Warriors

Russell Westbrook laughs at Kevin Durant joke during charity comedy show

Russell Westbrook laughs at Kevin Durant joke during charity comedy show

The reported trade of Russell Westbrook joining the Rockets and Chris Paul headed from Houston to Oklahoma City had Twitter ablaze Thursday night. 

Where Westbrook likely heard about the trade is just as wild as the actual swap of point guards. The former MVP was hosting a charity comedy show in Tulsa, Okla. when the trade went down. 

He even found the time for a good laugh ... at the expense of former Warriors star Kevin Durant. Comedian Lance Woods took a crack at when KD left Westbrook and the rest of his Thunder teammates to join the Dubs. 

[RELATED: Westbrook-Paul trade has big names, but little impact]

Durant signed with the Nets this offseason as Westbrook reportedly is re-joining former teammate James Harden in Houston. Those three have all won MVP awards and are all no longer a part of the Thunder.

The fact that OKC once had a trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden -- but never took home a title -- will always go down in NBA history. 

Warriors' Marquese Chriss playing his way into starting opportunity

Warriors' Marquese Chriss playing his way into starting opportunity

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, like all his NBA peers, does not follow strict rules of meritocracy when deciding upon starting lineups. He has to consider roles, balance, spacing and general team chemistry.

So Kerr has to peep beyond the best man, position-by-position, and examine his bench and how it might come together as a unit.

Which is why it’s not so simple for Kerr to make what appears to be the obvious change at center, replacing Willie Cauley-Stein with Marquese Chriss -- even as Chriss is doing all he can to earn a promotion.

If this were a meritocracy alone, yes, Chriss would start. He is outperforming Cauley-Stein in almost every way -- better numbers, higher impact, more positive and productive energy.

Yet Cauley-Stein, who spent four seasons in Sacramento, remains the starter. That was the plan when Willie signed in July. He would slide into the starting vacancy created by the departure of former Kings teammate DeMarcus Cousins.

A sprained foot kept Cauley-Stein on the sideline the entire preseason and the first three games of the regular season. He came off the bench in his Warriors debut, Oct. 30 against the Suns, but has since made 23 consecutive starts. At an even 7-feet, Cauley-Stein has the physical dimensions required to play center. Though not a classic rim protector, he runs the floor well and poses a lob threat.

The Warriors didn’t add Chriss until September on the eve of training camp, and even then it was to a non-guaranteed contract. With Kevon Looney and Cauley-Stein sidelined, they needed big bodies for scrimmaging purposes. Remember the brief stay of Kavion Pippen? Scottie’s nephew? There was a desperation that might linger until Willie was ready.

Well, Willie is back and healthy. Looney returned last week. Pippen is gone. Omari Spellman, who absorbed minutes at center during the first few weeks, has moved mostly to power forward. Chriss, at 6-9, 240 pounds, has been the team’s most assertive and effective center.

Chriss submitted a strong performance Wednesday -- 12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, two assists in 24 minutes -- in a loss to the New York Knicks. He followed that with 12 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 23 minutes Friday night in a 114-106 road loss to the Utah Jazz.

“Marquese was fantastic,” Kerr told reporters in Salt Lake City on Friday. “He played a tremendous game. He was all over boards, he had a couple blocked shots, he ran the floor.”

Kerr barely skipped a beat before navigating an issue with an increasingly high profile.

“I also thought Willie made some big plays for us down the stretch defensively,” he added, “protecting the rim. Those guys were really good.

“And it was good to have Loon back, playing his solid minutes for us. Just having that size and that experience.”

In so liberally spreading praise, the coach was being careful not to show favoritism or slight anyone. And, in truth, Cauley-Stein made a difference, blocking three shots.

Willie was scoreless Friday night, going 0-of-4, missing layups and dunks. In addition to the blocks, he had five rebounds and two steals. He had seven points, five rebounds and three blocks Wednesday.

Cauley-Stein’s combined numbers, over 45 minutes, for the last two games: Seven points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, two steals and one assist.

