Warriors

Warriors road trip redux: Inside observations from 10-day Eastern trek

Warriors road trip redux: Inside observations from 10-day Eastern trek

The Warriors are home after going 3-2 on their latest road trip, bringing their road record to 7-7 so far this season.

This is the seventh consecutive road trip of five or more games where the Warriors came home with a winning trip, dating to the 2014-15 season.

Here’s a recap of what happened …

Toronto

This game featured the top offense in the West versus the top offense in the East. TSN (the Canadian ESPN) was doing live shots three hours before tip-off. This was a big game.

Steph Curry missed this one due to his groin injury, but he spoke about his fondness for Toronto. His dad played for the Raptors for three seasons.

In the game, the Warriors trailed by 18, but they came back to force overtime. Kevin Durant scored 51 points. It was the first time in his career he had three consecutive games of 40 points.

The Warriors lost.

My husband’s mother watches the games from her house in Dublin, Ireland. Sometimes the games re-air on Sky Sports, or she finds a live stream, or she “watches” by refreshing the score online when she’s in bed for the night. She followed this game, long past her bedtime, into overtime. Dub Nation has made a mark on our lives.

Detroit

This cold-weather road trip meant the coats and hats came out of the closet, and Jim Barnett’s garb was by far the best.

Against the Pistons, the Dubs reunited with former teammate Zaza Pachulia, whom Steve Kerr described as one of his all-time favorite players.

This game marked Steph’s return. He missed 11 games and about three weeks of action before suiting up for this one. He played 36 minutes and scored 27 points, but it was a strange game for the Dubs, who looked out of whack in their offensive rhythm.

Steve said postgame this was one of his worst games as coach, and that he needed to do more to help the guys space the floor better.

This game also featured a tough injury for Damian Jones, who tore his left pectoral muscle during a rebounding tangle with Andre Drummond.

This game was bittersweet for Draymond Green, still out with his toe injury, to come to Michigan, and be about 100 miles from home and not play. He repped his school with a Michigan State bomber jacket on game day.

Atlanta

It was gray and dark in Toronto and Detroit, so Atlanta’s sunshine felt megawatt. Atlanta also has Chick-fil-A in the media room. Another bright spot!

Jones had his left arm in a sling. I asked him what it’s like to lift up his arm to put on a shirt. He said, “It kind of sucks.”

Shootaround featured more media members than usual. The local folks wanted to ask about Trae Young’s compassions to Steph. Neither Trae nor Steph like this comparison. Trae sees himself as a Steve Nash-type. That was his favorite player growing up. And Steph feels like a young player shouldn’t be saddled with a comparison so soon in his career.

The game against the Hawks ended the Warriors’ six-game losing streak on the road. Steph scored 30, Klay scored 27 and KD had 28, marking the first time the Dubs were close to having a trio of 30-point scorers in a game since the Run TMC era. Kevon Looney also notched a new career high in scoring with 14 points.

Cleveland

Back to cold weather. Windy, too. Players were walking around in balaclavas. If they weren’t so tall, covering their faces could give them some anonymity if they wanted to walk around Cleveland. However ... no one wanted to walk around Cleveland.

When I was sitting down to write a portion of this week’s mailbag outside the locker room at the Q, Warriors security was helping a reporter find where the media group was waiting for shootaround to open. The reporter’s name is Tim (find him on Twitter: @TimWig), and he works for the Telegraph in London. He came over from England to do a story on the NBA and introduce the impact the Warriors have made on the game. He said his story will come out after the new year.

Steph was on triple-double watch during this game, and he finished with 42 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. His performance helped the Warriors take two straight wins to Milwaukee.

I could have arrived in Milwaukee with a sprained ankle if it wasn’t for Andre Iguodala. When I was sharing one of my in-game stories, I had to walk and talk to get off the floor as play resumed. The court in Cleveland is elevated, and I missed the step off. Take a look at this ankle-breaker corner.

I started to topple, but Andre was at the end of the bench, and he caught me. I twisted my ankle and felt a small jolt up my back, but it could have been much worse.

Milwaukee

The first day in Milwaukee featured my favorite story of the season so far: Kevon Looney’s jersey retirement ceremony at his high school. If you haven’t seen Loon’s prom king photo yet or heard the story about how he learned to swim, click the link.

At shootaround, Steve Kerr revealed the plan to have DeMarcus Cousins spend some time in Santa Cruz to get practices and scrimmages in with the G-League Warriors. The plan could start as early as this week when the Warriors settle into their homestand.

The Warriors beat the Bucks with good defense, limiting one of the NBA’s most powerful offenses to 39.1 percent shotting from the field and seven made 3-pointers on 39 attempts. The Warriors attempted 46 threes, their highest total of the season, and cashed in 19, getting makes from six different players. Andre had 15 points and eight rebounds for season highs.

Now Golden State comes home with three consecutive wins and Draymond returning as soon as Monday.

The team bus pulled out of Fiserv Forum at 12:02 a.m. Friday, concluding 10 days on the road.

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."