Warriors have what it takes for win streak to last past All-Star break

Warriors have what it takes for win streak to last past All-Star break

The Warriors return home this week an appreciably better team than the one that left Jan. 17 for a 12-day road trip. They are now the team the rest of the NBA had hoped would never materialize.

The focus is tight, the shooting is sharp, the ball movement is dazzling, the defense is effective and, above all, spirits are soaring.

It was all on display Monday night in a 132-100 thrashing of the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Warriors have won 11 in a row and it’s conceivable they could sprint into the All-Star break with an 18-game winning streak. Stephen Curry, speaking to reporters in Indianapolis, said he is thinking precisely that way.

“I don’t know how many games we have before the All-Star break,” Curry said, “but the goal should be to win them all and continue to get better as we get deeper and deeper into the season.”

[RELATED: Steph adds yet another NBA 3-point record to his résumé]

The number of games is seven, with five of them at home, including Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Of those games before the Feb. 14 break, the toughest games are the back-to-back set at the end. The Utah Jazz come to Oracle Arena on Feb. 12 and then the Warriors head to Portland to face the Trail Blazers on Feb. 13.

If the Warriors play as well as they have on the 5-0 road trip punctuated by a convincing win over Indiana, it won’t matter much who they play.

“Unbelievable trip ... just a really good way to finish it, too, with everyone playing and contributing,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We had the lead from start to finish. I was a little worried about this game, everyone is anxious to get home. We finished off the trip the right way, and it’s great to see.”

The contributions from up and down the roster may be the most satisfying component of the win streak. One night, it’s Curry doing most of the damage. The next night, it’s Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson. The bench, led by Andre Iguodala, has also been an asset.

But the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, who missed the first 45 games while recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon, has provided a lift that has been as much emotional as physical.

Cousins submitted a season-high 22 points Monday, adding six rebounds and four assists. He took a hard fall in the first quarter, but ended up playing 25 minutes. The team’s offensive rating is 118.3 since he returned, largely because his huge presence in the paint makes the Warriors incredibly difficult to defend.

“We’ve been more dialed in the past month than we have all season, and for much of last season,” Kerr said. “You can just see . . . the turnovers are down, we’re just more conscientious as a group and guys are moving the ball, 39 assists tonight. We’re in a good groove, we’re in a good place and just got to keep going.”

The Warriors (36-14) tore apart the Pacers early. After a Darren Collison 3-pointer pulled Indiana into a 16-16 tie with 5:30 remaining in the first quarter, the Warriors went on a 24-3 run and never really let up.

That’s typical of their work during the win streak that began immediately after the most devastating loss of the season, blowing a 20-point lead, and losing, at Oracle Arena, on a buzzer-beater by James Harden back on Jan. 3.

The Warriors are averaging 128.9 points and 33.3 assists per game during the streak. They shot 52.1 from the field, 41.3 from beyond the arc on Monday.

[RELATED: Why Dubs pursuing AD wouldn't make sense ... for now]

If there is a surprise, it is this: their defense has improved with Cousins. They went from a porous 113.3 rating in the first six victories to 103.1 with Boogie playing over the last five.

And yet, the Warriors maintain they can get better.

“We’re not playing perfect basketball by any stretch,” Curry said. “But we’re playing consistent, focused basketball. We’re still working out some kinks with rotations and stuff like that, and understanding what play calls we want to run.

“But the little things to help us win a championship, defensively in transition, boxing out, those are things that swing a game, a possession or two here and there in the playoffs. If you really want to nit-pick, that’s the stuff that we have to focus in on.”

If the rest of the NBA has to look that deeply find a weakness, yes, an 18-game win streak is absolutely achievable. Scary, huh?

Why Steph Curry's gesture at Oracle Arena finale touched Monta Ellis

Why Steph Curry's gesture at Oracle Arena finale touched Monta Ellis

For the final regular-season game in Oracle Arena history, Warriors star Steph Curry arrived rocking a No. 8 Monta Ellis jersey.

