OAKLAND -- Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his assistants consistently preach one particular message to the entire roster, and the players have heard it so often they preach it to each other.
And yet there are times when they’re unable to practice what is preached.
It’s uncommon for the Warriors to fall apart, but when they do it’s usually by their own hand. It’s death by turnovers -- the very topic of the sermon.
“Our biggest issue is taking care of the ball,” veteran big man David West tells CSNBayArea.com. “We’ve got to be able to take care of the basketball for long periods of time.”
Among the NBA’s 30 teams, the Warriors rank 24th in turnovers. That’s better than the Hawks and the Nuggets. It’s worse than the Timberwolves or Pelicans or Lakers.
Practicing ball care, thereby limiting turnovers, can be challenging with such a skilled roster and players who really enjoy opportunities to shine. From Stephen Curry to Draymond Green, from Kevin Durant to Klay Thompson, from Zaza Pachulia to JaVale McGee, the Warriors like to entertain while winning.
To do that Monday afternoon against Cavaliers is to tempt fate. The Warriors learned that much on Christmas Day, when six turnovers in the fourth quarter, leading to 10 Cleveland points, fostered a startling Cavs rally that overcame a 14-point Warriors lead.
“When we look at that game -- and we’ve talked about it -- it just comes down to ball care and decision-making,” West says. “If we do that, we’ll be in good shape. If we don’t, then we give up a fourth-quarter lead against one the best teams in the NBA.”
It’s a hard pattern to break. The Warriors will go two or three or four games with a low turnover total, and then cough it up 16 or 18 or 20 times. It’s as if they’re on a constant search to strike the right balance between playing textbook basketball and relying on their plentiful gifts to riff for the audience.
“There’s a lot of trust and accountability that comes with that,” Curry says, “because we have a lot of talent and a lot of playmakers and guys that have a creative kind of style and approach to the game.
“But we have to have a certain IQ and just knowing if you can make the simple play, make the simple play. Understand the time and score, the flow of the game, how to manage that.”
Sounds relatively simple. It’s not. The Warriors are like a band composed of incredible musicians, most of whom can drop jaws with a solo performance. Great musicians are at their best when there is time and space. The Warriors often are at the best when improvising.
Without that element, this band of Warriors may as well play straight from sheet music. Artists take chances. Sometimes the result is a spectacular play that fans remember for years. Other times, it’s it ruins the set.
Kerr doesn’t want to kill the element of improvisation. He wants use it more judiciously, saving it for special moments. He believes this band is good enough to play it straight and still provide plenty of entertainment.
“The simple leads to the spectacular,” Kerr says. “That’s one of my pet sayings. But it’s always a balance with this team the last couple years. We are a little loose; it’s part of who we are and I accept that and I embrace it.
“But know when to draw the line, and understand that part of what’s going to make a special play is four or five simple actions to start the play itself. When we keep it simple, it’s amazing how many fun, exciting plays come out of that. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth, especially with our guys because they have a lot of skill.”
The Warriors, to a man, say they are enjoying this season. They’re pleased with the NBA-best 34-6 record. They’re tops in the league in most pertinent team statistics.
But they continue to search for symmetry between risk and reward. How to make the right play without sacrificing the thrill of adventure? What, exactly, is the balance between playing with the appropriate amount of joy and seeking that breathtaking video that goes viral?
“If we make six easy passes, simple passes, in a possession, usually somebody gets open and there’s a back cut and there’s a layup or a lob or a 3-pointer and the crowd goes nuts,” Kerr says. “People love it.
“When they try to force the action on that stuff, it’s usually a turnover. And there’s not much joy in a turnover.”
The Warriors are unanimous in that sentiment. Yet the sermons continue because there are so many nights when it seems not everyone is listening.
OAKLAND -- Don’t tell David West that the game between the Cavaliers and Warriors on Monday is without significant consequence. He has played too long, seen too much. He knows better.
“This is a very important game for us,” West said Sunday, “because this is the last time we’re going to be able to measure ourselves against these guys.
“The only other time we’d get to face them would be in The Finals.”
Reaching The Finals was in the back of his mind when West signed with the Warriors last July. After scanning his options and doing his research -- including conversations involving Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and coach Steve Kerr -- he chose to come to the Bay Area to continue his quest to reach the NBA’s ultimate series.
At age 36, West has gone 933 games, and another 83 counting the playoffs, and gotten no closer to The Finals than back-to-back dismissals in the Eastern Conference Finals. West in both instances was a member of the Indiana Pacers, and the team that stood in the way both times was the Miami Heat.
That would be the Heat featuring LeBron James, who has since returned to Cleveland.
So, yes, Warriors-Cavs is is a big deal to West. It’s why he’s here.
“Obviously, it’s a regular-season game,” he said. “But for us, every game means something. That’s probably another driving force of why I wanted to be a part of this team. And why I chose San Antonio last year. When you’re playing with a group of this caliber, with these types of expectations, every game, every night, means something. There’s no dropoff or letdown and no room to let up. That’s a vital part of being in the NBA.
“But right now in the NBA, there are distinct levels of basketball. And I just wanted to be a part of the highest level.”
It gets no higher than the Warriors and Cavs. They’ve met in The Finals in each of the past two seasons, with each team winning one, and most conceivably will meet again in June.
Meanwhile, the sights and sounds on the road to the playoff is unlike that which he experienced with the former New Orleans Hornets or the Pacers or the Spurs. Those were good teams. The Warriors, coming of an NBA-record 73-win season, not only are favorites to win it all but perceived as the league’s super team.
It’s as if the Warriors have a bounty on their heads every time they take the court.
“When we play against younger teams, or teams with guys that don’t have a lot of experience, the point guard wants to prove he can stay on the floor against Steph,” West said. “Small forwards want to prove they can hang with KD. Same thing guys coming after Draymond; he’s a target. Then you have a bunch of Klay (Thompson) clones out there. You can see the guys that are modeling themselves after Klay. So when they play against him, they measure themselves against him.
“We all feel that. When you’re a part of this kind of group, that’s what makes the challenge so much fun.”
With Warriors-Cavs, the fun is in knowing that you’re facing the best, the reigning champs from Cleveland, who dethroned the Warriors. And on Monday, the Warriors will be trying to defend their turf.
“We need to win this; we need to win them all,” West said. “We know it's a high-intensity, emotional game. There will be a lot of people watching and a lot of energy in the building. We will have to control our energy and be the more fundamentally sound team.
“We have to be the team that hits more singles and doubles than they do. We don’t need home runs.”