But here is where Kerr should feel at least a modicum of pressure. Chriss’ minutes often parallel those of Spellman and, together, they give the Warriors a detectable bump in energy. Starting Chriss means playing Spellman with Cauley-Stein and, frankly, that’s likely to bring its own challenges.

[RELATED: Warriors believe they're improving despite dismal record]

Though making the change seems an obvious move to make -- and I’m told Kerr is considering it -- all sides of the issue must be scrutinized. That is happening. It is an ongoing process. And merit does matter.

If it were the only factor, Kerr would be without reasons to keep Chriss out of the starting lineup.

Warriors believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

Warriors believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

SALT LAKE CITY - The Warriors have lost a lot in the last six months. 

The most obvious wound is the gutting of its Hall of Fame roster, and the injuries that crippled it. But perhaps the most essential damage to the team's evolution is its most recent struggle: Failing to close out games talent used to be able to overcome. 

In its latest effort -- a 114-106 loss to the Jazz -- the Warriors led for much of the first half before Utah took control in the third quarter. The loss came at a strange time for Golden State as their three All-Stars -- Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry -- were nursing injured back in California and their prized rookie Eric Paschall was in the locker room due to a hip injury. 

Nonetheless, the league's worst team left Vivint Smart Home Arena seeing enough progress to believe they're heading in the right direction, even if the scoreboard says otherwise. 

"There is a lot of good stuff," Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted. "But you want that to lead to a win and that's coming."

Remnants of Kerr's positivity showed through the first 24 minutes Friday evening. In the first quarter, they held the Jazz to 39 percent from the field, outscoring Utah 14-8 in the paint. By the end of the first half, they built a 56-49 lead, marked by promising plays from its young core. 

Six minutes into the first quarter, 6-foot-8 big man Omari Spellman pulled down a rebound, went the length of the court, bullying his way for a layup to give Golden State a 20-18 lead. A quarter later, center Marquese Chriss blocked Jazz guard Royce O'Neal at the rim, ran the length of the floor and received a pass for an easy dunk on the other end, pushing Golden State's lead to 13. 

Following halftime, the Jazz responded by outscoring the Warriors 37-28 in the third quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 10 of his game-high 32 points over the stretch, as Utah made a run that was all-too-familiar to Golden State. 

"They picked up their pace in the third quarter," Kerr said. "I'm sure they were not happy with their pace in the first half and so they played a great third quarter and put a lot of pressure on us."

Worse, even after the Warriors briefly took a 104-103 lead with just over two minutes left, the Jazz went on an 11-2 run to close the game, underscoring one of the team's biggest problems this season. Through 27 games, the Warriors are among the worst teams in the last five minutes of games. During the timeframe, they're posting a putrid 92.9 offensive rating, with a net rating of -33.6. 

For context, the 2017-18 Warriors -- featuring a healthy Curry, Green, Thompson and Kevin Durant -- posted a 112.2 offensive rating in clutch situations, finishing third in the league, leaving a mark the current battered Warriors are trying to fulfill.  

"I think we can win a lot more games than we have," said Chriss. "We've been in games that we could win and honestly that we should win. People try to say that our team is down and things like that but we're competing with teams that have their full roster. This team is full of fighters and teams that want to win." 

While the team is frustrated, their latest performance comes with a caveat. Clutch performances are built through experience, an attribute the league's third-youngest team has yet to gain. 

"I remember being in this position earlier in my career where you get the taste of winning, but you don't really know how to do it, you may just get lucky that night," said 23-year old guard D'Angelo Russell. "Other teams in the league that are solidified, they find a way to win and those other teams that aren't supposed to win find a way to lose so I think it comes with growth and experience."

[RELATED: Burks wants to stay with Warriors]

Late Friday evening, just before he left Salt Lake City for a late-night flight back to the Bay Area, recovering from yet another close loss, Kerr made a declaration for his young team, despite optics of the contrary. 

"I like where we're heading," he said. "I really do. I know it might sound crazy because of our record, but I think we're going to start winning some games. I think we're getting better."