"Obviously, a lot of history that Monta was able to be a part of with the 'We Believe' Warriors era, and when I got here my rookie year, he was that guy," Curry told reporters back on April 7. "And I think for me, in terms of representing him on the last game, it meant a lot because we were in that backcourt together. 

"When he was traded it was a tough time in terms of the transition of the organization and things like that. I wanted to pay, obviously, honor to him in terms of his story, coming out of high school and doing what he was able to do. He was an Oakland fan, Warrior fan. Beloved guy."

Shortly after he got wind of Curry's gesture, Monta reacted on Instagram. But he recently expanded on his feelings.

"The biggest thing that I always wanted to do, like, when I leave this Earth, is know that I impacted somebody in some shape or form, no matter if it was on or off the basketball court," he told Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. "That’s my biggest thing.

"So to hear that from him, man, it just means I did what I was supposed to do. I made an impact on somebody’s life before I left here.”

During the 2009-10 season -- Curry's rookie campaign -- Ellis averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game.

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The following year, he racked up 24.1 points and 5.6 assists per contest, while Curry registered 18.6 points and 5.8 assists per night.

Although Monta was disappointed with how the franchise handled his trade to Milwaukee in March 2012, he has nothing but love for Dub Nation.

“That’s my second home,” he told Thompson. “I love Oakland. The fans are like no other. I’ve never seen any other fans in America like Oracle.”

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Why Steve Kerr’s message to enjoy Warriors' dynasty should’ve been heeded

Why Steve Kerr’s message to enjoy Warriors' dynasty should’ve been heeded

Steve Kerr knew this season would be different, how could he not?

Still, even the Warriors head coach couldn't have predicted how drastically different his sixth season in the Bay would be. 

Kevin Durant left to become a Net. Klay Thompson likely will miss the entire season rehabbing his torn ACL. Then, Steph Curry broke his left hand and will be re-evaluated in February and D'Angelo Russell missed nine of the first 21 games with a thumb sprain. This has left Kerr to lead a group of rookies, role players and reclamation projects through the NBA season.

Dynasties aren't built to last. Kerr, a six-time NBA champion as a player and coach, knows that. He knows how fleeting championship runs can be. The Warriors have gone from dreaded bully thirsting for June champagne to a champion laying on the canvas as a 12-month recharge washes over them.

“No,” Kerr laughed when NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson asked if he thought anyone savored last season's run when he told them to. “It’s human nature to think we’re going to win it again and we’re going to keep going forever. Life changes quickly.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team. Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize---fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

The Warriors will be back. That's the plan at least. This season serves as a reboot point. A mere pitstop in a dynasty that has been paused not concluded.

But plans, even those best laid, rarely go as drawn up. Kerr knows that. That's why he implored everyone from Curry to those sitting in the nosebleeds at Oracle Arena to enjoy one of the most impressive runs in NBA history.

You never know when things will come back, and things surely never will be the way they were when Curry and Warriors were pulverizing teams into oblivion en route to five-straight NBA Finals appearances.

That ride, as Kerr predicted, came to an end.

A new one has begun.

[RELATED: Warriors' plan might draw speculation after two inexplicable losses]

The Warriors sit at 4-19. Rookies Eric Paschall and Ky Bowman have played well, as has veteran swingman Glenn Robinson III. But it's unlikely to amount to many wins this season. It's instead about teaching, about growth for next season when a fully loaded Warriors team will enact its vengeance on an NBA that is taking pleasure in pummeling the wounded champions. 

That will be a sweet moment for Kerr and the Warriors, should it come.

Pleasure, in sports and in life is, fleeting. Titles come. Confetti falls. Elation hits. Then, it's on to next year, and one day, before you've blinked, things are different. The run is over and a new course has been charted.

That course is expected to get the Warriors back to the top soon. If it does, expect everyone to heed Kerr's advice and enjoy the ride.