Warriors

A unique strategy is one of the secrets to Warriors' prolonged success

kerr-curry-practice-ap.jpg
AP

A unique strategy is one of the secrets to Warriors' prolonged success

OAKLAND -- After 23 consecutive days in the state of California, nearly all of them at home, the Warriors are gliding into 2018. Despite injuries to three starters, two of them All-Stars, they were 13-2 in December and now own the NBA’s best record.

There are obvious reasons for this, and for the success the Warriors have enjoyed in recent seasons. Great talent and depth, healthy chemistry, exemplary work habits and skilled coaching has vaulted them to three straight trips to the NBA Finals while being the first team to average 69 wins over three seasons.

Another secret to their success is that the Warriors don’t do hard labor.

To ask players and coaches when the Warriors last endured a 5-on-5 scrimmage is to get a pause for recollection followed by a similar response.

“Training camp,” assistant coach Mike Brown says three months after training camp.

“I don’t think we’ve scrimmaged all year,” head coach Steve Kerr says.

“A full, 5-on-5 scrimmage?” Shaun Livingston says with a quizzical glance. “I don’t think we’ve done that since training camp.”

This approach is by design an important component of what essentially is a maintenance program put in place by Kerr and members of the training staff.

Unlike the NFL, where training camps last about three weeks, or MLB, where spring training goes on for about six weeks, NBA camps generally last about one week. All teams scrimmage in camp, but the vast majority still believe in regular scrimmages during the regular season.

The Chicago Bulls were scrimmaging two days before their season opener when forward Bobby Portis launched his fist into the face of teammate Nikola Mirotic, causing him to miss the first six weeks of the season.

Doc Rivers once put the Boston Celtics through a two-hour practice in January. And this was a veteran team with NBA Finals appearance in two of the previous three seasons. Ray Allen was 36, Kevin Garnett 35 and Paul Pierce 34.

The Warriors don’t see the value in that, particularly with this team.

“That’s a huge part of it,” Kerr says. “We definitely practiced a lot harder the first year I was here. We scrimmaged a lot more. Any time we had two days off before a game, we always scrimmaged on the second day. I felt like we needed to play.

“Now I feel like we need to NOT play. It’s about seeing the big picture. And there’s a comfort level in knowing what we are.”

Livingston, 32, is something of an authority on training and practice methods around the league. He has played for eight different teams in the 13 seasons since he was drafted fourth overall in 2004.

“There were teams, that if they lost a game, they were back practicing hard the next day, two hours maybe,” he recalls. “It was different. You would think coaches that played wouldn’t be like that. But I think some of them just believe this is the way to do it. ‘We did it this way, so this is the way you’re going to do it.’ I went through it, especially early on, with the Clippers and Mike Dunleavy. Larry Brown was that way in Charlotte.”

[RELATED: NBA Power Rankings -- Warriors ride Curry to the top]

Just because scrimmages have always been part of the regimen doesn’t mean the regimen always makes sense.

For the Warriors, most of their “practice time” is spent watching and studying video, rather than running the court. There is plenty of sweat, to be sure, but the idea is to keep players from feeling exhausted as they leave the facility.

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is known to push his players particularly hard. Starters on his teams in Minnesota, and when he was in Chicago, were always among the leaders in minutes per game. That the Timberwolves approach the midway point of the season as the NBA’s worst fourth-quarter defensive team is more likely natural result than coincidence.

His practice habits were no different. Thibodeau once called for a practice the day after the Bulls had played three games in four nights and seven in 11 days. His assistants and veteran players talked him down. He settled for a team meeting.

The Warriors on Saturday completed a stretch of three games in four nights and seven in 11 days. What did Kerr do? He gave the players consecutive days off. When they return to practice Tuesday, it’ll be in the wake of 60 hours of personal time.

“It’s a balance and a feel thing. Some days we get it right, some days we don’t,” Kerr says. “The biggest job for a coach, at least in my position, is to navigate the season, see the big picture.”

The Warriors believe in life/work balance as well as taking preventative steps to enhance health. Stress levels of the players are monitored regularly. There are yoga sessions with players and coaches following the lead of Lisa Goodwin, the team’s senior director of corporate communications and a yoga instructor.

The idea is to put players in position to perform at their best when it matters most and keep them as fresh as possible for a season that could last nine months.

This perspective is one reason David West is so comfortable with his decision to return to the Warriors. In the weeks after the Warriors won the NBA Finals last June, the 37-year-old forward/center pondered retirement. He’d finally achieved what he’d spent his career chasing. He earned himself a ring.

Retiring players, in almost every sport, don’t walk away because they’re tired of playing games. They generally cite practices and training routines as the factors that pushed them away from doing what they love. Why put up with the aggravation and put out the energy required to play well?

“That’s the luxury of being in a place like this, being with coach and people that understand that,” West says. “That’s not necessarily an issue in this environment. That’s what makes it work and why I’m able to play.

