Warriors

Warriors-Rockets rivalry feels different with Golden State in transition

kerrusa.jpg
USATSI

Warriors-Rockets rivalry feels different with Golden State in transition

HOUSTON -- As Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke to a small media contingency just inside the Houston Rockets practice facility Wednesday morning, pictures of Rockets teams of the past lined the corridor behind him.

The symbol of nostalgia was appropriate. Throughout Kerr's tenure in Golden State, the Toyota Center has housed some of his team's biggest postseason moments. On the Warriors' way to five straight NBA Finals, the Rockets stood in the way during four of those runs.

Now, with the Warriors in transition and Houston still competing for titles, Kerr still is adjusting to the change in the rivalry.

"It's different," Kerr admitted hours before Wednesday's matchup against the Rockets. "We've been here for so many big games over the years"

Golden State's last visit to downtown Houston came under heightened expectations. With Kevin Durant out with a calf injury, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 60 points, helping the Warriors eliminate the Rockets in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Over the final 12 minutes of the game, Curry scored 23 of his game-high 33 points, capping one of the greatest games in Golden State lore.

"Last year's Game 6 win was possibly the best win we've ever had. Just in terms of the injuries and the way we played, the way Steph played in the second half, the way the ball moved. To finish out a great team in a series on the road."

Nearly five months later, Kerr's team finds itself in a much different place.

In the last 30 days, five players have missed games due to injury, including Thompson and Curry, who will be re-evaluated in February. Draymond Green will miss the current three-game road trip with a torn ligament in his left index finger. Of the healthy bodies on the roster Wednesday, none played in the postseason matchup against the Rockets last spring.

Golden State's health is so dire, that the team canceled a scheduled practice Tuesday evening in part to make sure two-way players Damion Lee and Ky Bowman wouldn't waste any of the 45 non-G-League days allotted by the league.

As the Warriors are navigating a new world, the Rockets are attempting to stay in contention. Two months after being eliminated by Golden State, the team traded for All-Star guard Russell Westbrook to pair with his old teammate James Harden. So far the pairing has yielded average results. Entering Wednesday's matchup, Houston has lost two of its last three games, including a 129-100 loss to Miami on Sunday evening.  

"It's early. It's hard to evaluate a team based on however many - seven games," Kerr said. "So it'll take some time to get everything in order. They had a slow start last year and they ended up being one of the best teams in the league so I'd imagine the same thing will happen."

[RELATED: Why Warriors didn't keep Nunn, who is starring for Heat]

As for Kerr, the team has some hope amid its early-season struggles. Rookie forward Eric Paschall -- who Golden State drafted 41st overall in June -- has been on a tear, averaging 29.5 points and eight rebounds over his last two games, giving the Warriors at least a chance at another memorable game Wednesday evening.

"This building will always be special for me," Kerr said. "Coming in here just thinking about all the great battles we've had."

How Glenn Robinson III's life was shaped by his parents’ different paths

How Glenn Robinson III's life was shaped by his parents’ different paths

Editor’s note: NBC Sports Bay Area’s second “Dub of the Day” this season is Glenn Robinson III. Stay with our digital and TV coverage all day long to learn everything about the Warriors small forward.

Shantelle Clay was in her childhood home in Gary, Indiana, when she got the sudden urge to use the restroom.

Home from college for Christmas break, Clay was watching her boyfriend -- Glenn Robinson Jr. -- on television dominate as a junior for the Purdue Boilermakers basketball team.

Three years prior, in the final days of Clay's freshman year at Theodore Roosevelt High School, Robinson -- a junior phenom -- insisted on signing her yearbook, along with another request.

"Give me your number," he insisted to no avail.

"He was trying to date me and all of this stuff," Clay remembers. "I thought I was just too cute."

Eventually, Clay relented, and a teenage love affair began to brew, even as Robinson committed to Purdue, where he eventually led the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight in 1994.

Clay had plans to follow Robinson after being accepted into the university. In the months prior to the 18-year-old's urge for a bathroom break, she'd become pregnant by her high school sweetheart. The circumstances came with a plan: Start her freshman year, give birth around April and finish her spring semester finals in May.

Her body had other ideas.

