelphia. “He could score, he could pass and he always could defend. He can do pretty much anything on the basketball court.”

It’s not that the Warriors are looking past the Spurs. It’s that they expect to win the series and realize they’ll need to be better should they advance.

“We have been in a decent rhythm,” Draymond Green said, referring mostly to the offense. “There is still another level we can get to and I have no doubt in my mind that we will get to that level.

“But, as bad as we were playing (to close the regular season), to kind of get to where we are is pretty solid. It’s still the first round, so . . . if you can still win and not be clicking and peaking at that time, that’s great. And I don’t think we are. It has been solid. We’ve been able to find a decent rhythm, but there are some things that we can clean up on that side of the ball and we will.”

That level is most easily reached when all four All-Stars are in the starting lineup. That can’t happen until Durant is healed -- he says he’s fine -- and Curry returns and vets Andre Iguodala, David West and Livingston are in their customary roles.

The Warriors likely win Game 4 even if Livingston joins Curry in street clothes on Sunday. Game 4 of the Pelicans-Blazers series is set for Saturday in New Orleans. Wins this weekend or early next week would have Warriors-Pelicans tipping off in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on April 28 or 29.

As Thompson indicated, the Warriors would like as much time as possible to heal and prepare. The way the Pelicans have been rolling, they’re going to need it.