Warriors' modest, yet meaningful, goal for upcoming road trip originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors of yore measured regular-season progress by habits. If they were sharing the ball on offense consistently and suffocating teams on defense, success would follow. That generally held true.
The Warriors of now have an exceedingly more modest means by which to measure their progress. Win a game on the road. Just one.
That’s not a lot, but it’s where they have to start because they’ve played eight road games this season and lost them all.
All eight losses were replete with defensive lapses unbecoming of any team, much less a defending champion. Low pressure. Inactive hands. Sloppy closeouts. Failing to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of opponents. Propensities previously discovered and analyzed while studying video.
“If you’re poor defensively, it’s really hard to win on the road,” coach Steve Kerr said late Friday afternoon, before tipoff against the New York Knicks. “You need to be able to string together stops to get momentum and keep the home crowd out of it. If you’re trading baskets, the other team is feeling good and it’s really hard to win that way.
“The road record is directly connected to defense.”
The Warriors addressed these issues, perhaps in their team meeting that morning, for they certainly applied them in their 111-101 victory over New York in the evening. The Knicks shot 23.8 percent in the first quarter and 34.5 percent for the game.
Golden State looked, at times, like the Warriors of yore.
“Defense was good,” Kerr said afterward, “other than the fouling.”
Mostly excellent, except for committing 26 fouls that led to 34 free throws for the Knicks. New York’s top three scorers – Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett – combined to shoot 15-of-47, 31.9 percent.
That was, however, at Chase Center, where the Warriors are 7-1 and have locked up several other visiting teams.
They fly to Houston on Saturday and will face the young, athletic and often undisciplined Rockets on Sunday. That’s when Golden State will find out if its defense against the Knicks represents a one-game blip or a sign of more effective habits.
“A lot of room to grow,” Stephen Curry told ESPN after the game. “We’re nowhere near where we want to be. Still under .500, still struggling to put a sequence of games together. No panic. Just attention to detail and understanding we have what it takes. We’ve just got to get it done.”
The most important phrase off Curry’s tongue was “attention to detail.” That is what has been missing during those eight games, where opponents were bossing the Warriors on the glass, toasting them in transition and rolling up an average of 124.3 points.
“We are not putting together stops,” JaMychal Green said after coming off the bench to provide 12 points and three rebounds against New York. “I feel like on the road we are more worried about offense than defense. We had a great team meeting this morning. I think that we addressed a lot of things that needed to be addressed and I think we are starting to get it together.”
Houston’s 3-13 record is the worst in the Western Conference. Its 104.4 points per game ranks 29th in the 30-team NBA, its 43.5-percent field-goal shooting ranks 29th. Easy money, right?
Not necessarily. For one, three of Golden State’s road losses came against the teams loitering in the Eastern Conference cellar – the Charlotte Hornets, the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic. For two, the Rockets are a very good rebounding team, fifth overall and second on the offensive glass.
Second- and third-chance points have punished the Warriors; even New York scored 17 off 13 offensive rebounds.
“One of the issues is we have been missing boxouts, and then another one is that our guards are leaking out instead of going to the elbows,” Kerr said. “The guards really need to be drifting towards the play, not away from the play. Right now, there is a lot of drifting away from the play and trying to get out in transition instead of securing the possession first.”
Houston averages 17.4 second-chance points per game, third in the NBA. That’s enough to bite the Warriors in the backside if they revert to their sloppy road tendencies.
“Our transition defense has to improve,” Kerr said. “When we can get teams in the halfcourt, we’re pretty good – or we can be pretty good. So, that’s what we’re looking for right away.
“We know Houston is going to be coming downhill at us and we’ve got to be prepared for them.”
If the Warriors are indeed prepared, and able to implement that preparation, a two-game road sweep – Houston, followed by New Orleans – is conceivable. But a second victory can’t come until there is a first.