Warriors

Iguodala: Kerr's absence forces Warriors to 'focus a little bit more'

Iguodala: Kerr's absence forces Warriors to 'focus a little bit more'

Programming note: Warriors-Jazz Game 1 coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Playoff Central on NBC Sports Bay Area Plus, and streaming live right here.

OAKLAND -- Up and down the roster, man after man, the Warriors have cleared their throats, straightened their ties and furrowed their collective brow.

They are getting serious. Not so serious that they can’t have fun. The laughs will always be there because that’s how they live and also because ailing coach Steve Kerr insists on joy being a component of the overall experience.

But the Warriors are adopting a more earnest approach, a higher and more conspicuous level of professional obligation. And it’s a direct result of Kerr’s indefinite absence.

“It makes us focus a little bit more,” concedes veteran forward Andre Iguodala.

As they enter the Western Conference Semifinals Tuesday night against Utah under acting head coach Mike Brown, the Warriors have never looked and felt more like the team Kerr wants them to be. They’re primed to more consistently take ownership in ways they occasionally did when Kerr was constantly pleading for it.

“You have to as a leader,” forward Draymond Green says. “Steve’s the head of the snake. If you chop the head off, it’s done. We don’t want that to be our case, where the head of the snake is out and we go down the drain. You can’t expect, as great a job as Mike B has done, to just expect him to step in and be Steve. It’s unreal.”

Backup guard Ian Clark acknowledges the new vibe and attributes it to the players understanding the situation and, with Kerr out, embracing the responsibility.

“We want to make sure that we do the little things and not necessarily make him proud . . . but it’s more of a pride thing for us,” Clark says. “Knowing that we can tighten up in certain areas, knowing things that he would want us to do -- and make sure that we do them.”

The most graphic example of the Warriors holding themselves more accountable is in the number of turnovers committed in their series sweep over Portland. In Games 1 and 2, with Kerr on the bench, they committed 33. In Games 3 and 4, on the road and with Brown on the bench, they committed 17 -- 8.5 per game, numbers plucked from Kerr’s dreams.

After blowing a 3-1 lead in The Finals last June, the Warriors clearly understand the postseason is not the time to devolve into Globetrotters mode. While they’ll be sure to play with joy, and there always will be specific showboat elements, they will be light on pretension. Going playground now, or playing hero ball, would look like kids acting out before the sub.

Then there is this: The Warriors may be realizing they can play great and exciting basketball without getting silly or reckless. What happens on the court is a more explicit reflection on them and their commitment to the process.

“When I’m out there on the floor, it’s not like I’m looking over at Coach Kerr every second wondering ‘What do I do now?’ Stephen Curry says. “The principles are set in stone of how we need to play. It’s my job to execute them.”

It helps that the team is built around self-aware veterans. Curry, for one, is more acutely mindful -- another of Kerr’s tenets -- of his role in making the Warriors run as smoothly as possible. Green and Iguodala practically are unofficial assistant coaches. Veterans David West and Shaun Livingston also bring plenty of savvy and knowhow.

They all feel what Brown, who joined the team last summer, is facing. He’s taking the seat normally occupied by the man who was behind the team that last season won an NBA-record 73 games. He’s sitting in for the only coach to preside over a team that won at least 67 games in three successive seasons.

It’s a position that, for Brown, has vast potential for awkwardness, something Green quickly recognized.

“As a leader,” he says, “it’s your job to make things comfortable.”

Which provides some insight into the sizzling start of Game 4 in Portland. Looking the close out the series, the Warriors played a near flawless first quarter, needing only a few minutes to destroy the Trail Blazers.

That was the first time the players rolled out of bed in the morning knowing Brown, not Kerr, would be holding the clipboard. Their focus at both ends of the court was sharp enough to cut glass.

“We have some great leaders on this team,” Brown says, “and those guys are taking the approach that, ‘Hey, we’re going help out Mike and the staff. We’ve got to make sure we’re on point, because we don’t want to mess them up, nor do we want to mess ourselves up and let Steve down.’

“When you have guys that can police themselves, and they’re players that are impactful for you, it makes things easier. Those guys have all stepped up that way.”

If the Warriors take this approach throughout the postseason, no one would be happier than Kerr, who values the process above all, regardless of conducting practices and calling timeouts during the game.

A focused Warriors team, after all, would be tough for any opponent to deal with.

