The Warriors’ Championship Glow Is Gone. And Yet …

iCrackStreamsDecember 26, 2020

Before traveling to Milwaukee for their game against the Bucks on Friday afternoon, the Golden State Warriors spent four nights in New York.

Ordinarily, staying in the city would be a nice perk for an N.B.A. team on the road. But these are strange, challenging times, and the Warriors, in adhering to the league’s coronavirus protocols, did not venture beyond their hotel other than to head to practice and get walloped by the Nets on Tuesday in their season opener at Barclays Center.

Coach Steve Kerr tried to set a good example for his players. On Wednesday night, he called his son Nick, one of the team’s lead video coordinators, who was holed up in a nearby room at the team hotel: Did he want to get together to order some room service and watch a game on television?

“And he said, ‘It’s probably not a good idea,’” Kerr recalled Nick telling him. “And I said: ‘Oh, yeah. You’re right.’ Even though we’re getting tested and we’re together every day, the more we can be on our own, the better. It’s not a fun way to live, but it’s the smart thing to do.”

The Warriors’ challenges are not unique. Every team is dealing with the same circumstances. But few teams outside of Houston have had a rougher time so far.

Golden State’s illustrious, not-so-distant past is fading a bit by the day. It is far too early to make any generalizations or draw any dire conclusions. But: Yikes! Two games, two blowout losses for a team that seems bound for several more months of growing pains.

“We need to win,” the Warriors’ Stephen Curry said after their 138-99 loss to the Bucks. “Immediately.”

It got so bad for the Warriors on Friday that Antetokounmpo was dunking on them in the fourth quarter — but not Giannis. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the two-time most valuable player’s older brother, got minutes for the Bucks in garbage time as their lead mushroomed.

Kerr said he was most frustrated that the Warriors were coming off two days of solid practice before they took the court and “did not execute much of anything.”

“We’re just scattered right now,” Kerr said. “Just feels like we’re a series of moving parts.”

It has been a nightmare start for two players who will go a long way toward dictating whether the Warriors are a playoff team. Kelly Oubre Jr., whom they acquired in a trade after Klay Thompson was lost to injury for the second straight season, has missed all 11 of his 3-point attempts. And Andrew Wiggins has shot 10 of 34 from the field to start his first full season with the Warriors.

“It’ll shake out over time,” Kerr said. “Kelly will be fine. Andrew will be fine. Both guys are proven players in this league.”

The N.B.A. schedule makers did not do the Warriors any favors: two championship contenders on the road to christen the season, back to back. Before Thompson was lost for the season, both games figured to be marquee matchups. But the Warriors are not the same without Thompson, which is obvious but ought to be emphasized.

Draymond Green, the other core member of the Warriors’ championship years, has yet to make his first appearance because of a foot injury. On Friday, Green was in street clothes and a mask, jumping off the bench to share his wisdom with James Wiseman, the team’s first-year center, about defensive positioning. Wiseman has been one of the team’s bright spots, averaging 18.5 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field. He went 3 of 4 from 3-point range against the Bucks.

“The game is starting to slow down for me,” Wiseman said, which is saying a lot considering he is two games into his career.

Kerr suggested that Green could be in the starting lineup when the Warriors visit the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. And the Bulls are neither the Nets nor the Bucks, so perhaps a trip to Chicago will provide a more realistic measure of the Warriors’ place in the N.B.A. ecosystem this season.

Even so, the first two games have offered a grim reminder that these are not the Warriors who made five straight trips to the N.B.A. finals between 2014-15 and 2018-19, coming away with three championships. These are not the Warriors who won 24 straight games to start the 2015-16 season, or finished that season with a 73-9 record — the best in N.B.A. history.

No, these Warriors have won 15 games in the 561 days since they last appeared in the finals. Only five players remain from that team. Injuries and roster turnover have taken an enormous toll. Last season, they hobbled to the worst record in the league without Thompson and Curry (who missed all but five games with a broken hand).

On Friday, Curry — one of the few threads that ties this team to its title runs — was asked how he would address his younger teammates.

“This year is different,” he said, “and to not feel any pressure about the Warriors teams of the past. We obviously have that championship DNA and we understand there’s expectations around our organization, and that’s what we want. But this year is different. It’s a new group of guys. We would love to have played better over these last two games, but that’s not going to define our season.”

There is some cause for optimism. The schedule will loosen up. Green will be in uniform. And Oubre will presumably make a 3-pointer at some point in the near future. There is also the long view: Thompson is rehabbing (again) in hopes of playing next season.

But right now, his return feels about as far away as the team’s championships do.

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