"Once I did, my water broke," Clay remembers. "And I was like, 'OK. I'm like still peeing.' "

An hour later, she delivered Glenn Robinson III at Gary Methodist Hospital. By the time he was delivered, Clay's newborn was so small that his entire body fit in his father's palm. While he could breathe independently, Robinson III's small stature forced him into an incubator for the next two months, as he became nourished enough to go home, while proving what the Golden State Warriors are beginning to know: Robinson III has fought for everything he's gotten.

Big shoes to fill

Robinson III's iPhone lock screen features a picture of him and his father standing alongside each other in an arena, sharing a smile. The visual provides a reminder of his basketball roots while displaying the complicated childhood that comes with being an NBA player's child. 

Shortly after her son's birth, Clay enrolled at nearby Purdue University Calumet, continuing her love affair with Robinson Jr., and giving birth to the couple's second child, Galen, in 1996. However, as Robinson Jr.'s career began to flourish, his relationship with Clay began to deteriorate. 

"That NBA life got to him," Clay remembers. "We both were young, and going through it -- just didn't know him anymore. And when you get the money and the stardom, and I could see how it changes a person, and it definitely changed him."

An NBA player's career comes with an inherent set of difficulties for the family surrounding them. For Robinson Jr., nicknamed "Big Dog," it meant playing around the country for millions, while Clay raised his children. As Robinson Jr.'s 11-year NBA career stretched between four teams, including his current residence in Georgia, his son's primary home remained in Indiana with Clay and her mother.

Nonetheless, the burden of being an NBA namesake followed, providing a complicated relationship with Robinson III's reality. 

"I didn't really like having the same name as him," Robinson III remembered. "Just because people automatically just assume my dad, or people assume what he did, and I had to match that.

"As I started to get older, about high school going into college, I started to love the fact that I have the same name as him. It helped me out. It helped me get more looks from college." 

On the surface, father and son are polar opposites. Robinson III is a gentle soul whose childhood consisted of occasional rides on his father's lap as "Big Dog" raced teammate Ray Allen along the streets of Milwaukee or made trips to Philadelphia to meet Allen Iverson during his father's 76ers tenure.

While his dad finished his high school career as a McDonald's All-American, the kid affectionately known as "Trey" didn't dunk until his sophomore season, only after he bought specialized shoes featuring a jump sole, used to increase a player's vertical, from a magazine.

New chapter with Warriors

Glenn Robinson Jr. was raised in Gary, and in the year before he was born, the city that birthed Michael Jackson to stardom had an unemployment rate of 13.1 percent, more than twice the national average. By 1994, the city's murder rate was the highest in the nation per capita. Robinson Jr.'s father, Glen Sr., was charged with cocaine and heroin possession as his son mulled an NBA future. While Glenn Robinson III passed his college entrance requirements at Michigan, "Big Dog" was forced to sit out his freshman season at Purdue because of low SAT scores.

While the duo's personalities differ, their origin stories are similar. "Big Dog" was born to a teenage mother -- Christine Bridgeman -- who displayed a similar hardened attitude as Clay. Like his son, basketball didn't come easy for Robinson Jr., who refused to go out for the team in seventh grade out of fear of being left off. Even Robinson Jr.'s signature fire is evident in his son, albeit in a unique way.

"I think I've always had the ability to kind of turn it on and off," Robinson III admits. "On a court, I can flip that switch and do what I need to do on the court. And off the court, I'm just real super chill, mellow. Everybody on the team knows that I don't say too much. But they could also tell you that ain't nobody going to mess with me."

At the moment, Robinson is looking to stick in the NBA, as his father did. Through six seasons, the 25-year-old has played for four teams. After joining the Indiana Pacers in 2015, he seemed to gain traction, shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc during his three-year tenure and earning a two-year, $8.3 million contract with the Detroit Pistons last season. 

On the surface, the move seemed solid. Detroit's newly hired coach, Dwane Casey, was months removed from winning NBA Coach of the Year with the Toronto Raptors, and he ran a style seemingly fitting Robinson III's skillset. More importantly, Detroit is less than 300 miles from Robinson III's childhood home. However, he struggled, averaging 4.2 points and 1.5 rebounds in just 47 games, and that lack of playing time frustrated the young forward. 

