NBA-best Warriors still searching for right balance between risk and reward

NBA-best Warriors still searching for right balance between risk and reward

OAKLAND -- Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his assistants consistently preach one particular message to the entire roster, and the players have heard it so often they preach it to each other.

And yet there are times when they’re unable to practice what is preached.

It’s uncommon for the Warriors to fall apart, but when they do it’s usually by their own hand. It’s death by turnovers -- the very topic of the sermon.

“Our biggest issue is taking care of the ball,” veteran big man David West tells CSNBayArea.com. “We’ve got to be able to take care of the basketball for long periods of time.”

Among the NBA’s 30 teams, the Warriors rank 24th in turnovers. That’s better than the Hawks and the Nuggets. It’s worse than the Timberwolves or Pelicans or Lakers.

Practicing ball care, thereby limiting turnovers, can be challenging with such a skilled roster and players who really enjoy opportunities to shine. From Stephen Curry to Draymond Green, from Kevin Durant to Klay Thompson, from Zaza Pachulia to JaVale McGee, the Warriors like to entertain while winning.

To do that Monday afternoon against Cavaliers is to tempt fate. The Warriors learned that much on Christmas Day, when six turnovers in the fourth quarter, leading to 10 Cleveland points, fostered a startling Cavs rally that overcame a 14-point Warriors lead.

“When we look at that game -- and we’ve talked about it -- it just comes down to ball care and decision-making,” West says. “If we do that, we’ll be in good shape. If we don’t, then we give up a fourth-quarter lead against one the best teams in the NBA.”

It’s a hard pattern to break. The Warriors will go two or three or four games with a low turnover total, and then cough it up 16 or 18 or 20 times. It’s as if they’re on a constant search to strike the right balance between playing textbook basketball and relying on their plentiful gifts to riff for the audience.

“There’s a lot of trust and accountability that comes with that,” Curry says, “because we have a lot of talent and a lot of playmakers and guys that have a creative kind of style and approach to the game.

“But we have to have a certain IQ and just knowing if you can make the simple play, make the simple play. Understand the time and score, the flow of the game, how to manage that.”

Sounds relatively simple. It’s not. The Warriors are like a band composed of incredible musicians, most of whom can drop jaws with a solo performance. Great musicians are at their best when there is time and space. The Warriors often are at the best when improvising.

Without that element, this band of Warriors may as well play straight from sheet music. Artists take chances. Sometimes the result is a spectacular play that fans remember for years. Other times, it’s it ruins the set.

Kerr doesn’t want to kill the element of improvisation. He wants use it more judiciously, saving it for special moments. He believes this band is good enough to play it straight and still provide plenty of entertainment.

“The simple leads to the spectacular,” Kerr says. “That’s one of my pet sayings. But it’s always a balance with this team the last couple years. We are a little loose; it’s part of who we are and I accept that and I embrace it.

“But know when to draw the line, and understand that part of what’s going to make a special play is four or five simple actions to start the play itself. When we keep it simple, it’s amazing how many fun, exciting plays come out of that. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth, especially with our guys because they have a lot of skill.”

The Warriors, to a man, say they are enjoying this season. They’re pleased with the NBA-best 34-6 record. They’re tops in the league in most pertinent team statistics.

But they continue to search for symmetry between risk and reward. How to make the right play without sacrificing the thrill of adventure? What, exactly, is the balance between playing with the appropriate amount of joy and seeking that breathtaking video that goes viral?

“If we make six easy passes, simple passes, in a possession, usually somebody gets open and there’s a back cut and there’s a layup or a lob or a 3-pointer and the crowd goes nuts,” Kerr says. “People love it.

“When they try to force the action on that stuff, it’s usually a turnover. And there’s not much joy in a turnover.”

The Warriors are unanimous in that sentiment. Yet the sermons continue because there are so many nights when it seems not everyone is listening.

Watch Steph Curry, Kevin Durant play 1-on-1 for Sportsperson trophy

Sports Illustrated

Watch Steph Curry, Kevin Durant play 1-on-1 for Sportsperson trophy

The Warriors accepted their Sportsperson of the Year award this week and in typical fashion, they had lots of fun with the honor.

The Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Show aired on Thursday, but was taped on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Because the Warriors were preparing to face the Raptors, the players couldn't attend the show in Los Angeles. But owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber were in attendance.

"First of all, this beats getting booed, I can assure you," Lacob said to open his remarks, referring to that time Warriors fans booed him for trading Monta Ellis. "It's a great honor. And I want to say also that everyone in our organization knows we have the term 'Strength in Numbers,' and it really is strength in numbers, it really is what our organization is about."

