Wake-up call: Warriors trying to learn from late-game meltdowns

Wake-up call: Warriors trying to learn from late-game meltdowns

OAKLAND -- They say panic is not near, and it shouldn’t be. They say they will get better, and not only as they should but they must.

But after the kind of late-game meltdown that has to haunt any veteran team, much less one assembled to annihilate foes while marching toward a championship, the Warriors limped into the weekend with their backsides raw and their minds spinning.

What do they make of themselves? Do they even know who they are?

Is it acceptable to win 84 percent of the time, or must they gaze deeply into the other 16 percent to ascertain significance?

These are the questions swirling about in the wake of an abysmal and, ultimately, ruinous fourth quarter for the second time in 12 days, this one coming Friday night, a 128-119 overtime loss to the redoubtable Memphis Grizzlies before a bereaved sellout crowd at Oracle Arena.

“It’s not the end of the world,” forward Draymond Green said. “Nobody is hitting the panic button because we lost a regular-season game, because I really don’t care how many games we lose. It’s about getting better.

“I just don’t feel like right now we’re getting better at the rate that we need to get better at in order to reach the goal that we want to reach.”

Blowing a 24-point third-quarter lead, the Warriors were knocked into next week by a Grizzlies team that seems to know how and, moreover, when to crack their code. They used the same formula as the Cavaliers did in overcoming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit on Christmas Day.

“Our fourth-quarter offense has been atrocious,” Green correctly assessed.

“The reason it was a game down the stretch is not because of our offense,” said Stephen Curry, whose 40 points weren’t enough. “When you give up a 24-point lead, it doesn’t matter how many shots you miss. You’ve got to get some stops.”

Green is right, as is Curry. The Warriors (31-6) fell apart at both ends. Softened up by Memphis muscle, the Grizzlies then used clutch shooting to send them reeling and rugged defense to deck them.

They invited defeat with skittish offense and defense that faded late in regulation and totally disappeared in OT, when Memphis (23-16) made seven of its eight shots.

“It was a combination of bad defense and looking up at the score and seeing the lead dwindle down and rushing a little bit,” Curry said.

“I think we got a little deflated.”

As the catalyst of the team and its longest-tenured member, Curry should have a feel for what is happening. He seems to be implying the Warriors are searching for their edge. That the ruthlessness displayed last season, while rampaging to an NBA-best 73-9 record in the regular season, has been hard to summon this season.

“We are trying some different things,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We just haven’t executed very well. Maybe that’s something that we can do better as a coaching staff, trying to get guys in better position. We’ll look at the tape and continue to experiment and try different things. But we have to close games better and execute better offensively.”

Closing out a game on defense is partly about communication but mostly about desire. Closing out on offense is partly about swagger, but mostly about execution. The Warriors were 0-for-4 in being outscored 49-21 after the third quarter.

“We’ve got some things we need to correct to be a championship team,” Green said. “And right now, we’re not that.”

Urging patience, which the Warriors did, to a man, squares with the rational mind but is a tough sell in the age of instant gratification and double-instant results.

They’re trying to develop and grow before an audience that sees four All-Stars and expects magnificence as the routine. They also are, even if they won’t admit it, bearing the burden of the unprecedented fashion in which they lost the NBA Finals.

“We have a long way to go,” said Kevin Durant, who was signed in July to assure redemption for that June defeat. “We’re still learning about each other. We’re still learning ourselves, especially in late game situations. We haven’t had a lot.

(Saturday) we’ll watch film and get ready for Sacramento. But we’ll learn a lot from this. I think it’ll make us better in the long run.”

To suggest this may be the game that snaps them awake presumes the Warriors have compiled the NBA’s best record while sleeping through the first 37 games. Maybe they have. They have 45 games left, and they’ll win the vast majority of them.

But if the Warriors don’t wake up and realize they’re as susceptible to their own shortcomings as they are to a determined and talented opponent, their postseason will be neither as long nor as glorious as they imagine.

