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


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.”

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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.”

Curry takes 'unpopular position' on All-Star draft, has picked assistant GMs


Curry takes 'unpopular position' on All-Star draft, has picked assistant GMs

Steph Curry will be one of the leading players in the NBA's new experiment with the All-Star Game.

Curry and LeBron James will pick the teams from the pool of available All-Stars. Conferences are no more, giving the game a completely different look.

"It's the first time it's happened in the league, so you really don't know what to expect or how it's going to unfold, and just specifically, what it will look like on the floor with mixmatched rosters. LeBron has been an All-Star, what 14 straight years? And he's been with Eastern Conference guys every year, so to see him have to pick some Western Conference guys and vica versa, us in the West, you have the staple guys that are there every year. So to switch it up, I think it's going to be a fun look on the floor. Might take some getting used to, but the actual draft part of it will be cool<' Curry said to reporters after shootaround in Houston on Saturday.

LeBron has the first pick since he received more total votes than Curry. So that sets up the dynamic that LeBron picks Warriors forward Kevin Durant.

"That's a possibility. I'm putting together an assistant GM staff that can help me get my draft board and all that stuff and know how to respond if he picks a certain way. Get the algorythm going," Curry said.

Curry's assistant GM staff will consist of his father Dell and brother Seth.

"I may have to ask Riley and see what she thinks," Curry joked.

All-Star reserves will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 23 and it's possible Draymond Green and Klay Thompson could be among the players Curry can select. Does he feel an obligation to pick them if they are available?

"I don't feel obligated. I would want to. To have the opportunity to play with them on the All-Star Game court, that's what it's all about, kind of embracing that moment, so we'll see how it goes," Curry said.

The big debate surrounding the new All-Star Game format is whether or not the draft should be televised or the results made public. As of right now, the NBA has no plans to show the draft on TV or reveals the order in which players were drafted.

"We've had a lot of dicsussions around that. There's a lot of people in favor of watching it live. There's also a lot of people that understand the reasoning why it's not this year. I'm sure as the new format unfolds year after year, it'll happen. But it won't be this first time," Curry said.

So which way does Curry lean in the debate?

"I've always been a proponent of protecting the players. I know that's kind of the unpopular position. I know we're all grown men, we can all handle it, We're all All-Stars, but we want to see how the new format the first time so it's presented in the right light," Curry said.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr doesn't believe players should worry about where they get drafted.

"No shame in being the last All-Star picked. You're still an All-Star," Kerr said after shootaround.

The All-Star teams will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 25 and game will take play Sunday, Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.

Gameday: Warriors won't have key defender against Rockets


Gameday: Warriors won't have key defender against Rockets

The Warriors will be chasing franchise history at Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday, when they face the Rockets in a battle of the NBA’s highest-scoring teams.

Pregame coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area begins at 4:30, with postgame coverage immediately following the conclusion of the national telecast.

The defending champions have won their last 14 road games, tying the franchise record set in 73-win season of 2015-16. The Warriors (37-9) are two wins away from tying the NBA record of 16 consecutive road wins set by the Lakers in 1971-72.

A victory also would give the Warriors a perfect record (5-0) in their most difficult road trip of the season.

The Rockets (31-12) spent the first two months of the season atop the Western Conference and are expected to provide the greatest threat to the Warriors making a fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals.

Warriors by 3.5

Klay Thompson vs. James Harden: One week after Thompson faced one foe from his childhood foes in Southern California, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, here comes another in Harden. That Harden is playing on a recovering hamstring and will be on a minutes restriction could work in favor of Thompson and the Warriors. Thompson has been playing well; he’s having his best season. He’ll be a load for Harden or any defender, especially with starting wing Trevor Ariza out serving a suspension.

Warriors: F Andre Iguodala (L calf contusion) was ruled out after shootaround. F Jordan Bell (L ankle inflammation) is listed as out. C Damian Jones is on assignment with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

Rockets: F Trevor Ariza (suspension), F/G Gerald Green (suspension), F/C Chinanu Onuaku (sinus surgery) and PF Zhou Qi (R elbow suergery) are listed as out.

LAST 10:
Warriors: 9-1. Rockets: 6-4.

Derrick Stafford (crew chief), Derrick Collins, Kevin Scott

The teams split the first two of three games scheduled this season, each winning on the other’s court. The Rockets came back for a 122-121 victory on Oct. 17 at Oracle Arena and the Warriors taking a 124-114 decision on Jan. 4 at Toyota Center. The Warriors won three of four meetings last season and 12 of the last 14 overall in the regular season. They have won eight of the last nine in Houston.

EYES ON THE ARC: Whereas the Warriors routinely deploy the 3-point shot, the Rockets live by it, firing league-leading 43.5 triples per game. The Warriors are better at it, though, shooting a league-leading 38.9 percent to Houston’s 36.3. The teams have combined to shoot 151 3-pointers in their two meetings this season. The Warriors are 10th in the league at defending the 3, while the Rockets at 22nd.

THE BENCHES: The Rockets have the No. 2 (by net rating) bench in the league, behind reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, who leads the league in 3-point attempts (9.7 per game), and rugged forward PJ Tucker, a defensive specialist. The Warriors counter with the No. 1 bench, anchored by Andre Iguodala and David West. The benches rank 1-2 in effective field-goal percentage, with the Warriors on top.

THE LOONEY FACTOR: The absence of exciting rookie power forward Jordan Bell means possible minutes for JaVale McGee and certainly an additional load for Kevon Looney. He has played well enough that even if he doesn’t start, he’s likely to play more minutes than usual starter Zaza Pachulia -- as was the case when the teams met on Jan. 4.