Warriors win over Rockets is Christmas miracle that Dub Nation needs

Warriors win over Rockets is Christmas miracle that Dub Nation needs

SAN FRANCISCO -- It is, on nearly every level, a mismatch designed for sheer humiliation. The lottery-bound Warriors with their top guns out of service, trying to stare down the title-or-bust Rockets coming in with their weapons ablaze.

Houston general manager Daryl Morey, admittedly obsessed with beating the Warriors, couldn’t be blamed if under these circumstances he were to reach out and offer a holiday hug to the cuddly Dubs his team will see on Christmas Day at Chase Center.

There will be a total absence of the crackling intensity and mutual loathing that for years has made these games a feast for the eyes and ears. We’re going to miss that blood feud.

And yet, this is one of those games -- and they will be rare this season -- for which a Warriors victory would register on the Richter scale. A win would send Dub Nation floating into 2020 and be relived for decades to come.

Though LeBron James is Enemy No. 1 among Warriors fans, the amount of heat tossed his way can’t begin to match that thrown at the detested combination of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Putting the boot to the backsides of two villains always trumps thumping one.

There is a path to victory. Houston is 10 days removed from losing at home to the Pistons and 15 days removed from losing at home to the Kings. The Warriors, at present, are a tick below Detroit and Sacramento – and a dozen levels below where they were over the previous five years.

“Well, all of the guys we used to put on James Harden are no longer there to put on James Harden,” coach Steve Kerr said late Monday night. “So, we will have to try some new guys.”

Instead of a backcourt featuring Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, conceivably the most explosive guard duo in NBA history, Kerr will roll out D’Angelo Russell and Damion Lee. Instead of All-World forward Kevin Durant, you get Eric Paschall or Glenn Robinson III. Instead of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, it’s Alec Burks and Jacob Evans III.

There are very valid reasons for the Warriors being heavy underdogs. The competitive inequality; the Warriors are 7-25, the Rockets 21-9. The disparity in experience; the Warriors have two playoff vets, the Rockets eight. And, too, there is the national spotlight that blisters some while putting jet fuel in others.

There is only so much that the savviest of Warriors, Draymond Green, can do to prepare his teammates for the gravity and atmosphere that come with participating in the NBA showcase that is Christmas Day.

“Just try to help them with tendencies,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to go out there and play. Don’t worry about the stage. It’s still a basketball game.”

Green pointed out the need for video study, which would reveal Harden’s proclivity for baiting defenders into reach fouls, Westbrook’s penchant for getting reckless when frustrated, Clint Capela’s pursuit of lobs to slam and P.J. Tucker’s success in making 3-pointers exclusively from the corners.

It’s a lot to process for the Warriors, who show signs of learning, particularly on defense. For example, when they played the Timberwolves on Nov. 8 in Minneapolis, they neglected the basic fact that Andrew Wiggins wants to go right. Always. So, he went for 40 points on 17-of-33 shooting, burying the Warriors.

On Monday night, Wiggins saw a more spirited and aware defense, one more determined to cut off his comfort zone. He scored 22 points on 10-of-27 shooting. The Warriors won by nine.

It goes back to the scout’s axiom: Know Your Personnel, aka KYP.

“We’ve seen them already earlier in the season, so we know what they are about,” Kerr said. “Russell Westbrook is playing a lot better now that he is more comfortable with the group. They seem to be hitting their stride, so we know it’s going to be a tough game. It will be a fun, fun challenge and our guys are really looking forward to it.”

[RELATED: Cauley-Stein credits Draymond for improved defense]

The Warriors’ most surprising win this season came seven weeks ago, when they clobbered the Trail Blazers, 127-118, at Chase Center. It was their first win in the wake of losing Curry to a broken hand. The Blazers were 3-3 at the time, but their losses were to 2019 playoff teams.

Few saw that win coming, and the Warriors haven’t relished another quite as joyfully. It was fool’s gold, but it provided temporary hope that this season wouldn’t be as bad as feared.

It is now. A win on Christmas is unlikely but not impossible. This time around, it would provide lasting satisfaction in a season for which everyone accepts as giant step toward next October.

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

SAN FRANCISCO -- With four seconds left in the third quarter of the Warriors' 190-95 win over Magic on Saturday, Jordan Poole ran full speed to the right-wing with a bucket on his mind. 

Sprinting alongside teammate Omari Spellman, Poole received a pass from the big man, pump faked, took a dribble and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer, pushing the Warriors lead to 11. 

Walking to the bench, Poole had both arms in the air, and was yelling "Yeahhhh" towards the crowd. Similar plays have been the norm for Poole over the last week as he gradually digs himself out a bad start to his rookie season. 

"He's starting to figure out where his spots are," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Where his spots are and his comfort zone and how to impact a game." 

Remnants of Poole's improvement were on display early Saturday night. After Golden State went down 13-0 four and a half minutes into the contest, Poole scored 11 first-quarter points, helping Golden State take a 28-25 lead by the end of the period. Poole totaled 21 points for the game, including four 3-pointers, providing another example of his evolution. In his past three outings, Poole is averaging 16 points on 45 percent from the field. 

Such stretches are uncommon considering the start of Poole's career. During his first 29 games -- with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out of the lineup -- he shot just 25 percent, prompting a demotion to the G League. While his shot was ineffective, it was his propensity to not give all-out effort that drew ire of the coaching staff. On his way down to Santa Cruz, Kerr gave him a player that he'd like Poole to use a blueprint for success: Pelicans guard JJ Redick. More specifically, the shooter's habit of constant movement on the defensive end, complimented by his shooting ability. 

