The Harden Rules: Warriors have the goods to slow down The Beard

The Harden Rules: Warriors have the goods to slow down The Beard

There are several reasons why the Warriors would welcome seeing Houston in the playoffs, just as they look forward to facing the Rockets in Oakland Friday night.

There is the recent postseason history, the Warriors ousting the Rockets in 2015 and 2016, winning four of five each year.

There is the recent regular-season history, the Warriors winning nine of the last 10.

There are the points that tend to be available against Houston’s defense, which has not been championship level since Hakeem Olajawon was patrolling the paint in the mid-1990s.

And there is, perhaps most of all, the supreme confidence that comes from knowing they can contain guard James Harden, the centerpiece of the Rockets.

From the moment Steve Kerr arrived before the 2014-15 season, he has preached incessantly about the key to defending the league’s best players, and Harden as a five-time All-Star and current leading MVP candidate surely fits that category.

“Don’t reach,” Kerr says repeatedly.

“Just don’t foul him,” says Klay Thompson, the team’s primary defender on Harden. “He’s going to get his buckets. He’s going to make his plays off the dribble. But you just try not to foul him, because he goes to the line the most in the league and you don’t want him getting his rhythm at the free throw line.”

Harden goes to the line more than anyone else largely because he’s a master at drawing fouls. He quickly seizes upon any defender that extends an arm, ripping through the reach and usually getting the whistle. Though the Warriors have, for the most part, gotten better at avoiding cheap fouls on Harden, they’ve done a terrific job of not letting him take over games.

The numbers paint vivid portrait of their defensive success.

The Warriors on Tuesday held Harden to 20 points on 5-of-20 shooting, including 1-of-9 from 3-point distance. His tender left wrist was a factor, but the numbers are not dramatically different from those Harden puts up against the Warriors when healthy.

In three games this season, two won by the Warriors victories, Harden is 19-of-56 (33.9 percent) from the field and 3-of-25 (12 percent) from 3-point distance.

In 10 games over the past three seasons, Harden is 75-of-198 (37.9 percent) from the field and 22-of-84 (26.2 percent) from deep.

Thompson always looks forward to the opportunity to face his old high school rival. It helps that the two are of similar size -- Harden is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Thompson 6-7, 215 -- but mostly it’s an instance of a fine defender facing a fabulous scorer.

“Him being the MVP candidate that he is, it’s always fun to measure yourself against the best,” says Thompson, who is sure to receive votes in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting. “You always appreciate playing against someone you’ve (faced) for so long, like I have with James and other guys who I grew up with in California. It’s a great honor for both of us.”

Harden, however, is such a challenge that the Warriors utilize a platoon system. They’ll turn first to Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green. They’ll give Shaun Livingston a couple possessions. Stephen Curry, though outweighed by at least 35 pounds, gets the occasional chance. So, too, does Matt Barnes, now that he’s on the roster.

There’s always a plan when the Warriors see Harden and the Rockets. They’ve done a tremendous job of following it, going 17-3, counting postseason, against them since Kerr’s arrival. They’ll try to make it 18-3 on Friday night.

Warriors must strike delicate balance between confidence and arrogance

Warriors must strike delicate balance between confidence and arrogance

SAN ANTONIO -- Even while reeling as never before in games of significance, the Warriors continue to exhibit a self-assurance that borders on arrogance.

Draymond Green says they’ll “be fine.”

Kevin Durant says the mood in the locker room is “good.”

Stephen Curry says he’s proud of his teammates for their unified handling of the agitation created by the infamous upheaval between Durant and Green on Monday.

Even after their 112-109 loss to the Mavericks on Saturday night in Dallas, there was Klay Thompson saying, “we feel great.”

It’s almost as if they’re embracing a concept that most teams -- especially contenders -- abhor. The “moral victory.”

Given the breathtaking recent history, perhaps the Warriors have earned the privilege of arrogance. They’ve accomplished things no other team has. They’re in the midst of trying to win a third consecutive championship, something just three NBA teams have achieved.

But such unwavering swagger in the face of reality feels a little like denial. And denial is not a healthy way to approach much of anything in life, particularly when there are so many witnesses.

The Warriors, honestly, are staggering. They’ve lost three of four, the lone victory coming against the wretched Atlanta Hawks, who stayed close to the champs longer than would be acceptable under normal circumstances.

