The Mercury News Weekend
Warriors look to get on track with homestand
After an eventful four- game trip to open the season, the Warriors are 2-2 and bracing for perhaps the most challenging stretch of their season.
As the only team in the NBA not to have played a home game, the Warriors are looking forward to playing the next seven at Chase Center. But they’re not seeing a whole lot of relief.
“It’s kind of weird; I don’t feel like there’s much home- court advantage having been on the road,” Stephen Curry said af
ter playing four games in empty arenas. “But being in our own space, in our routine and to be around our family, hopefully that’ll be a positive for us.
“We got a pretty tough schedule coming up,” Curry added, “so we’ve got to take advantage” of everything they can find.
Starting with tonight’s home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State will play seven games in 12 days — six against teams that made the playoffs and another against the surprisingly frisky Sacramento Kings.
This will be yet another challenge in an uncompromising schedule that started with games against championship contenders in Brooklyn and in Milwaukee. After getting drubbed by a combined 65 points, the Warriors beat two winless teams — Chicago and Detroit — and started to learn how they need to play.
The Warriors came into the season knowing they wanted to play fast and launch 3-pointers. After four games, they ranked second in pace and sixth in 3-point attempts per game with 39.5. That number is five more than any previous team under Steve Kerr, now in his seventh season as coach.
After failing to score 100 points in the first two games, the Warriors scored 129 against Chicago and 116 at Detroit. Granted, the competition was different. But so was the Warriors’ approach as Kerr simplified the offense to incorporate more pick- and-roll.
The new approach has allowed Andrew Wiggins to settle into a play-making role, find his rhythm and emerge as a
secondary scorer while Draymond Green remains sidelined because of foot and conditioning issues. Over the last two games, Wiggins is averaging 23 points on 44.1% shooting, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 37.3 minutes per game.
While Wiggins is thriving with the ball in his hands, Kerr has yet to find the best role for Kelly Oubre Jr., who the Warriors acquired in a trade after Klay Thompson suffered a seasonending Achilles tear before the season.
Unlike Wiggins, Oubre does not have a track record for running an offense, and is better when playing off other ballhandlers. His best moments so far this season have come when he’s attacking the basket against a scrambling defense or finishing in transition.
To leverage Oubre’s length, athleticism and dunk- everything attitude, Kerr may consider positioning the 6-foot-7 wing in the corner and in the dunker spot near the rim more often. From these spots, Oubre (1 of 21 from 3-point range) can attack closeouts, crash the offensive glass and take more shots in the restricted area.
Getting Green, who is probable for tonight’s home opener, back will take pressure off both Oubre and Wiggins. Alongside Green, Wiggins can do less shothunting, Oubre will get better looks, and Curry will have his long-time teammate back to run the offense while he plays off the ball and searches for open shots.
Or, as Kerr put it: “Draymond is going to help in every regard.”
That includes the now-vital pick- and-roll game with rookie center James Wiseman. Although Wiseman’s four games were his first in 13 months since leaving college — and he played only three games there — the No. 2 overall pick quickly emerged as one of Golden State’s most important players.
Because of his size (7-feet with a 9-foot- 6 standing reach) athleticism and shooting touch — he has made five of his eight 3-point attempts — Wiseman has thrived as a screen setter who can dive to the rim or pop beyond the arc.
But with Green, the Warriors can add another wrinkle. Playing off the two-man game between Green and Curry, Wiseman will be able to finish plays by scoring on lobs from the weak side. That sort of threat puts a lot of pressure on the defense and leads to open shots for the Warriors’ shooters.
“It’s going to be huge,” Curry said of getting Green back. “We understand what he brings defensively and even for our offensive patterns, what he brings as a playmaker and passer.”
Pairing Green with Wiseman in the front court will help fortify the Warriors’ defense. Though they are far from reaching their stated goal of being top 10 in defense this season, they have been much better with Wiseman on the floor than off.
With Wiseman on the court, the Warriors have a defensive rating of 104.1, per NBA.com’s Advanced Stats, versus a defensive rating of 118.6 when Wiseman sits. That’s the difference between the fourthbest defensive rating in the league and the 29th. Green, the former defensive player of the year, will stabilize things.
Tuesday’s win against the Pistons offered signs that Golden State’s young core is learning how to play with Curry. In the first three games, Curry’s teammates cluttered his path and forced him to take contested pull-up jumpers. That’s something Juan Toscano-Anderson pointed out when watching film after the team’s one-point win in Chicago. Against the Pistons, he assisted Curry on two made 3-pointers.
“I noticed that during some possessions I was in his way,” Toscano-Anderson said. “And so that was something I tried to change going into the game against Detroit. Just getting out of his way, running the floor and finding space.”
“The action has to be continuous when Steph is out there,” added Kerr, who said it usually takes players a couple of months to feel comfortable playing with Curry.
But the Warriors don’t have a couple of months. In this condensed 72game season, every game matters a little more and, after a 15- 50 record last season, making the playoffs is paramount.
To the likes of the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Raptors and Pacers, the Warriors will need to speed up the jelling process. They know they’re not title contenders this season but, after this homestand, they’ll have a better idea how far off they are.