Warriors trying to find rhythm entering 'statement' game vs. Rockets

Warriors trying to find rhythm entering 'statement' game vs. Rockets

HOUSTON -- Hours after the Warriors suffered a 115-111 loss to the Suns, Stephen Curry called Wednesday night's matchup against the Rockets a "statement" game.

Conventional wisdom would align with Curry's sentiments, considering the Warriors have lost six of their last 10 games dating to last month. But with Kevin Durant inactive Wednesday with an ankle injury, Golden State's focus has shifted from individual matchups to finding a consistent rhythm over the next 16 games. 

"I think its an important game for us, mainly because we're trying to build momentum and we're trying to gain some traction here late in the season and play better than we have," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night. "I'm not sure, especially without Kevin out, I'm not sure what it's going to mean.

"It would be great to beat this team without Kevin, and that's what we're going to work for. We're going to play and we're going to be ready, but whatever happens now isn't going to affect what happens later." 

The Rockets, who have beaten the Warriors in each of the last three matchups, have played well of late, winning their last nine games entering Wednesday's contest. James Harden, the NBA's reigning MVP, is averaging 34.4 points, 6.1 assists and 5.5 rebounds over his last 10 games.

Since the last matchup between the two teams — a 118-112 Houston win — the Rockets have continued to ascend from the bottom of the Western Conference to third in the West entering Wednesday.

"Houston has gotten a lot better since early in the season," Kerr said. "We've probably played Houston 30 times over the last five years ... so they're a great team."

Meanwhile, despite being a game and a half above Denver for the top spot in the West, Golden State finds itself in peril.

In the last week, the Warriors have suffered their worst loss since Kerr was hired in 2014, and lost to Phoenix for the first time in nearly five years. Adding to the troubles, Kerr was caught saying he was "tired" of Draymond Green. While the two have since reconciled, it appears, the optics just highlight the angst in Golden State.

[RELATED: 'It don't bother me': Draymond shrugs off Kerr's comments]

The Warriors have been here before this season. Following an early season spat between Green and Durant, the team lost six of its next 10 games, struggling through the holiday season before bouncing back, winning 16 of 17 from January into the All-Star break. 

The Warriors' latest matchup against the Rockets kicks off a four-game road gauntlet featuring the Thunder and Spurs, before finishing off against the Timberwolves on the second night of a back-to-back.

Prior to the trip, Kerr expressed joy in the team getting back on the road, and hoped that the time together can reconcile any issues that have come up recently. With the playoffs ahead and the last bit of regular season left, there's ample time to get back to the team's latest micro goal: regaining their championship selves. 

"We're just trying to get better ourselves," Kerr said. "We haven't played well, so I don't see don't see any reason to worry about any other team than our own."

Warriors' Steve Kerr makes odd request of Steph Curry in NBA playoffs

Warriors' Steve Kerr makes odd request of Steph Curry in NBA playoffs

OAKLAND — Steve Kerr’s latest request of Steph Curry is short, simple and initially puzzling: Let ‘em score.

Three words, easily understood, but completely against the competitive instincts of an elite NBA player conditioned to accept defense as an essential part of the game.

Kerr isn’t telling Curry to neglect defense. Rather, the coach is advising his superstar to weigh his overall value to the Warriors in the NBA playoffs against the significance of committing fouls in hopes of preventing two points.

“Sometimes, he just gets in the habit of trying to strip the ball,” Kerr said Tuesday after practice. “So, more than anything, it’s just about trying to get him past that habit. I keep telling him how valuable he is. I’d much rather he just got out of the guy’s way and gave him a layup and kept playing.

“He’s much more valuable than two points. And we’ve got plenty of help; our defense is predicated on help.”

This, in the big picture, makes sense. While the Warriors seek to close out the Clippers in Game 5 of their first-round series Wednesday, advancing likely means getting a dose of potent Houston.

Anyone care to imagine Curry on the bench with foul trouble against the Rockets?

Curry’s impact against Los Angeles was neutralized by foul trouble in Games 3 and 4. Though having him on the bench for long stretches, saddled with foul trouble, is not ideal in this series, it would invite disaster should the Warriors advance and face Houston.

After committing four or more fouls just four times over the final 27 games of the regular season, Curry has been whistled at least that often in every game against LA. Picking up five fouls in Game 3, including his fourth early in the third quarter, limited him to 20 minutes.

So Curry, prior to Game 4, put a message on his shoes, “No Reach” -- a reminder to avoid a tendency that usually is his quickest route to foul trouble.

“I have confidence in my hand-eye coordination and hand speed,” Curry said. “That’s how I get steals usually, by being quick. But that’s how I get fouls, too, so I’ve got to balance both of them.

“The ones I’ve had trouble with in this series are ones that I shouldn’t even be in that situation to begin with. There’s help behind the play. I’m not even involved in the play, really. I’m just kind of lunging at it. That’s just a lack of focus.

“We could nitpick each one of them and understand exactly why. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to continue to stay on the floor on our normal rotations and not foul.”

There was progress in Game 4 insofar as Curry generally avoided reaching. And when he committed his third foul with 4:16 left in the first half, Kerr stayed with him.

Curry rewarded the coach by playing the rest of the half and the entire third quarter without a whistle. He played 35 minutes, committing four fouls.

Moreover, the Warriors won both games.

[RELATED: Beverley explains why he doesn't talk trash to Curry]

“If he’s got a couple fouls already, he should be able to play with those fouls,” Kerr said. “I’ve always trusted him. Since I’ve been here, I’ve generally played him with two fouls in the first half or three in the third quarter. I believe in letting a guy go, letting him play, a star player like that especially. The second half was a great sign that he’s kind of made it past that habit.”

The Warriors would like to think so.

They’d like to believe that building better habits in this series will make them stronger in the next one. History has shown they are strongest with Curry on the floor.

Richard Jefferson offers opinion on Kevin Durant's comments about media

Richard Jefferson offers opinion on Kevin Durant's comments about media

Programming note: Watch the pregame edition of Warriors Outsiders on Wednesday night at 6, streaming live on the MyTeams app.

Richard Jefferson gets paid to talk about basketball and express his opinions.

Over the last couple of years, he hasn't shied away from discussing his feelings about the Warriors and/or Kevin Durant.

On Tuesday, he was a guest on ESPN's show "The Jump" and KD's recent comments about the media was obviously a topic of conversation.

"You go back and look at the history of the game -- Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the amount of pressure that they had to save this league; Michael Jordan, no player to me has ever had so much weight on his shoulders; then you go forward to Kobe Bryant after the post-Jordan era; then all of a sudden Kobe kind of faded away because LeBron James was in the prime of his career.

"If you want that 'Best player, I'm going to be the guy to hold this league down the next five years' (title), you need to be able to handle this better than how he (Durant) has," Jefferson said. "We need you, the game of basketball needs you to be better at this."

So what did KD say exactly?

“They need me. If I wasn’t a free agent, none of this s--t would go on, right?" the reigning two-time Finals MVP told NBC Sports Bay Area's Logan Murdock. “ None of this speculation about who I am, what’s wrong with my mental, why I’m miserable, why I ain’t happy with life. Nothing.”

Last summer, Durant elected to sign another "1+1" contract with the Warriors in order to maintain flexibility and possess the option to become a free agent again this summer. Ever since, there has been rampant speculation about his future and incessant discussion about his state of mind.

Back in mid-November, Steph Curry said: "With how active our guys are on social media, it’s hard not to see that stuff. But it tests your character, makes you figure out how to compartmentalize stuff. Either you take it as entertainment or you get influenced by it. Whatever you think, however you are in real life, in terms of how impressionable you are, how insecure you might be, how confident in yourself you might be, that’ll all reflect in how you handle it.”

Things boiled over for Durant in early February when the 10-time All-Star broke his silence and lashed out at the media following the Warriors' win over the Spurs.

[RELATEDJerry West believes Warriors' weak point is very obvious]

Jefferson has the utmost respect for KD the basketball player, but believes he needs to tweak his approach to reporters.

"I think he's on the Mount Rushmore of this generation," Jefferson added. "But make no mistake, the game of basketball -- which has provided for me, all of us, all of our families and his -- needs him to be able to handle this better because that's what the title of 'king' means.

"When you are the king, when you are No. 1, that means you have a ton more responsibility that you have to handle or you're not fit for that."

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