“Steve gets it. He understands that this is a long-haul thing and he understands that the way to get there should have the players’ health and sense of self and understanding and mental needs in mind.”

There was a moment earlier this season when Kerr thought maybe a scrimmage was in order. The Warriors, with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant sidelined, were defeated by the lowly Sacramento Kings at Oracle Arena and, on the following day, Kerr contemplated his response.

“We’d played very poorly down the stretch and we’ve got guys banged up,” Kerr says. “What are we going to do?”

Kerr consulted with his staff, and it was decided that the Warriors would do less, not more. The big picture always seems to win.

“We did a defensive segment that we shortened to six minutes, instead of 12,” Kerr says. “And then we did some skill work, conceptual work that’s not going to tax them but give them a good groove and work up a sweat.

“It’s just a feel thing. It helps that I played.”

What the Warriors are doing isn’t exactly revolutionary. The concept is not that different from the approach taken by the NFL Seattle Seahawks and their coach Pete Carroll, someone from whom Kerr has borrowed a few theories.

There is an acknowledgment of the needs of the players, on and off the court, something Kerr picked up from two of his coaches, Phil Jackson in Chicago and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, two of the top five coaches in NBA history.

Kerr believes in strategically resting players in certain games and going easier on the veterans, occasionally excusing them from even the usual light drills.

“From a player’s standpoint, especially an older player, you look at is as being able to preserve and prolong your career,” Livingston says. “It’s amazing. It’s the best job in the world, but we only get so long to do it. There’s a window. But if you can increase that window, what more could you ask for as a player?

“This situation provides a unique opportunity to do that. Steve likes to make sure guys are fresh for the games and the playoffs, so he doesn’t run us into the ground.”

Kevin Durant excited for 'bragging rights' as MVP of NBA All-Star Game

Kevin Durant excited for 'bragging rights' as MVP of NBA All-Star Game

Out of all the stars on the court at the 2019 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte on Sunday night, Kevin Durant shone the brightest.

He, Klay Thompson and Team LeBron defeated Steph Curry and Team Giannis 178-164 in the annual showcase game, and when all was said and done, it was Durant raising the game's MVP trophy above his head.

"All these players are great, you know," Durant said upon receiving the trophy. "We're mixing up the conferences, and there's so many great players in the league. So to be out here amongst so much greatness, I appreciate it."

Team Giannis actually led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, but Durant and Team LeBron staged a late comeback and dominated over the final 18 minutes of play. Durant accounted for a team-high 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range, in addition to seven rebounds and two assists.

"This will definitely give me some bragging rights, me and Klay," Durant said of Team LeBron's winning performance. "But Steph did hit that tough shot over Klay, so I'm sure we're gonna be talking about that for the next couple of days.

[RELATED: Splash Brothers share funny moment during All-Star Game]

"I'm glad I got the MVP, as well."

It marked Durant's second time being named MVP of the All-Star Game, after he won the award for the first time back in 2012. He becomes just the fourth player in Warriors franchise history to be named All-Star MVP, and the first to do so since Rick Barry in 1967.

"It's all sweet to me. It's hard to rank," Durant said of his All-Star Game MVP award. "Everything is special. But it was cool to be out there with the best players in the game. Keep trying to rack them up, I guess."

If Durant and the Warriors continue on the trajectory they've been on ever since he signed with Golden State in July 2016 -- of course, his upcoming free agency could play a major factor -- he should have plenty of opportunities to add to that total in the future.

Following the game, Durant spoke with the “Inside the NBA” crew about how he compares the current Warriors team to the ones that have won the last two NBA championships.

"I think we're all a little bit more seasoned," Durant said. "I think we've been together for a couple years, and we know our tendencies and we know exactly what we need to do on offense and defense to compliment each other."

Now that All-Star festivities have come to an end, the time for individual accolades has as well. Only 25 games separate the Warriors from the postseason, and despite winning All-Star MVP, Durant has much bigger goals in mind.

Steph Curry, Klay Thompson go at each other during NBA All-Star Game

splashbrothersasgusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Steph Curry, Klay Thompson go at each other during NBA All-Star Game

The NBA All-Star Game isn't known for its defense.

Still, the Splash Brothers had to try.

Warriors stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were on opposite teams for the 2019 All-Star Game on Sunday night in Charlotte, and each had the opportunity to defend the other.

In the first half, it was Curry's turn on defense:

Way to contest, Steph.

Then, in the second half, Klay had a chance for retribution.

Hint: It didn't go very well. 

Talk about adding some trash-talk ammunition. Klay isn't likely to hear the end of that until the next All-Star Game, if he's lucky.

He did get the last laugh over his fellow Splash Brother, though. Thompson and Team LeBron prevailed over Curry and Team Giannis by a final score of 178-164.

Like I said, not a lot of defense.

Klay got the last laugh, but Steph got the last word.

Between a ridiculous bounce pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo for an alley-oop and a bounce pass to himself for a reverse dunk, it appears Mr. Curry might not be done revolutionizing the sport.