Guber, a movie producer, used his remarks to drop a Hollywood analogy.

"Every script needs a great set of stars to make it a hit," Guber said. "And we have the players and the coaches who have made all the difference to bring this to you."

But the best part was when they showed a video of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant accepting the award at the team's practice facility in Oakland.

After both MVPs thanked Sports Illustrated for the award, Curry asked the important question.

"I guess the only question is, who gets to keep the trophy?" Curry asked Durant.

"We might have to play one-on-one for it," Durant responded, which drew laughter from the audience watching the video.

"We'll settle it," Durant said.

Then Curry picked up a basketball and Durant began to guard him. Curry screamed, ran away and flung the ball over his shoulder. The camera cut to a mock shot of the ball going through the hoop.

So there's your answer ... sort of. Curry gets the trophy.

Warriors fans need to accept that the champs are 'not invincible'

Warriors fans need to accept that the champs are 'not invincible'

OAKLAND – Three fans wearing Toronto Raptors black and red were so proud of their team Wednesday night that they shouted out their support in enemy territory.

They stood inside Oracle Arena, where the Warriors are idols of worship, and in the fourth quarter unfurled a Raptors banner while uttering sounds of blasphemy: Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors!

“It was weird,” Stephen Curry said Thursday. “But we didn’t do anything about it.”

That sight and those sounds, in that setting, were more stunning than seeing the Warriors used as mops on their own floor.

Those Raptors fans were comfortable because they practically had the place to themselves. Warriors fans vacated the place at such a rapid pace that Mary Babers, mother of Draymond Green, turned to Twitter, referring to them as “spoiled brats.”

There was, to be sure, some truth to her words, for Warriors fans have quickly become so accustomed to winning that they expect it and some don’t react well when they don’t get it.

There will be nights, like the 113-93 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, when the fans don’t get their win because the Warriors don’t bring it. They weren’t engaged early and dug in only for a few minutes here and there before coach Steve Kerr surrendered in the fourth quarter.

“We’re not invincible from getting smacked in the face if we don’t show up and execute,” Curry said. “So, you’ve got to learn that lesson.”

That lesson was taught to the Warriors several times last season. Six of their 24 losses were to teams that wouldn’t sniff the playoffs and as many more were practically given away.

But even when they stumbled into playoffs after a 7-10 finish, the Warriors engaged and went 16-5 in the postseason. They didn’t bother to immerse themselves until it mattered most.

As much as they don’t like to acknowledge the ability to “flip the switch,” there is a higher level of focus the defending champs can summon. They found it last week in Milwaukee and it was the driving force behind avenging an ugly home loss to the Bucks last month.

“That takes tremendous focus and energy,” Kerr said. “And we haven’t had that very often this year.”

They didn’t have it Wednesday when circumstances suggest they should. They’d lost at Toronto two weeks earlier. The Raptors have the best record in the NBA. The game was on national TV. It was at Oracle.

And, yawn, the Warriors were as flat as they might be in a preseason finale against the Suns in Tijuana. There was a similar listlessness in a loss to the Clippers last month. There were traces of it in home wins over the Nets and for halves at home against the Hawks and Magic.

Kerr and his staff are urging more of what the Warriors delivered in Milwaukee.

“We’ve shown flashes of it,” Curry said of. But we haven’t put together a sustained run of game after game playing at the level we expect on the defensive end.

“As much as we’ve built chemistry and an identity – and we’ve talked about it a lot (during) our run – we have to re-identify ourselves this year and put together consistent efforts night after night.”

The Warriors on Thursday practiced for less than an hour. They spent more than twice as much time reviewing video of the loss the Toronto. They saw the lapses that both Draymond Green and Kevin Durant insist are up to the leaders to fix.

But is it not realistic to believe furious effort will be there every night? Well, no. The problem for the Warriors is that they’ve won so many games without it that they, perhaps psychologically, believe they don’t always need it.

That’s how you end up with performances like that of Wednesday night.

“Our fans have seen the highest of the highs and expect greatness every night,” Curry said. “And we didn’t show that.

“I’m sure they had home-cooked meals and dinners to get to and didn’t want to see us getting beat like that.”

Nobody wanted to see it – except for Raptors fans on site.

But it’s going to be visible again this season at Oracle. The Warriors defense of home court has evolved from obsession to flexible goal, and that’s going to take a while to sink in, particularly among their fans.