The Warriors left Oklahoma City late Saturday night and landed precisely where they want to be, and we’re not referring to their flight back to the Bay Area.
They moved into first place in the race to the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery.
For the first time under the Joe Lacob/Peter Guber ownership group, the Warriors, at 2-8, reached the 10-game mark with the worst record in the league.
Activate your fantasies, Dub Nation.
The Warriors last participated in the lottery in 2012, when they chose forward Harrison Barnes with the No. 7 overall pick. They added center Festus Ezeli later in the first round, and then forward Draymond Green in the second round.
Ten months later, they were in the playoffs for the second time in 20 seasons and they’ve been back every year since.
They’re not going to make it this season, and most of the reasons were visible in a 114-108 loss to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
First and foremost were the notable absences: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Green, all four postseason regulars sidelined with injuries. Second was the loss of impressive rookie forward Eric Paschall with a hip contusion that was disclosed less than an hour before tipoff, and then the loss of center/forward Omari Spellman with a sprained right ankle sustained in the second quarter.
The young, shorthanded and deeply compromised Warriors then went out and played at a level that had them trailing the Thunder by 10 less than nine minutes after tipoff and by 23 late in the first half. There were missed switches, miscommunication and general hoops malfeasance that allowed OKC to record 19 assists in the first half, while shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep.
That did not kill the kind of spirit that has been the hallmark of the great teams of recent years – and that the franchise of hoping will not dissipate during this season of transition.
“We have young guys, we could play hard, and that’s what we did,” Alec Burks told reporters in Oklahoma City,
Burks, at 28, is the team’s oldest healthy player. He’s on a one-year contract. Yet he was a massive part of the spirit exhibited by the Warriors, finishing with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists.
With D’Angelo Russell (30 points, seven assists) leading the way, the Warriors fought back. They even took a lead early in the fourth quarter before OKC recovered and re-established control.
“I'm proud of the effort,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we need to clean up the mistakes that lead us to get down by 22. We made all kinds of defensive errors, game-plan errors that young teams may make. But young teams, in order to progress, have to fix those errors. And that's the goal here as we move forward into the season."
Creating playing time for players they’d like to commit to is another purpose of this season. Paschall falls into that category. So does fellow rookie Jordan Poole, who continued to struggle with shot and might be falling victim to some diminishing confidence. He totaled four points on 2-of-6 shooting.
And because the Warriors want to build for tomorrow, Poole likely will remain in the starting lineup and Paschall likely will re-enter once he’s cleared to play, perhaps as soon as Monday.
With inexperience comes games like this one, losses heavy on effort but light on execution.
“We’re a young team that is learning,” Kerr said. “But I’m not happy with where we are, nor should our players be. We should not just accept our fate. We shouldn’t feel sorry for ourselves and say, ‘Well, we have all these injuries.’ Or ‘We’re playing two-way guys’ and ‘going for the lottery’ and all this crap. We should win some games.”
The Warriors will win some of the remaining 72 games on the schedule. They will lose even more, at least until their stars return.
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For now, they sit in a place unfamiliar to this ownership, this front office and this coaching staff. After five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Warriors slide into mid-November in the league’s cellar.
So, go ahead Dub Nation. Start scanning those mock drafts. Start peeping those NCAA games. For even if they don’t finish with the best chance to select the No. 1 overall pick, they’ll be on the lottery stage, where the dreams of many come true.