Warriors center Jordan Bell ideal starter while DeMarcus Cousins gets healthy

Warriors center Jordan Bell ideal starter while DeMarcus Cousins gets healthy

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have indicated that, until DeMarcus Cousins is available, they plan to stay with the center-by-committee system installed two seasons ago. To generate continuity, though, they’ll need a regular starter.

If length and athleticism are the priorities, third-year 7-footer Damian Jones has the edge.

If reliability and technique are crucial, they’ll look to 6-9 Kevon Looney, who is entering his fourth season.

If sheer talent is the primary factor, it likely will be 6-9 Jordan Bell, coming off a rookie season that was by turns spectacular and disappointing.

“As long as we get it done,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday after practice, “it doesn’t matter to me.”

“But if somebody takes it, that’s great.”

With the NBA being a talent-first league, Bell would seem to enter training camp with a lead. He is as athletic as Jones with more court awareness, and far more athletic than Looney and also has broader skills. No center on the roster has more energy than Bell.

Then there is this: The Warriors visualize Bell as the ideal matchup for Clint Capela in Houston, the team considered most likely to deny the Warriors a fifth consecutive trip to The Finals.

Bell acquitted himself well when the teams met in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The confidence gained from that series vaulted the University of Oregon product to a higher level when the Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals, where he was terrific.

“The Western Conference Finals was the most competitive basketball I’ve ever played,” Bell recalled. “I’ve never had to experience any competition that was that tough, where literally every single play counts.”

Bell’s says he’s a “way better basketball player” than he was as a rookie, yet his fate likely will rest on his ability to achieve consistency. He worked on that during the summer and believes that, along with the experiences of his rookie season, should be of benefit in Year 2.

Bell talks about being a better pro, defining it as “showing up on time, not making rookie mistakes. I know what the schedule is now, so I should know exactly where to be and what time to be there. And what’s expected of me.”

That’s largely a result of veteran influence. David West, now retired, was in his ear. So was Draymond Green. And there was a one-on-one conversation with Kevin Durant last April, as the team flew home from Indiana, that proved profound.

Though Kerr was impressed by Bell’s work over the summer -- he praised his hoops intellect and passing, and even gave him the green light to fire midrange jumpers -- there still is much to prove.

“He understands now how hard he has to work,” Kerr said. “It’s hard for a rookie to come in and understand what being a pro means.

“But he gets it now. I think he’s more committed than ever. He’s got to be more consistent as a player, but that starts on the practice floor every day.”

Matchups will be a factor in determining a starter. Changing the starting lineup on a regular basis requires constant adjustment for the other four starters, all of whom are All-Stars. While they’re wise enough to do that, that approach isn’t particularly sustainable.

The likely expectation is that Jones will fill the role vacated by JaVale McGee, playing 10-15 minutes off the bench along with spot starts. Looney probably will remain in a similar role, playing significant minutes some nights and not at all on others, based on the opponent.

Bell, however, is the most versatile. He offers some of what the Warriors would get from Jones and Looney. Bell is prepared to start, but hardly fixated on it.

“I want to be the guy who finishes, not the guy who starts,” he said. “That’s what I’m going for.”

Kevin Durant: 'I still gotta get better' at one thing in particular

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USATI

Kevin Durant: 'I still gotta get better' at one thing in particular

Kevin Durant is ...

... really good at basketball.

I promise.

But that doesn't mean he has mastered every aspect of the game.

"I still gotta get better at setting screens and moving off the ball a little bit, but I'm glad I still got some room to grow in that area," Durant told Greg Papa on Bonta Hill on 95.7 The Game. "I played a lot of pickup ball this summer -- moreso than I ever played -- and that's something I thought about running up into screens.

"I'm like, 'Let me hit this guy now.' Whereas before, I was slipping out of screens trying to get me a shot."

[RELATED: Steph Curry's summer the best of his career, 'trajectory is still going up']

Durant is absolutely right.

It's well documented how Steph Curry does a fantastic job of setting picks (particularly back screens). In many instances, two defenders stay attached to Curry, and a teammate gets a wide open shot or dunk.

It's probably safe to assume that the Warriors' coaching staff has been talking to Durant about becoming a better screener over the past two seasons. And it sounds like he's ready to make it happen.

"It's only gonna help our team," Durant added.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller