Their 3-point defense was mostly solid, their 3-point shooting superb. Their bench brought an admirable level of scrap. After this latest loss, their fifth in a row, the Warriors actually could say there were signs of progress.
If only they could say the same of Kevon Looney.
Coach Steve Kerr had 12 “healthy” players ready to face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night in Portland, and 11 of them took the floor. Minutes were distributed to everyone but Loon, who received the NBA’s five letters of dread: DNP-CD. Did Not Play. Coach’s Decision.
If the Warriors and their fans weren’t worried about 23-year-old forward/center before – and surgery on each hip is enough for all to give pause – it’s officially time to sound that alarm.
Diagnosed with neuropathy, a nerve condition that can be treated but not necessarily cured, Looney experienced symptoms in his right hamstring and it kept him out of training camp. Preseason games passed without him. He returned to play 10 minutes on opening night, and then missed the next 20 games.
Since returning on Dec. 2 in Atlanta, Looney has played seven games and not particularly well. In 91 minutes, he has 19 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
At no time has he appeared able to do the things that over the past two seasons endeared him to teammates and coaches. The agility to switch out and defend gifted guards. The ability to rebound in traffic. The instincts and intellect to know where he is supposed to be, and when he should be there, on both ends.
Though he was not listed on the team’s pregame injury report in Portland, Looney clearly is not physically able to be that guy. He’s hoping to play through it, and the challenge is immense.
Asked about Loon’s disuse, Kerr told reporters at Moda Center that it's tough to play 12 guys and then touched upon the essence of the matter.
“Looney is struggling to get his game back right now,” Kerr said. “I’ve only been able to get him spot minutes here and there, so I talked to him (Wednesday). I thought I would get him out there for some minutes. But the way the game turned out, I stayed with the other guys.”
To be fair, the other reserve big men, Marquese Chriss and Omari Spellman, were effective. With 10 points and 10 rebounds in 17 minutes, Chriss posted his third double-double in four games. Spellman had five points and six rebounds in 11 minutes.
But whether Looney is able to contribute at this time definitely is an issue. He can’t.
“Looney is one of our foundational players,” Kerr said. “He’s had a real tough go because of the condition that he dealt with. Missed training camp, and he’s trying to find his way now but has not found a rhythm. Still doesn’t have the conditioning. We’ve kind of tried to help him play back into condition here the last couple weeks. But it’s not really fair for to him or the team until he’s really in a better place physically.
“I’m not worried about him. This year is more about developing the players that you don’t know about, and it’s about getting the mainstays healthy instead of ruining our mainstays.”
Though Kerr insisted he’s not concerned – keep in mind, his script demands optimism – the key word is “conditioning.” Loon is not at the level of conditioning to contribute. Given the often debilitating effects of neuropathy, there can be no certainty.
The Warriors knew when they drafted him out of UCLA in 2015 that they were taking a risk. Looney underwent the surgery on his right hip two months after the draft. He came back and played five games as a rookie. Eight months later, he underwent surgery on his left hip.
The team’s front office and coaching staff have accepted that Looney might never routinely play 30 minutes per game. In 254 career games, including postseason, he has reached that total twice. He never has exceeded 30 minutes. His high for this season: 18 last Friday at Utah.
The plan for Looney in the coming days, according to Kerr, is to put him through more scrimmages and high-velocity practices.
"I know what he can do,” Kerr said. “I know this guy who has been our best center for the last couple years, and our most consistent performer. The guy who we have trusted in the Finals, at the biggest moments. We know what he can do. And it’s not crucial for him to be out there right now. It’s more about him getting his conditioning back, his health back. And once he does, he’ll be in our rotation.”
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That’s the hope. That this young man, whose body has endured such trauma, can overcome neuropathy and any other issues that might arise and again be the reliable presence he was for most of the past two seasons.
It’s not irrational to wonder if he ever will.