Kerr, Warriors in preliminary stages of planning for Durant's return

Kerr, Warriors in preliminary stages of planning for Durant's return

OAKLAND -- Though Kevin Durant is eager to get back to the court, Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his assistants are in preliminary stages of planning his return.

One thing is certain: There will be restriction on the number of minutes Durant is plays in the first few games after he receives medical clearance.

“It’s something we’ll consult the training staff on,” Kerr said Saturday after practice. “I imagine we’ll ease him back by playing him shorter minutes to start, so he can build up his rhythm and his conditioning.”

Durant has been out since Feb. 28, when he sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) and bone bruise to his left knee. After several days of strict immobilization, he has over the past week progressed to the point where he is engaging in vigorous workouts and shooting sessions.

Yet Durant will not be re-evaluated until next Thursday, which means he likely will not be cleared before the week of April 3. Not until then will the coaching staff devise a plan to reintegrate Durant.

“That obviously has a domino effect on the entire rotation,” Kerr said. “When we get to that point, we’ll figure that out. But it’s not something I’m giving a lot of thought to right now because he’s still at least a couple weeks away.”

The Warriors lost five of seven in the immediate aftermath of Durant’s injury but have recovered to win the last six in a row.

 

Feeling more comfortable, West cleaning up Warriors' messes down stretch

Feeling more comfortable, West cleaning up Warriors' messes down stretch

OAKLAND -- David West is as much a cleanup man as he is a basketball player.

The veteran power forward, masquerading as a center for the Warriors, cleans up behind teammates, cleans the clocks of opponents and probably cleans his plate after every meal. And he’d hit fourth in any baseball manager’s batting order.

The Warriors during their renaissance haven’t had such a personality. They’ve been a fun bunch, enjoying life, each other and their pillaging of the NBA.

West, 36, brings a more laconic dynamic, and it’s on full display as the Warriors lean into the final weeks of this regular season. He’s a leader who is producing and, more and more, winning over a fan base that was somewhat skeptical early this season.

“David West has been playing brilliantly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday night, after West came off the bench for a highly efficient 14-minute stint in a 114-100 win over the Kings.

Showcasing sharp passing, splendid shooting, solid rim protection and his usual old-jerky toughness, West totaled 8 points, four assists, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal. The Warriors were plus-8 when he was on the floor.

Such production, it seems, is a bit of a bonus.

“He’s been very good for us as a veteran leader,” Draymond Green said. “He’s been playing well, but just his presence also has meant a lot to this team.

“D-West is just kind of a no-bull---- type of a guy. He doesn’t say much. But when he does, you know it means a lot. And everybody hears him.”

Said West: “It’s just about adjusting and learning personalities. Obviously, this group has been very successful. I just try to add my 2 cents where I feel like it fits. Try not to over-talk people. I speak to guys directly and just make sure that we’re all on the same page.”

West is in his 14th season. Drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in 2003, he also has played for the Pacers and, last season, the Spurs, before joining the Warriors in July.

The question at the time was whether he still had a lot to give. West is a two-time All-Star and one of the most widely respected players in the league. But did he still have the legs to compete at a high level?

The answer is visible, particularly over the past month, since he returned from fractured left thumb on Feb. 23. West is shooting 53.0 percent from the field, he’s rebounding consistently and he has proven to be a spectacularly good passer -- easily one of the best in the league among big men.

Earlier this week, to quell any lingering concerns about how much athleticism he still has, West rose up and dunked over a crowd of three Dallas Mavericks. It was clock-cleaning at its finest.

“I’m just getting more comfortable,” West said, referring to his game and his locker-room influence. “We’ve developed good chemistry, communicating, harping on our defense more than anything else at this moment, because we feel that’s going to give us a chance if shots aren’t falling.”

West is on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, $1.55 million. He sacrificed bigger dollars for a chance at his first championship. He’s doing his part. And he neither takes nor leaves any mess.