Warriors

Pushed by himself and Warriors teammates, Durant's game elevates

Pushed by himself and Warriors teammates, Durant's game elevates

OAKLAND -- Despite playing at a level that puts him a shade behind the one-man-gang MVP candidates that are James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant insists he’s seeking higher ground.

Only 35 games into his Warriors career, Durant still sees holes in his game.

“I’m trying to round my game out,” he said Tuesday. “I (take) pride in guarding every position and jumping at every guy coming to the basket. Whether I get dunked on or not or finished over the top of or not, it’s just muscle memory now to always get up there and try to protect the rim.

“And also help my team rebound. Last game I was terrible at getting on the glass, and hopefully tomorrow I may be better than I was last game.”

Durant was referring to grabbing only three rebounds in 34 minutes Monday night in a 127-119 win over Denver. Never mind that he averaged an impressive 14.3 rebounds in the three previous games.

Or maybe knowing that he can be better explains Durant’s annoyance with the low rebounding total against the Nuggets.

Though that is an example of Durant’s self-scrutiny, he also hears advice/criticism from teammates, some of which are less accomplished than he.

That Durant is a four-time scoring champion and owner of the 2014 MVP trophy does not prevent teammates from speaking up. What’s more important is that he welcomes it.

“One thing about this group is they’re never satisfied,” he said. “We always feel we want to play perfect. Even though that’s impossible, we’re striving for that. We know there are small things we just can’t do, that we have to be better at. And we try to correct them as quickly as possible.”

Understand, Durant might be the top candidate for MVP if not for the work of Harden in Houston and Westbrook in Oklahoma City. While both are stacking up triple-doubles on a regular basis as catalysts for overachieving teams, Durant has been the best player on the team with the league’s best record.

He leads the Warriors in scoring (25.7 points per game, eighth in the NBA), rebounding (8.7, 19th) and blocks (1.54, 14th). His 53.7-percent shooting from the field ranks first among the top 25 scorers in the league.

“I know our guys love having him on our team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They love what he represents, in terms of the threat, in terms of explosiveness. And he’s a great teammate, a phenomenal teammate, fun to be around, humble and modest. It’s been an incredible addition.”

That humility, more than anything else, may be why Durant has been such a smooth fit. He has an ego, to be sure, but he doesn’t allow it to override the moment or, moreover, the common goal of the team.

Which is why he listens, even to the sometimes strident commentaries of fiery teammate Draymond Green. Getting the occasional earful of Draymond is one of the rites of passage for the Warriors.

“It’s like an 80-20 approach here; it’s 80 percent encouragement and 20 percent you might have to get on guys,” Durant said. “It may come out the wrong way. We’ve got guys on this team that . . . Draymond, his message is always good but he’s just so emotional and passionate it might come off as if he’s getting on guys. But it’s channeled in the right way. Nobody takes it personally. It’s all about getting better as a team and learning.

“There are times with Steph -- I won’t even say what he says to me coming to the bench sometimes -- but that’s what teammates do. And you enjoy someone helping you get better.”

Durant is watching and listening. He sees what he’s doing and what he’s not doing. He reminds himself to be better. And he’s not too sensitive for reminders from those around him.

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

OAKLAND – They don’t celebrate 50-win seasons around here. Not anymore. Not when it’s a mere signpost along the way to something worth cherishing.

That’s what 50 wins has become for the Warriors. When they hit No. 50 on Sunday with an indistinct 121-114 victory over the Detroit Pistons, there was but the slightest few moments of reflection.

“Pretty impressive,” coach Steve Kerr said.

“It’s special to be a part of something so great as these last six of seven years have been for us,” Draymond Green said.

Beg pardon? Impressive? Special? For a franchise that reached 50 wins four times in its first five decades in the Bay Area to string together six consecutive such seasons is right out of the late Franklin Mieuli’s wildest fantasy.

Mieuli owned the Warriors for the first 24 years (1962-86) of their Bay Area existence, first in San Francisco and then in Oakland. The Warriors reached 50 wins twice in that span.

Mieuli sold the team to Jim Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane, who owned the Warriors for nine seasons (1986-95), during which there were two 50-win seasons.

The Chris Cohan ownership lasted 15 seasons (1995-2010) and never saw a 50-win season. The most successful team under Cohan was the 2006-07 “We Believe” squad that finished two games over .500 (42-40) – enough to be revered for eternity.

Among the few employees remaining from the Cohan era is Stephen Curry, drafted one year before the current ownership group, led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. The Warriors were 25-56 in Curry’s rookie season, 36-46 the following season and 23-43 in his third season. So there was a time . . .

Curry knows, as do the team’s longtime fans, how absurd this turnaround has been.

“It’s surreal, to be honest, when you talk about the history of the organization and how hard it is to win NBA games, win championships and string together year after year after year,” he said. “It takes a collection of talented guys, a commitment to trying to put together the best team possible every year. And that’s the front office, the coaching staff, all the way down.”

