After a busy offseason, the Golden State Warriors are hoping a new coach and a big offseason acquisition lead to their first playoff appearance since 2007.
The Warriors will look for their first season-opening win in five years when they host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
Keith Smart, who spent seven years as a Warriors assistant, is finally getting his chance to run the team. Don Nelson, the NBA’s all-time leader with 1,335 wins, was bought out of the final year of his contract last month.
Smart is grateful for the opportunity and the time he had under Nelson, but plans on changing things up due to larger personnel.
“I’ve had the chance to work with a tremendous offensive coach the last four years,” Smart said. “We will play a more traditional style, with bigger players in different spots. We have two talented guards who can play at a faster pace and we don’t want to take away their creativity. It starts with how we can rebound the basketball. We’re not going to win if we don’t rebound. David Lee(notes) is a rebounder. A healthy (Andres) Biedrins is back and he’s a proven NBA rebounder.”
Lee was acquired from New York, where he averaged career highs in points (20.2) and assists (3.6) last year.
He’s also pulled down 11.7 rebounds per game over the previous two seasons and should provide an immediate boost to a team that averaged an NBA-worst 38.4 boards in 2009-10.
An All-Star last season, Lee believes the Warriors have an opportunity to do something special.
“My focus since day one has been to get a good rapport with the guys and to be a leader and to lead by example and to help that translate into more victories,” Lee said. “We have a chance to do that.”
The Warriors won 26 games last season, their fewest since going 21-61 in 2001-02. With Lee joining Biedrins up front, and Monta Ellis(notes) and Stephen Curry(notes) in the backcourt, Golden State could be on the verge of turning things around.
“It’s a whole new chapter and we have good directions to where we are going. It’s a great beginning,” said Biedrins, who played just 33 games last season due to multiple injuries. “All the coaches, everybody, is excited about the new direction. We’re ready to go.”
Ellis led the team with a career-high 25.5 points per game and Curry, who was the NBA rookie of the year runner-up, averaged a team-best 5.9 assists.
Curry, who also was seventh in the league in 3-point shooting at 43.7 percent, injured his ankle in Thursday’s preseason game but could be back in time for the opener.
“I couldn’t walk on it Friday and then Sunday I came into practice and I was walking fine without a limp,” Curry said. “It feels pretty good today, hopefully make a little more progress before tomorrow. I think I could play on it right now if the game was today.”
The Rockets are coming off a 112-110 season-opening loss to the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, squandering an 11-point halftime lead.
“They’re the world champs, and we knew it was going to be tough,” coach Rick Adelman said. “But I thought we responded pretty well. I think (for) about seven minutes, we just didn’t play the way we’re capable of, and they got back in the game.”
Center Yao Ming(notes), who missed all of last season recovering from surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot, was 4 for 11 from the floor and finished with nine points and 11 rebounds. He fouled out with 6:30 to play and was held under the 24-minute limit set for him during the preseason.
Yao isn’t expected to play in back-to-back games early in the season, and will likely sit out this game as the coaching staff tries to keep him fresh.
The Rockets have won nine straight against the Warriors, including the last five at Oracle Arena.