The Mavericks, a team undergoing transition, were too much for the Warriors in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve just got to keep getting better,” Durant told reporters afterward. “We had great looks in the fourth, especially myself. I missed about five or six good looks.

“I wish I could have knocked down those shots for the team. But I’m glad we’ve got a game tomorrow.”

Asked what it would take for them to get out of this skid, Thompson kept it plain and simple.

“Win tomorrow,” he said. “It’s pretty simple.”

A win Sunday against the Spurs would be a meaningful step for the Warriors toward restoring their routine and sanity. What they’ve gone through this week is both unusual and disturbing, whether they care to admit or not. It is evident in listening to Durant that he still is annoyed by not only the content of the argument but also the constant references to it.

Asked about the vibe around the team, Durant offered words sprinkled with salt.

“We’re just trying to move forward,” he said. “Are we going to talk about this the whole year? We just want to play ball. I know that’s all I want to do.”

Who knew that a single victory over a San Antonio team with its own problems could mean so much? And, really, it would matter.

But not nearly as much as the return of Curry and Green, along with the good-time vibe that makes the Warriors the Warriors.

When the Warriors are “fine” or “good” or “great,” they chase more than victory. They pursue excellence -- the ability to dominate with such panache -- that they can all laugh together about it.

Only then will the arrogance seem fitting.

Warriors takeaways: What we learned from narrow loss to Mavericks

Warriors takeaways: What we learned from narrow loss to Mavericks


The Warriors in recent seasons have dominated the Dallas Mavericks, taking a 10-game win streak into American Airlines Center on Saturday.

That streak is gone, replaced by another the Warriors didn’t want.  

With the Mavericks coming back in the fourth quarter to pull out a 112-109 victory -- their first over the Warriors since Dec. 30, 2015 -- the defending NBA champs have a two-game losing streak for the first time since last April.

Here are three takeaways from the game:  

The stars faded late

With Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out, the Warriors looked to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to take them home in the fourth quarter. Neither was able.

Durant scored a game-high 32 points but just three in the fourth. He shot 1 of 7 in the quarter, after going 10 of 17 in the first three. He played the final 6:12 and was minus-7 during his stint. After dropping in a jumper to give the Warriors a 106-103 lead with 3:13 to play, Durant missed his final four field-goal attempts.

Thompson fared only slightly better, scoring seven of his 22 points in the fourth on 3-of-8 shooting. He worked free for a good look on a potential tying shot with 10.6 seconds left, but he missed the 16-footer.

Durant and Thompson combined to shoot 20 of 48 (41.7 percent) from the field, including 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) from deep. They were 7 of 25 and 1 of 8 after halftime. Those are tough numbers for the Warriors to overcome.  

The bench carried a lot of weight

The reserves probably realized it would be up to them to fill the gaps created by the absences of Alfonzo McKinnie, Curry and Green. They performed nicely.

The Warriors’ bench outscored that of Dallas 42-25; the Mavericks reserves had outscored those of their opponents 163-69 in their previous three games. The Warriors' crew shot 57.1 percent (16 of 28) from the field and 60 percent (6 of 10) beyond the arc.

Guard Damion Lee, called up from G-League Santa Cruz and arriving in Dallas less than 24 hours before tipoff, scored 13 points in 18 minutes. Quinn Cook, again playing behind Andre Iguodala, put in 15 points in 22 minutes, and Shaun Livingston added 12, the first time this season he has reached double figures.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr made a lineup change at center, with Kevon Looney -- who has been the most proficient of the young big men -- replacing Damian Jones, who started the first 16 games. Jones played one of his better games, scoring just two points but adding seven rebounds and four blocks over 22 minutes.

If the reserves continue to perform at anywhere near this level, they might be able to carry the Warriors to a victory.  

The team was ready to play

Kerr expressed confidence that the Warriors would recover from their blowout loss Thursday night Houston. His projection was accurate.

They reduced their turnover count from 17 in Houston to an acceptable 12. They outrebounded the bigger Mavericks (47-46) and had more assists (24-18). Five Warriors scored in double figures.

Durant and Thompson started well, shooting 13 of 23 in the first half, as the Warriors built an eight-point lead in less than seven minutes.

The Warriors were solid for a full three quarters and early in the fourth, when they pushed the lead back to eight (90-82) before being outscored 30-19 over the final 11 minutes.

The defending champs simply weren’t the better team when it mattered most.