Warriors

DeMarcus Cousins flashes potential in big-man battle with Joel Embiid

DeMarcus Cousins flashes potential in big-man battle with Joel Embiid

OAKLAND -- Thursday's matchup between the Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers was billed as DeMarcus Cousins' toughest test yet in his return from a torn Achilles tendon. The test being Philadelphia's center Joel Embiid, one of few humans in the NBA that actually holds a size advantage over Cousins.

The Warriors' big man definitely passed the test, all things considered. He won the battle -- well, at least the first portion. But Embiid and the Sixers won the war, 113-104 at Oracle Arena. 

"He's a great player," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Embiid. "He's got an old school low-post game and he'll go down on the block and he did a good job, but I thought we played solid defense on him. [Kevon Looney] did the best he could giving up a lot of size. I thought DeMarcus battled him, but he's a great player."

Things started much better for Cousins and the Warriors than they finished. Golden State raced out to a 20-12 lead midway through the opening quarter, at which point Philadelphia seemed to have no answer for Cousins. Sure, he had two points and a couple of boards, but it was his five assists in the first six minutes that really caused the Sixers problems.

"I'm just trying to make the right play," Cousins said of his first-quarter assists. "That's my whole objective every night is to go in and make the right play. Just finding a cutting man, finding an open shooter or making a play myself. I'm just out ther trying to make the right play."

[RELATED: Dubs' loss to 76ers clearly illustrates Klay's true value]

His defense against Embiid in the early portion was equally impressive. When Cousins checked out with 5:57 remaining in the first frame, Embiid had accounted for zero points, one rebound and four turnovers.

Philadelphia's center totalled just a single point and three rebounds in the first quarter, but Embiid found his (extremely large) footing shortly thereafter. He went into halftime one rebound away from a double-double, and was a one-man wrecking crew in a third quarter that saw the 76ers outscore the Warriors 42-26.

Embiid finished the night with 26 points and 20 rebounds. Cousins finished with seven and six, to go along with six assists and three steals.

Simply put, the matchup leaned more in Embiid's favor as the game wore on. That's to be expected, given Embiid's immense talent level, and Cousins' ongoing rehab.

"Obviously he's still coming back from an injury," Embiid said of Cousins. "I have a lot of respect for him. There was a lot of trash talk going on, but he's a great player and it's great."

Despite the fact Embiid won the head-to-head matchup and the game, Cousins came away ncouraged that better days are ahead.

"Obviously, I'm still not where I want to be," Cousins said after the loss. "I'm working my tail off every day to get back to being that player or better. This process isn't over for me ... just be patient with me."

[RELATED: McKinnie's first start in Dubs' loss a 'bittersweet moment']

The Warriors will play the 76ers one more time in the regular season, in Philadelphia on Mar. 2. Assuming no setbacks along the way, one would imagine Cousins will have shaken off considerable rust by then, and perhaps the individual center matchup is a different story that day.

But even if it isn't, it's not as if Embiid is a dime a dozen in the NBA. The Warriors likely won't encounter another center of his size and skill level throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs.

If Cousins' performance on Thursday is an indicator of what's to come, the Warriors have to be feeling great about their own big man in the middle.

Charles Barkley rips Draymond Green after ejection in Warriors' loss

Charles Barkley rips Draymond Green after ejection in Warriors' loss

One of the Warriors' biggest rivals comes off the court. He is a Hall of Fame nonetheless, but hasn't played in an NBA game in 20 years. 

Charles Barkley can't stop ripping on Draymond Green. The feud continued Thursday night when the fiery Golden State forward was ejected in the second quarter of a 30-point home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

"He had his normal triple-single," Barkley said during halftime on TNT. "Why doesn't he talk all the stuff whe he got them other boys with him? No, man. He talks all that stuff when he's got them other boys with him. Now he's out there and gotta fight for himself and he just don't wanna play. 

"Give me a break. Y'all better quit tellin' me you can play and who can't play. I know who can play." 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr expressed his displeasure with Green letting his emotions get the best of him after the game. The two often have butted heads but always let their close bond be known. 

It was clear Kerr was not happy Thursday night, though. 

"We needed him in the second half," Kerr said sternly to reporters. "We needed him out there." 

[RELATED: Kerr's frustrations boil over after Warriors hit new low]

Green left the game with two points, four assists and one rebound in 10 minutes. He's averaging 8.0 points, but his assists have dropped to 6.2 per game and his rebounds are down to 6.2 per game as well. The three-time All-Star is shooting just 38.9 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from 3-point range.

Both are his lowest since his rookie year. 

In a season where the Warriors have gone from five straight trips to the NBA Finals to the worst record in the league, tensions are to boil over at times. That certainly was the case in Golden State's latest blowout loss.

How Steph Curry's emotional return to Warriors will change everything

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NBC Sports Bay Area

How Steph Curry's emotional return to Warriors will change everything

Editor’s note: Kerith Burke, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors reporter, will take you inside the Dubs as only she can each Friday with the Ask Kerith Mailbag. Send her a question on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #askKerith.

Tip-Off

On Saturday the Warriors play in Phoenix, and Sunday they’re home to face the Wizards. The back-to-back features a major storyline: Steph Curry is expected back for that March 1 game against Washington. 

Steph said March 1 was “always the date” he carried in his mind so that he could have a moment on the calendar to work towards. It’s finally here.

A word of caution, though. Steve Kerr said it’s “the hope” that Steph plays Sunday, but it is not a guarantee yet. We will find out his status officially from the team on Friday or Saturday.

Sunday is an early tip-off at 5:30 p.m. The Wizards are fighting for a playoff spot. Steph’s targeted return is a massive positive for the Warriors, but it comes with a bundle of emotions and change. There are factors that could make this game unpredictable. Tune in.

