Legitimate tests await Warriors in Oklahoma City, Dallas

Legitimate tests await Warriors in Oklahoma City, Dallas

The Warriors left town Sunday grateful they had rediscovered the impact and importance of defense.

Maybe they’re back to being the team favored to win the NBA Finals. Maybe.

There can be no certainty before Monday night, when the Warriors enter the ear-splitting cave called Chesapeake Energy Arena to face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With the exception of the opening minutes of their rout of the Bucks on Saturday night, the Warriors over the last three games played nine impressive quarters during which their defense was by turns effective to devastating.

“That’s kind of what we’ve been talking about this entire time,” Draymond Green said. “We have to get into a groove defensively and everything else will take care of itself after that.”

Those wins, however, were against the 76ers, the Magic and the Bucks. Philadelphia and Orlando are light years away from contending in the Eastern Conference, and Milwaukee is fighting like hell in hopes of simply getting in.

The Sixers gave the Warriors fits for three quarters, taking a 12-point lead into the fourth before Green whacked his teammates awake with his defense and led them to the comeback victory.

Orlando is abominable, surrendering 21 turnovers -- for 36 points -- that were as much about its sloppiness than it was the Warriors defense.

The Bucks were on the second night of a back-to-back, following an emotionally charged victory over the Lakers the previous night in Los Angeles.

These victories were somewhat preordained and may be fool’s gold. Indeed, whether the Warriors have completed the mental and physical adjustments required to beat quality teams without Kevin Durant remains uncertain.

The Warriors often talk about how “defense travels.” Neither the defense nor the offense went with them on their last road trip, the most treacherous of the season. If they bring it this time, they’ll be fine against Russell Westbrook and Co., as well as against the Mavericks on Tuesday night in Dallas.

“I’m actually going to show them a map, show them how close it is from Oklahoma City to Dallas, so we shouldn’t be intimidated by the geography,” Kerr said, referring to the roughly 205-mile distance.

Fatigue, as well as the time needed to absorb the jolt of losing Durant, surely played a factor in the poor performances earlier this month. The fatigue surely faded with a week at home, playing every other day. And much of the bold self-assurance lost with Durant’s absence can be regained if Curry starts cooking, as he was Saturday.

Having Durant with them on the road also should provide an emotional lift.

That’s the intrigue of these next two days, for they are consequential enough, particularly the game against the Thunder, to tell us where the Warriors stand as they enter the final 22 days of the regular season.

At the point of the season when most every team is scrambling, OKC’s five-game win streak is the longest currently active. Westbrook is on a mission and he’ll want to make a statement against the team he considers his primary nemesis.

The Warriors, based on their work last week, believe they’ll be ready.

“It’s a direct reflection of our defense,” Curry said.

“We’re getting into the open court a lot more,” he added. “The morale is better when you’re not taking the ball out of the basket every possession. For the most part, we’ve done a good job of staying away from fouling too much so we can keep the pace of the game up. We’re being a lot smarter with the ball and taking care of it when we do have half-court opportunities to find an open guy, keep the ball moving, create flow. And we obviously have to knock down open shots when we get them.”

Sounds good. Worked well, too. But this Warriors recovery won’t feel complete unless the defense make trip to Oklahoma and Texas.

Blazers GM: Former Warriors big man will not play for Portland next year

Blazers GM: Former Warriors big man will not play for Portland next year

Festus Ezeli will not be back with the Blazers next season, Portland GM Neil Olshey said on Tuesday.

Last summer -- after the Warriors let Ezeli walk in free agency following the addition of Kevin Durant -- he signed a 2-year contract worth just over $15 million.

But Year 2 was essentially a club option with a $1 million buyout.

A knee injury prevented Ezeli from ever suiting up for the Blazers this season.

He underwent cadaver ligament replacement surgery in early March.

The Warriors drafted Ezeli 30th overall in 2012.

Over 46 games (13 starts) with Golden State in 2015-16, he averaged 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds over 16.7 minutes per contest.

Stephen Jackson: Draymond Green 'is a new version of me'

Stephen Jackson: Draymond Green 'is a new version of me'

In the Warriors' sweep of the Blazers, Draymond Green was fantastic.

He averaged 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 4.3 blocks and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 55 percent from deep.

On Tuesday morning, former Warriors forward Stephen Jackson was asked about the two-time runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.

"I don't want to change him at all. That chip on his shoulder, the way he plays, as Steve Kerr will tell you -- every team needs a guy like that," Jackson said on KNBR 680. "I was that guy in San Antonio. I was that guy on a lot of teams.

"You need a guy like that to even it out. You don't want your team to be a pushover. And sometimes, his emotion might hurt the team. But you can live with that, because you got a guy going to bat for all your guys.

"He's one of the best all-around players in the league -- Top 5 -- and you need a guy like that. He makes that team better.

"He's one of those guys that puts his body on the line for a team, passes up a shot to make a pass, guard the best player and not worry about scoring -- that's my type of guy."

When the "We Believe" Warriors upset the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, Jackson averaged 22.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals, while shooting over 47 percent from 3-point territory in that series.

"I say Draymond is a new version of me -- just way more athletic," Jackson added. "And I love it. I wore his jersey last year to The Finals, and I plan on wearing it again."