Warriors

Warriors afflicted with visible malaise, biggest challenge is themselves

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USATSI

Warriors afflicted with visible malaise, biggest challenge is themselves

SACRAMENTO -- The Warriors have six games to play before they can take a deep breath and get refreshed. At this rate, they’ll be fortunate to win half of them.

If ever there were a time for them to sharpen focus and summon energy, it was Saturday night. They were coming off a zestless performance in Utah that resulted in 30-point loss, their worst of the season. They were facing Kings, who only wish they could play at a level near the Warriors.

A team that when last they met, on Nov. 27, outplayed the Warriors in Oracle Arena.

That was not enough to motivate them to play as we’ve come to know and expect. The Warriors came out sluggish and sloppy, falling behind 20-7 in the first six minutes before fighting though their malaise and mistakes well enough to sweat out a 119-104 victory at Golden 1 Center.

“We won,” coach Steve Kerr said, finding the only sliver of goodness in this grotesque effort.

“We just found a way,” Stephen Curry said.

More accurately, the Warriors stumbled into a way, tripping over 25 turnovers -- one off their season high -- from activities that ranged from the foolish to the ridiculous to the pointless.

Passes sailed out of bounds, bounced into vacated areas and directly into the hands of the Kings. There were times when it seemed the Warriors were in another dimension, one in which the object is to do all they could to give the opponent every possible opportunity.

“Just throwing the ball to the other team or just out of bounds,” Kerr said.

This was, for the second consecutive game, Warriors basketball at its worst relative to their champion status. They didn’t care to defend against the Jazz and while they improved in that area against the Kings, they couldn’t be bothered with fundamentals.

Curry committed six turnovers, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green five apiece, Zaza Pachulia and Pat McCaw three each. The Warriors were fortunate not to be playing a more formidable team.

“It directly correlates to focus,” Green said. “And it’s that time of year when focus is a little hard to come by. We’ve just go to try to figure it out.”

Kerr didn’t disagree, blaming the last two performances on mental fatigue as well as this being the dog days of the season, the stretch from late January until the mid-February All-Star break when all 30 teams are struggling in one way or another.

“Our guys are dying to get to the All-Star break,” he said. “We’re limping to the finish line of the All-Star break. But we’ve got to fight through it until the break, and then we need to get the hell away from each other and go sit on a beach and relax.”

The Warriors get no break Saturday, as they arrive in Denver in the wee hours for a game against the Nuggets that tips off a 7 p.m. They return home for games against the Thunder on Tuesday, the Mavericks on Thursday, the Spurs on Feb. 10 and the Suns on Feb. 12. They conclude the pre-break schedule against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Feb. 14.

It’s six games in 12 days, with two of them against teams -- Denver and Oklahoma City -- that have beaten the Warriors this season. Two more games, against Dallas and Phoenix, are against the kind of lottery-bound bound group that also have exploited the ennui of the Warriors.

“We’ve just got to be professional,” Green said. “We’re a championship team. We know what it takes. There are going to be more games where you just don’t have it, but you’ve got to find a way to win.”

The Warriors earned every bit of their loss in Utah. They defended well enough when they had to against the lowly Kings, outscoring them 30-16 over the final 7:30.

They haven’t looked like the Warriors we’ve come to know since the final three quarters of the game against the Celtics last Saturday. They felt threatened in that game, but they clearly are having problems hearing alarms against teams that, on paper, don’t pose much of a challenge.

Right now, the greatest challenge to the Warriors is the Warriors.

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?