Warriors
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.