Poole followed suit during his G League stint, averaging 26 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals in three games. The performance has carried over back to the NBA, as he's making 42 percent of his 3-pointers over his last three games. But he showed his  growth six minutes into the third quarter Saturday, when he fought through two screens, moved his feet on Magic guard Evan Fournier before stripping the guard, causing a fast break on the other end, prompting praise from his coach and teammates along the way.  

"He's doing better on defense, handling the ball and making plays," Kerr said. "The game is so fast at this level. Everything happens much faster, so whether you are defending somebody or having to get over a screen or leave a rotation or if you have the ball and you are trying to make a pass, everything just happens quicker than you are used to. I think the time in Santa Cruz helped him gain more confidence and maybe the game has slowed down a bit ... He just looks more confident and comfortable."

"I think his approach has been better," teammate D'Angelo Russell added. "I think that's what's contributed to him successfully on the court. Not just worrying about his shots but his demeanor, his approach is business-like."

Poole's progression comes as the Warriors are in transition. As he works towards a long-term role, organizational cornerstones Curry and Thompson are working their way back from injuries, while Russell -- an All-Star guard -- is giving 20-year old daily lessons on how to be a pro.

[RELATED: Paschall regains form after tough stretch]

"I'm like a kid in the candy store, especially being able to have Steph, Klay and [Russell]," Poole said on Warriors Postgame Live. "I'm in awe every day. You wouldn't want to be in any other situation." 

As Poole celebrated his buzzer-beater, Curry sat on a makeshift stage, soaking in the rookie's latest step as a pro, leaving compliments along the way. 

"The way that he's fought through his early-season struggles and gone down to Santa Cruz, really able to work on his game, see the floor, get his rhythm and shoot the ball the way he's been doing the last few games," Curry said during NBC Sports Bay Area's broadcast. "That's what an NBA player is made of. It's not going to be pretty but you got to keep coming back to try and make it work."

Warriors' rookie Eric Paschall back to looking like a long-term keeper

Warriors' rookie Eric Paschall back to looking like a long-term keeper

SAN FRANCISCO -- No one in the Warriors' front office or on the coaching staff knows the extent of Eric Paschall’s NBA potential. Neither does he. In the fourth month of his career, he has provided ample evidence to engage debate.

After his first six weeks: Solid Rookie of the Year candidate.

After the next five weeks, during which endured assorted aches and pains in his joints: Uh, um, well, maybe he’s solid rotation player.

After the last two: He can start for any team and produce under pretty much any condition.

Paschall shed some light on his progress Saturday night after doing his part and more to lift the Warriors to a 109-95 win over the Orlando Magic. Making his second start since Dec. 11, he scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds and added two steals in 35 minutes.

He was a difference-maker, looking much more like the player we’d glimpsed in the first six weeks than during the five that followed.

There is, he acknowledged, a reason for that.

“I feel those injuries were kind of a blessing in disguise in terms of my body and getting the proper rest I needed,” he said of discomfort felt in both hips during various stages of December.

“Your rookie year is probably your longest year because right after college you’re going to pre-draft workouts, flying across the country for a workout, maybe have a back-to-back workout. Right after that, you go into training camp for summer league. Right after that, you go into training camp. So, you don’t really get a lot of time off. That was really good for me in terms of my body and having time to recover.”

This point, which can be lost in translation, is particularly applicable to Paschall because he played four years of college ball, 27 games as a freshman at Fordham and 110 at powerhouse Villanova. The Wildcats played deep into March.

Coming to the Warriors this season, when much of their roster was being rebuilt, Paschall dived into the opportunity to play. A lot. He averaged a team-high 33 minutes over his first 22 NBA games, 19 of which he scored in double figures. He didn’t hit the vaunted “rookie wall.” He was thrown up against it.

Paschall missed two games in mid-December due to soreness in his left hip. He missed two more games in late-December with what was described as a contusion on his right hip.

As he made several attempts to play through the discomfort, it was apparent he was not struggling. His production took a steep drop, as did his minutes. He scored 70 points in the first four games of December, 73 over the next 11, bleeding into January.

Paschall’s 20-point game Saturday was his first since he rang up 24 points on Dec. 2. His nine rebounds were the most since he pulled that same amount on that same night.

Citing Paschall’s solid play over the previous four games, it was an easy call for coach Steve Kerr to start the 6-6, 250-pound rookie at power forward Saturday for the ailing Draymond Green.

The reward was efficiency (8-of-14 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from beyond the arc) and impact and indicated, again, that Paschall is better suited to power forward than small forward, where he also has spent some time.

“It’s just more floor spacing,” Kerr said. “He’s so quick off the dribble and he’s got that burst at the rim, so when he’s at the four, even with a great athlete like Aaron Gordon out there, he still has the space to go to the rim and create a play.

“At the three, it’s a little more difficult to do that because you have more big guys in the paint. It’s an easier position for Eric to play, and he was fantastic.”

[RELATED: Steph's powerful message to young Dubs]

After initially suggesting his game is no different at small forward than it is at power forward, Paschall agreed with Kerr’s assessment.

“Yeah, I understand why he says that, in terms of just being able to attack,” he said. “Now that I think about it, I would say spacing at the four is (beneficial).”

There is little debate about that. And no debate at all that Paschall has the physical tools and mental makeup to prosper in the NBA.