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.

Why are Warriors willing to pay for picks? Lacob: 'If you just do the math...'

Why are Warriors willing to pay for picks? Lacob: 'If you just do the math...'

On Thursday night, the Warriors saw an opportunity and they struck.

Golden State paid the Bulls $3.5 million (the max amount allowed) for the rights to Jordan Bell.

After making the selection, Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group asked Lacob: "This is the fourth time you’ve bought a pick, the first two didn’t work out so great. How easy is it for you to just keep doing this?"

"Easy," Lacob answered. "We want to always be incredibly aggressive and get better. We only have a few players under contract, as Bob (Myers) pointed out.

"We tried really hard. It was really hard this year. Harder than it sounds."

Last year, the Warriors entered the draft without a pick but paid the Bucks $2.4 million for the rights to Pat McCaw -- the 38th pick.

This year, the Warriors entered the draft without a pick but acquired Bell -- the 38th pick.

"It’s amazing that we were able to do it, second year in a row," Lacob said. "Thirty-eight’s a lucky number, I guess."

After the Warriors took a 2-0 lead in the Finals, ESPN's Darren Rovell reported that sweeping the Cavs (and not at least getting a third home game in the series) would cost the Warriors over $12 million.

Golden State did not sweep Cleveland, and did get a Game 5 at Oracle Arena.

In fact, a fan reportedly paid $133,000 for two floor seats.

Making the extra money did not impact the Warriors' decision to buy a draft pick.

"We would do it regardless," Lacob told Kawakami. "We just think that it’s money well spent if you just do the math.

"If you are good at picking players, it’s just a lot cheaper way to get a player than otherwise. How else are you going to do it?"

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

The Warriors have rest of NBA scrambling, shuffling, trading, posturing

The Warriors have rest of NBA scrambling, shuffling, trading, posturing

OAKLAND -- For the Warriors, the NBA Draft was about two things: Waiting for the right time to buy the rights to a player they love and being entertained, for the fourth consecutive day, by the earnest efforts of the league’s underclass.

Not that they would put it quite so impolitely.

“It’s a competitive league. All we do is try to get better,” president/general manager Bob Myers said late Thursday night, insisting that the Warriors are too immersed in their own challenges to look down their noses at the other 29 teams.

But the truth is inescapable. This is the week that touched off the flailing of franchises feeling particularly feeble and futile in the wake of Warriors destructive run through the postseason.

The Warriors were 16-1, the best record in NBA postseason history. Their average win margin, 13.5 points, is No. 2 all time. They demolished LeBron James and the Cavaliers in The Finals, after the Cavs had annihilated all comers in the Eastern Conference. Part III of The Trilogy was by far the most lopsided.

And the Warriors followed that up by buying a second-round pick to get, by most accounts, a first-round talent in Oregon’s Jordan Bell.

[POOLE: Warriors stay ready, strike gold amid the 2017 NBA Draft scramble]

The rest of the league is determined to fight back and, therefore, is scrambling and shuffling and trading and posturing in an effort to close the gap on the champs. Those teams, staring up at the Warriors, have to do something to feel productive today while trying to keep their fans from giving up on tomorrow.

No team did more draft-night hustling than their neighbors in Sacramento, who after using their No. 5 pick to select the player they coveted most, Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox, traded the No. 10 overall pick to Portland for Nos. 15 and 20, choosing North Carolina forward Justin Jackson and Duke forward Harry Giles.

The 76ers chose Markelle Fultz, believing he is the final piece to assembling the best young team in the East. The folks in Philly, who avoided the team for nearly a decade, suddenly are on board, buying 14,000 season tickets -- a franchise record.

The Lakers grabbed UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, who will generate an enthusiasm missing at Staples Center since the best days of Kobe Bryant.

The Timberwolves and Bulls completed a major trade, with Minnesota getting All-Star guard Jimmy Butler in exchange for guards Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, with the teams also swapping draft picks.

This all followed several moves made earlier this week, beginning with the Cavaliers dumping general manager David Griffin precisely seven days after being run over by the Warriors in The Finals.

Griffin’s dismissal preceded by a day the Hawks trading once-imposing Dwight Howard to the Hornets, as well as the Lakers dealing D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Nets for All-Star center and Stanford product Brook Lopez.

Meanwhile, as the Warriors examine their various free-agent contingencies, so much more is percolating around the league:

-Trade talk swirls about Pacers All-Star forward Paul George, who is destined to get out of Indiana, perhaps sooner than later.

-The Cavs are searching, so far without much success, for a team willing to engage in serious negotiations regarding power forward Kevin Love.

-Knicks top executive Phil Jackson, committed to a mission of unknown purpose, announced he’s now willing to shop 21-year-old wunderkind Kristaps Porzingis.

-The Spurs are ready to move on from LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green.

-The Clippers -- already with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and JJ Redick set to become free agents -- reportedly are willing to ship out DeAndre Jordan.

-The Rockets seemingly are ready to swap anybody not named James Harden.

-And the Celtics also are known to be on the market, though that is not unusual when Danny Ainge is sitting in the corner office.

The Warriors are the cause for such a mad frenzy, and the sight of their competitors making mad dashes toward their respective futures is the effect. They are two cuts above and that’s tough to take in a league of men who may not mind losing but do not care to be humiliated.

“We never looked at it as far as catching anybody, or people catching up,” Myers said. “Our job is to try to get better each day. And whether that’s through personnel, coaching, developing our players or us in the front office learning and growing.

“I guess I don’t view us as ahead of everyone,” he added. “I know it’s been mentioned by everybody else, but once you start thinking that, you’re in trouble. You’ve to start believing and keep pushing.”