Warriors must bring energy, focus on defense to prove naysayers wrong

Warriors must bring energy, focus on defense to prove naysayers wrong

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors' roster upheaval has been significant and dramatic. After years of historically great offensive output, the team will try to find a way to make up for nearly 55 points per game lost after the departures of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, as well as Klay Thompson, who will be out until at least February as he recovers from a torn ACL.

As debilitating these absences are for the offense, the defense will be equally impacted. Iguodala, Thompson and Durant were three of the top defenders on the team and in the league.

Starting with the arrival of Iguodala in 2013, the Warriors have been one of top defenses in the NBA year after year. In the 2013-14 season, the team ranked third in the league with a defensive rating of 101.4, followed by a No. 1 ranking with a 100.4 rating in coach Steve Kerr's first season in 2014-15. The following season in 2015-16, the Warriors were sixth in the NBA at 102.8, before finishing second in the league with a 103.4 rating in the 2016-17 campaign. The team started to decline defensively in the 2017-18 season when they fell to 11th in the NBA with a 106.8 defensive rating. Finally this past season, the Warriors continued their defensive slide, posting a 108.6 defensive rating which was good for 11th in the NBA yet again.

There are many reasons for the team's defensive rating worsening in each year of the Kerr era, with the most significant being overall regular-season apathy. As the team became more dominant, talented and successful, they also became less inclined to give a full effort on the defensive end of the floor on an every-game basis.

The road to the NBA Finals was too exhausting mentally and physically to be able to be fully engaged against lesser teams throughout the regular season. During the postseason, the team was able to maintain a strong defensive presence with increased focus and energy, except for last season, when some of the team's best defenders were hobbled or out due to injury.

Another major factor in the team's defensive decline has been the overall improvement of the NBA's competitive balance, and the adjustments teams have made to catch up with the Warriors' style and pace of play.

Because of this, coupled with major superstar shifts in the NBA landscape and the Warriors' loss of talent, there are some that do not think the Dubs will be able to make the playoffs this season. If the Warriors are able to prove these naysayers wrong, it will have to start by surprising many on the defensive end.

With the absence of Iguodala, Durant, and for the most part, Thompson, the Warriors will be left with two of their top five defenders from last season, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. Despite last season being considered one of Green's least effective years, he still was quite good. Out of the Warriors' top eight defensive rated lineups that played 50 or more minutes last regular season, Green was part of seven of them.

Meanwhile, Looney widely is considered a terrific pick-and-roll defender and a player that consistently is in the right position. Steph Curry is a better defender than he has been given credit for in his career, but with the Warriors will be so reliant on his offense, they won't ask him to stop any opposing scoring point guard. D'Angelo Russell hasn't garnered a good defensive reputation so far in his young career, so it will be up to him to improve his effort and seek guidance from elite coaches such as Ron Adams.

The Warriors do have a few wing players that have solid defensive reputations in their careers (both in college and the NBA), including Jacob Evans III, Eric Paschall and Glenn Robinson III. All three will be needed to provide good wing defense if the team is to overcome their roster holes. Alec Burks and Alfonzo McKinnie have not proven to be reliable defenders so far, but have the physical talent to be effective if properly utilized.

When it comes to the frontcourt, Willie Cauley-Stein, while not a rim protector, has the length and athleticism to compete defensively in today's fast-paced game and also will be a pupil of Adams. The jury still is out on what Omari Spellman, Jordan Poole and Alen Smailagic can bring on that end. The defensive question marks are real and rightfully concerning for a team that has become accustomed to being elite.

[RELATED: Warriors must embrace new NBA reality after golden era]

But with more energy and focus in the regular season, the Warriors are hoping that a few of their new additions will emerge and push them to defensive respectability once again.

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."

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in deflating 114-106 loss to Jazz


Warriors takeaways: What we learned in deflating 114-106 loss to Jazz


SALT LAKE CITY -- Warriors big man Marquese Chriss said his team was "tired of losing" during his halftime interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke on Friday at Vivent Smart Home Arena.

Unfortunately for Chriss, the Warriors will have to wait at least two more days to erase their current skid, as Golden State lost 114-106 to the Jazz. 

Unlike most nights, the Warriors -- without Draymond Green and rookie Eric Paschall -- showed fight, taking a seven-point lead after the first quarter. However, a second-half Utah run doomed their chances as the Warriors' inability to finish crippled them once again. 

There are no moral victories in sports and the Warriors will take another loss back to the Bay Area. 

Here are the takeaways as the Warriors fell to 5-22 on the season: 

Fast start erased in one quarter

The Warriors have been immune to quick starts over the last week. On Friday, the trend changed. Through the first 24 minutes, Golden State outscored Utah 26-18 in the paint, while holding the Jazz to just 43 percent from the field. 

Utah's defense was out of sorts in the second quarter, as the Warriors built a 13-point lead. On one possession, Chriss blocked a shot on one end, ran the floor unguarded and received a pass wide open under the basket for an easy dunk. 

Then the third quarter happened.

Over the next 12 minutes the Warriors were outscored 37-28. Even when the Warriors fought back, a key missed dunk from Willie Cauley-Stein ended any hopes of a win. 

The Warriors have shown fight amid injuries, but the only mark of success is winning, a goal the team again couldn't accomplish in Utah. 

Alec Burks shines

Against his former team, Burks was effective, finishing with 24 points including two 3-pointers. Despite shooting just 41 percent from the field this season, Burks has shown the ability to carry Golden State's offense when needed. His downhill attack consistently puts the opponent on edge. 

The location of Burks' output is noteworthy. He spent eight years playing in Utah before injuries derailed his career. His affinity for the town was apparent from the time he walked into the building. Following his pregame workout, he spent most of his time exchanging pleasantries with former teammates and arena staff, causing a Warriors team official to jokingly ask, "When is Alec's statue going up?"

[RELATED: Burks wants to stay with Warriors]

Chriss shined despite scare

The first-year Warrior continued his reclamation bid, finishing with 12 points, adding 13 rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes off the bench. 

Chriss had a slight scare in the third quarter when he knocked knees with a Jazz player contesting a layup. He was later diagnosed as a left knee contusion. 

Following a rough start to his career, Chriss has become a valuable piece to the transitional Warriors, providing rebounding and scoring off the bench. Friday was yet another example of his contributions.