Warriors look vulnerable on the road but proceed with caution

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The Warriors were down both Kevin Durant and Draymond Green against the Bulls at home last Friday, so oddsmakers went from a line that was approaching 20 and brought it all the way down to 15.5.

Chicago led 32-29 after a quarter, but was outscored 81-34 through the second and third as Golden State provided a reminder that its culture needs to be respected. Despite starting Omri Casspi and Jordan Bell at forwards, the Warriors won 143-94, closing with their biggest lead up 49.

Like San Antonio, which has thrived without All-Star Kawhi Leonard and have veteran point guard Tony Parker playing for the first time this week, Golden State’s success has now become about the manner in which they go about things. There are a number of head coaches in jobs off the Gregg Popovich coaching tree, but none have been able to duplicate the winning environment that the Spurs have fostered over decades of success better than Golden State head coach Steve Kerr.

Even with back-to-backs limited this season due to an earlier start as commissioner Adam Silver continues his quest to lighten the load on his athletes, Kerr commented earlier this season that his team would err on the side of caution when it came to injuries.

The Warriors learned the hard way that no one cares what they do in the regular season. After shattering Chicago’s single-season record for wins by going 73-9 in 2015-16, blowing a 3-1 Finals lead to Cleveland became all anyone wanted to talk about. Instead of something they can be proud of, it’s an albatross of sorts. Last season, Durant’s arrival became the primary talking point, and even after he won Finals MVP, detractors who felt he shouldn’t have abandoned Oklahoma City to join a super team remained stuck with their myopic view.

By now, you should be aware that the Golden State Warriors do not care what you think. They’re only interested in rings and being there for one another. Kerr, who missed a large part of last year’s regular season due to complications after back surgery, knows how important it is to get to the playoffs healthy. Green didn’t play against the Bulls on Friday because the team didn’t want him playing both ends of a back-to-back.

Durant was ruled out due to an ankle injury that should’ve kept him out of Wednesday night’s 108-91 loss in OKC, but he felt that he needed to play. Thunder fans booed him every time he touched the ball and he went forehead-to-forehead with former teammate Russell Westbrook in a heated third-quarter exchange. Durant hasn’t played since, back in maintenance mode as the Warriors plan on ensuring he’s 100 percent healthy before he gets back out there.

Given how the schedule lays out, we may not see him all week. Both he and Stephen Curry (hand) sat out Monday’s game against Sacramento, the last Warriors’ home game until Dec. 11.

Green plans on playing through a foot issue because he hates sitting games, but Andre Iguodala is also likely to be cautious with a knee problem, which means that Golden State may be without a number of their big guns as they open a six-game road trip on Nov. 29 at the Lakers.

The defending champs will head east after the stop at Staples, set to take the best punch of teams that have had their visit circled on their calendar for weeks. Tickets to Warriors games will undoubtedly be given as early Christmas presents in Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Charlotte and Detroit. The Warriors have already played at the Pelicans, failing to cover in a 128-120 win in their first road game of the season, so this will be their last trip to the Big Easy barring a playoff meeting.

The Warriors, on paper, will be extremely vulnerable as a road favorite due to all their ailments, but that win over the Bulls on Friday night should serve to give you pause. Nick Young and Patrick McCaw came off the bench and combined for 26 points. David West is likely to get more playing time and get in a better rhythm. Promising forward Kevon Looney is slated to see more time. Shaun Livingston is always difficult to match up with. These are the champs, considered unbeatable when completely healthy, for a reason.

Green returned and dished out a team-high eight assists in Saturday’s win over the Pelicans. Golden State prevailed 110-96 despite trailing 31-17 after one quarter and Stephen Curry shooting just 3-for-13 from 3-point range. Although the slow starts are a concern, over the course of 48 minutes, the Warriors are dominating opponents.

We’ll see how they fare on the road – they take a 7-3 mark into the Lakers game – but the expectation here is that their collective approach is actually more likely to yield success than if they came into town relying on a version led by Durant and Curry. Losing a large lead in a loss at Boston on Nov. 16 began a run where they looked ordinary in failing to cover four straight, overcoming deficits against the 76ers and Nets while also losing outright at the Thunder.

The NBA season is long, marathon-like, so there are going to be lulls. In their current form, relying on all their parts as opposed to just the best ones, Golden State is likely to be a force.

Perhaps complacency had set in, but there’s no question that being forced to thrive through some adversity has helped get the Warriors focused. Fade them at your own risk as they hit the road.

About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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