The Warriors and their fans have evolved from the years of praying for the playoffs to the annual expectation of championship parade. They once hoped for satisfactory. They now anticipate excellence.

“When I came here, I think there was a 23-win season the year before that,” said Green, who was drafted in 2012, three seasons after Curry. “The next year was my rookie year and we made the playoffs and we won (47) games. To have the run that we’re currently having, it’s a special thing.

“But in saying that, we get the opportunity to do it with a special group of guys, a special organization, a special coaching staff, a special ownership group, a special front office. It’s more about the people that you come work with every day. That’s what makes runs like this possible. That’s what makes runs like this sustainable.”

[RELATED: Kerr's message after Mavericks loss]

The Warriors were 51-31 in Mark Jackson’s final season as coach. They’ve since won 67, 73, 67, 58. Here in Year 5, they are at 50 – and counting.

Which is why, in part, Kerr says he didn’t sweat that putrid performance the Warriors laid down Saturday in a 35-point loss to Dallas at Oracle.

“It’s hard for anybody to understand what these guys go through physically, emotionally and spiritually, trying to defend the crown, trying to win the title, trying to stay on top of the mountain,” Kerr said. “It’s hard. And last night they had nothing. They had nothing in the tank.

“The great thing about this team . . . is they always bounce back because they have so much pride. What they have accomplished – this team has the best record over the last four seasons (265-63) as any four-year run in the history of the NBA. What they have done is just remarkable. Last night was tough, but it’s really tough to do what they have done, too. We’re going to give them a pass and we are going to move on.”

Understand, 50 wins guarantees nothing in the postseason. The NBA graveyard is replete with headstones marking the first-round demise of 50-win teams. In the first of their six 50-win seasons, 2013-14, the Warriors were such a team, ousted in seven by the hated Clippers.

[RELATED: KD, Kerr on six-shot night]

Here’s the one thing a succession of 50-win seasons can assure: Respect. That’s something the Warriors had to earn.

“I have a true appreciation for what we’ve been able to do,” Curry said. “But I want to continue this for as long as we can.”

How Draymond Green's defense set tone for Warriors in win vs. Pistons

How Draymond Green's defense set tone for Warriors in win vs. Pistons

OAKLAND - Ten minutes into the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Pistons, Draymond Green found himself in the post against fellow forward and former adversary Blake Griffin. With 10 seconds left in the shot clock, Griffin took a couple of jab steps, trying to make room along the baseline, but not before Green's defense forced the All-Star to fumble the ball, allowing the shot clock to expire.

Green then tapped Pistons head coach Dwane Casey and held a blank stare to the crowd. The play, like his one-on-one battle with Griffin on Sunday night, set the tone Golden State's 121-114 victory over Detroit.

"I thought Draymond's energy and defensive effort sparked us all night," Steve Kerr said following the game.

From the onset of Sunday's matchup, Griffin, who finished with 24 points on 6-of-14 from the field, seemed to be playing the memories of yesteryear as much he played Green. For his first several possessions he sought out the Warriors' forward in the post, hoping his array of powerful post moves would beat the former Defensive Player of the Year.

Instead, he shot just 3-for-8 in the first half.

“At some point, somebody gotta figure it out," Green said. "Like, don’t target me in the post. I’ve been dealing with that my whole career. It used to piss me off, now it's like whatever. If y'all are going to do that, you'll probably lose.”

As Green's reached championship heights over the years, it's important to remember Griffin's role in Green's career. It was Griffin, then a member of the Clippers, who got under Green's skin in 2013 on Christmas Day, when both were ejected late in the second half of a Warriors win. It was Griffin and the Clippers who provided a stage for Green, then a role player, to break out in the 2014 Western Conference playoffs four months later, when Green averaged 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. And it was Griffin whom Green looked to as he hit a 3-pointer in the final moments of a Warriors win in 2014, one of the lasting images in the rivalry and the beginning of Golden State's current run.

This season, Griffin has been fantastic, averaging 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists, earning his sixth All-Star appearance last month. Now, years later, Green still gets up for the matchup against Griffin, even as he plays more than 2,000 miles away from Los Angeles.

"I enjoy playing against great players and taking on a challenge," Green said. "Blake is a great player, he's gotten a lot better since the last time I faced him and I try to be physical. Very strong, likes to go bully ball from time to time, just staying my ground and trying to make him take tough shots."

Green's performance also helped whip the stain of a 126-91 loss to the Mavericks on Saturday night. In the first half, the Warriors held the Pistons to 44 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from 3-point range. The outing came as the Warriors are trying to stay atop the Western Conference with nine games remaining.

[RELATED: Kerr on plan to rest Curry]

This season, Green has battled injuries, sideline shouting matches with superstar teammates and the expected failure to reach his goal of the Defensive Player of the Year award. But, at least for a night, the Warriors' heartbeat set the tone guarding the Pistons' best player.

"He takes the challenge when he faces Blake (Griffin)," Kerr said. "They have been going head to head for many years and its a hell of a challenge, Blake is tough as anybody to guard and Draymond was fantastic."