Warriors must regain Oracle Arena magic to earn NBA playoffs' top seed

Warriors must regain Oracle Arena magic to earn NBA playoffs' top seed

OAKLAND – One of the sadder sights for a professional sports franchise is that of its fans rising en masse and strolling toward the exits. Unwilling to watch, they walk.

This blatant display of despair has, for the better part of this decade, not applied to the Warriors.

But there it was Tuesday night, late in the third quarter of a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics. Tickets worth three figures two hours earlier, tossed to the wind.

The Warriors opened the season speaking passionately about making their 47th and final year at Oracle Arena memorable. This one was going to be for the fans, those folks who have spent so much of their lives supporting them in Oakland.

Golden State has seven losses by at least 20 points this season, with five of them at Oracle. The 33-point loss to Boston was the worst in 196 home games under coach Steve Kerr.

“We talked about this being our last season at Oracle, in Oakland, the very first night that we met back in September at our team dinner that we do every year before camp starts,” Kerr said Thursday. “It’s a big part of our theme. And we’ve let our fans down many times this year at home, particularly on nights that are big ones, against great teams on national TV.”

The Warriors are 23-9 at home, the seventh-best home record in the NBA. The two-game difference between their records at home and on the road (21-11) is the slimmest among teams with the 10-best records in the league – and the closest among the top seven teams in the Western Conference.

Oracle once was the Warriors’ personal cheat code. They won 54 consecutive regular-season home games stretching from Jan. 27, 2015 through March 29, 2016. They were 39-2 at home in each of Kerr’s first two seasons, and 36-5 in the third.

Then, they were 29-12 at home last season, the exact same as on the road. The Oracle magic was gone. “Roaracle” was just another building.

The goal this season of reestablishing home supremacy has not been fulfilled.

“It’s something we’ve discussed the last two days,” Kerr said “What’s our purpose? Why are we doing this? We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our fans and particularly to our fans in Oakland, to give them our best stuff over the coming months. That’s been lacking and it’s disappointing.

“But we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us to close the season strong and to play well and deep into the playoffs. It’s all right there for us.”

The Warriors have nine more regular-season games at Oracle, including two against the Denver Nuggets, who come to Oakland on Friday. The most imposing of the other seven home opponents are the Indiana Pacers, which visits on March 21.

To have reasonable chance to post the best record in the league, and thereby earn home-court advantage throughout the postseason, the Warriors probably need win all nine home games and at least six of their nine road games. They enter Friday 4.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who are a league-best 48-16.

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The Warriors this week set a couple of goals for the final five weeks of the regular season, and one of them is to earn the top overall seed. Knowing that a postseason opponent must win in at Oracle should mean a lot to the Warriors and to Oakland.

It will mean a lot more if, over their final nine home games, the Warriors can captivate their fans until the final seconds.

Seeing fans heading to the Oracle exits early is, after all, acceptable only when the Warriors have locked up victory.

With Anthony Davis, Lakers start arms race to take Warriors crown

USA Today

With Anthony Davis, Lakers start arms race to take Warriors crown

The Warriors have gotten used to being the 'hunted' over the last half-decade.

Over the span, the rest of the NBA has been in an arms race to catch them, to no avail. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, achieved the greatest five year run in NBA history. 

Now - after the 2019 NBA Finals loss to the Raptors crippled of Durant and Klay Thompson - the rest of the league is primed to permanently end the dynasty. 

The latest example comes out of Los Angeles, where the Lakers - who will open their preseason against the Warriors Oct. 5 in to open San Francisco's Chase Center - have traded for superstar Pelicans big man Anthony Davis, shipping out Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round picks, including the number four pick in Thursday's draft. More intriguing, the team could have between $27 and $32 million in cap space combined with a free agency pool that includes Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker. 

Since 2014, the Warriors have grown accustomed to arms races against them. Most notably the Houston Rockets - admittedly obsessed with the Warriors - who traded for Chris Paul in 2017 to achieve common footing. More recently - with James out of the Eastern Conference - Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri traded for Kawhi Leonard, a move that ultimately dethroned the Warriors two days ago. 

However, the Lakers' move comes at a unique time of peril in Golden State. Entering free agency, their two top targets - Durant and Thompson - will enter 2019-20 season expected to sit out at least half the season with major rehabilitation timetables. With both players expected to command maximum salary slots, the Warriors will enter next season - if both decide to re-sign - with two top players on the bench and little cap space to get better. 

It's appropriate the Lakers are the first team this summer to make a move toward championship consideration. For the last half-century, the franchise was everything the Warriors dynasty currently is. A healthy, star driven franchise that's had the likes of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant donning its colors, helping the franchise win 15 titles. However, since 2013, the franchise hasn't reached the postseason, building a reputation for more off-court drama than on-court wins. Two months ago, Johnson - the team's Vice President of Basketball Operations - abruptly stepped down before the team's final regular season game, citing trust issues with general manager Rob Pelinka. 

Now - with the addition of Davis - the Lakers could be back to contending for titles. With its cap-space, they can bring at least one more near max player on the roster. 

As for the Warriors, more questions linger. DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney will be free agents and the team will have to decide whether to extend a qualifying offer to second-year big man Jordan Bell. Worse, of the players with all-star experience, only Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will be expected full participants when training camp opens in September. 

Following Thursday's elimination, Draymond Green said it wouldn't be smart to count out the Warriors, citing their championship pedigree. Time will tell whether his words will ring true, but as the Lakers proved Saturday afternoon, the rest of the league is coming for their crown out West. 

NBA rumors: Kemba Walker Lakers' 'top target' after Anthony Davis trade

NBA rumors: Kemba Walker Lakers' 'top target' after Anthony Davis trade

After missing the playoffs in LeBron James' first season, the Lakers are re-tooling their roster, and it appears it will be an impressive overhaul.

After reportedly agreeing to acquire All-Star center Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans in a trade Saturday, the Lakers have their eyes on free-agent point guard Kemba Walker. In fact, the New York Times' Marc Stein reported that Walker will be the Lakers’ "top target.”

The Lakers need a point guard after including former No. 2 overall draft pick Lonzo Ball in the package headed to New Orleans for Davis.

With the Warriors wounded heading into the 2019-20 season, the Lakers see an opportunity to jump back to the top of the Western Conference. A starting lineup featuring Walker, LeBron, Kyle Kuzma and Davis would be scary, and should do some damage next season.

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Look out, NBA. Here come the Lakers.