"I took 30-plus DNPs probably last year," Robinson III said. "And I just didn't understand it then, why would you go get me? Or why would I waste my opportunity? I'm 24 years old at the time. So, why would I waste a year of my youth of some of the best basketball that I could potentially be playing like that?" 

One week after the Pistons declined his second-year option, the Warriors offered a two-year contract with a player option for the second year and an opportunity to play alongside All-Stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. However, during his first two months in the Bay Area, Robinson III and his family is seeing much more in the organization. 

"It's everything, from weather, to lighting in the gym, to the positive energy that's around every day," Robinson III said. "To the chefs at the practice facility, the way that we eat, the quality of the food. I haven't been on a team where it's just top-notch from head to toe."

Said Clay: "I noticed a difference from how he was on the other teams and this team. He started telling me how he likes Steve Kerr, and he's never talked about liking the culture before."

So far, Robinson has flourished in the new environment, averaging career highs in points (11.8), rebounds (4.6) and assists (1.8) through 24 games.

"He's having a great year for us," Kerr said. "He's a hell of a player, and I'm very happy for him." 

Robinson's performance comes as the Warriors are in transition. In the last six months, the team has lost Curry and Thompson to injury, which has turned them into one of the league's worst teams. However, with both players expected to be healthy at the start of next season, Golden State is primed to be among the NBA's best teams again, and Robinson III hopes to be part of that future

"One of my goals coming in was to play as good as I can to let them make a decision about next year," Robinson III said last month. "And to be back here would be great."

Robinson's angel

While Robinson's career is trending upward, his biggest summer accomplishment is represented by the "Ari" stitched along the front of his favorite black hoodie. The garment is the official merch of his foundation, Angels are Real Indeed, an acronym named after his 2-year-old daughter. The non-profit aims to assists single fathers, while also giving support to children without dads, being sure not to single out women like Clay and his grandmother.

"I created the foundation to not be a father's rights organization," Robinson III said. "And something that was going to kind of be demeaning to women."

[RELATED: Robinson III picks his favorite tattoos]

As part of its efforts, the foundation is expected to put on speaking panels, podcasts and even instructional videos to help parents.

A new parent, Robinson III now finds himself in the same position "Big Dog" was 23 years ago -- a single father with hopes of a long career ahead of them. With that distinction, Robinson III -- armed with perspective that his father never had -- hopes to eclipse his dad in at least one respect. 

"It's easy to have some resentment growing up. It's easy to get frustrated because you don't understand. You're not there," Robinson III admits. "But I think being in it now, it just makes me want to spend my time with my daughter when I can."

Warriors' draft possibility LaMelo Ball out four weeks with foot injury

Warriors' draft possibility LaMelo Ball out four weeks with foot injury

Warriors general manager Bob Myers reportedly has been planning a trip to Australia to scout two potential NBA lottery picks, but he might want to postpone that now.

One of those two prospects -- the Illawarra Hawks' LaMelo Ball -- is expected to sit out the next four weeks with a bruised foot, the team announced Sunday.

Ball, of course, is the youngest brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, and he has improved his draft stock significantly over his first season in the Australian NBL, averaging 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 31 minutes per game. Ball is expected to make a full recovery in time to rejoin Illawarra before the end of the regular season in mid-February.

That timeline, however, will rule Ball out of a third highly-anticipated matchup with the New Zealand Breakers' R.J. Hampton -- the other aforementioned potential lottery pick -- that was scheduled for Dec. 22. Numerous scouts were expected to be in attendance for that head-to-head meeting, but that number likely will come down now. Hampton happens to be banged up, too, having missed the Breakers' game Sunday with a hip flexor injury.

The Warriors are expected to have a very high draft pick, and both Ball and Hampton currently appear to be in contention for the No. 1 overall selection. The two Australian-located prospects will have to fend off multiple stateside challengers, however, namely Memphis' James Wiseman, Georgia's Anthony Edwards and North Carolina's Cole Anthony.

[RELATED: Why R.J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball might interest Warriors]

Golden State already was going to have far more opportunities to scout those latter three names in person than the former two, and with Ball expected to be sidelined for at least a month, that difference has been further exacerbated.