Game on!

Via IG, @y1shwant asks, Will Steph be under any sort of minutes restriction for the rest of the season?

In Steph's first games back, the medical staff might have a limit in mind. That’s normal. Even though Kerr has complimented Steph’s conditioning during his rehab, he gives players the runway to get their legs and lungs back.

As far as a restriction for the remaining games on the schedule? I don’t think so. Not an official restriction, anyway. They’ll be sensible about how much Steph can handle.

They want him to play, there’s work to do to build chemistry with his new teammates, and the expectation is to win some games to end the season on a high note. 

Since they're not making a playoff push, they don’t need to ride Steph hard by playing him 40 minutes a night. He’ll probably get some games off where it makes sense. Expect the Warriors to find the balance between making sure Steph gets meaningful time on the court, while also helping him maintain his health to the finish. 

@GJohnde @KerithBurke What are your thoughts on 10 day contracts? How do the ten day contract players get acclamated to a team that they are on temporarily?

Ten-day contracts are like Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself.” You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.

These contracts can be last gasps in the NBA. Or, they might be quick auditions depending on the situation. For the players on 10-day contracts, they have to learn the basics of the playbook immediately, show their skills, be good teammates, and make a lasting impression in a small window of time.

That’s nerve-wracking. That’s vomit on the sweater already, mom’s spaghetti. 

@dfs30745 Why have the Warriors never used the disabled player exception? With Klay out for the season it seems a no brainer.

To use the DPE for Klay, the Warriors needed to let an NBA-approved doctor (not one of their own) evaluate Klay by Jan. 15 and conclude Klay would be “highly unlikely” to be cleared to play by June 15. 

A couple of things sprout from this situation, which could have dictated the Warriors' decision. Klay could be cleared by June 15, so the timeline doesn’t work. Or, the Warriors wanted to do their own evaluation later in the season (they announced Feb. 20 that he’s officially out for the season) to leave open a sliver of possibility that Klay could play. 

Furthermore, any player they would add to the roster if the DPE was approved would have his salary stacked on an already huge payroll. The Warriors went in a different direction to fill their roster affordably. 

Hat tip to Warriors Insider Monte Poole for helping me with this question. 

@darinbunch I’m curious what you think Damion Lee’s role will look like next season? He seems to get better every time he’s on the floor this year.

Damion has established himself as a dependable, hard-working player who will give the team scoring and grit off the bench next season.

“Scoring and grit” sounds like a basketball cereal. Yummy, clichés! 

He paid his dues in the G League, performed well this season when injuries forced guys to play heavy minutes, and earned a multi-year deal. The Warriors trust his decision-making. 

When he turns 28 at the start of next season, he’ll be one of the older players to lend his voice to a locker room that needs veterans. Damion can share his story about perseverance. 

@sorokman Do you think Ky Bowman has a future as (at least) a backup PG in a good team? I really like his intensity and confidence, feels to me a bit Van-Vleety in those areas.

Yes. Maybe because I see Ky daily -- and the speed and intensity he gives to every moment on the court -- I hold him in high esteem. 

Other evaluators might see an undrafted guy who got lucky being on the Warriors’ G League team during an injury-plagued season where they had no choice but to call guys up. They might want to see more. To me, it’s what Ky did with this opportunity that stands out. 

As a two-way rookie, he had games where he was the Warriors’ starting point guard. That’s a big stage. He didn’t fold. 

I love good stories. Ky has a good story. 

@RandyHauser Can you get a sense of what the organization's views are for next season? I think they are a lock for a top 4 spot in the west.

The expectation is to jumpstart the dynasty. Get the machine rumbling again. 

How much change will happen around their core of Steph, Klay, and Draymond next season is up in the air. But they have plenty of reasons to feel good about what the rookies did this season. Marquese Chriss has been a delight. Damion is locked in. I hope Kevon is healthy.

I said in the last mailbag I think Andrew Wiggins in a long-term piece. We’ll see what happens with the Warriors’ lottery pick and if any trade possibilities arise this summer. 

Next season should indicate the strength of the Warriors’ culture. Was the competitive spirit aflame even when the wins were few? Did they endure this crummy season and start fresh? Are good habits still in place? No slippage? 

On paper, even with some uncertainty about who will fill out the roster, the one-two punch of the rested, healthy Splash Brothers is enough in my mind for a playoff spot.

[RELATED: NBA's attitude on cannabis changing, stops shy of embrace]

Via IG, @renegadegabe asks, What’s been your favorite moment of the season? 

My favorite moment wasn’t a happy one, but a meaningful one. 

The night the Lakers played their first home game after Kobe Bryant died, the Warriors were on the road. The team was flying to Cleveland. A mechanical issue with the plane delayed the arrival by several hours. 

The team provides dinners for the players and staff traveling. Sometimes the players go, sometimes they do their own things. But a late arrival into Cleveland meant the team dinner was the best option late at night. 

The Warriors had a small, private room at a restaurant. The TVs were on, awaiting the Lakers’ tip-off. The coaches filled a table. The broadcasters filled a table. Nearly all of the players came in to eat too. 

The room was packed. It became silent as the pre-game ceremony for Kobe played out on screen. The quietness reminded me to look around and be thankful. 

This packed room grieved together. During the hush, I remember the light sounds of forks and knives on the dinner plates as we ate wordlessly. I remember the look of Quinn Cook’s anguish on the screen. I remember feeling grateful for the people I have the privilege of calling co-workers. 

That moment of togetherness will stay with me. Gathering for any meal with people you care about can be powerful, but this one was unforgettable. 

High Five

This week’s high five goes to Logan Murdock for a story few people could have written: The NBA’s dap politics

Follow Kerith on Twitter @KerithBurke and on Instagram @warriorskerith, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors coverage all season.