Warriors ‘winning the right way’ ahead of Stephen Curry’s return, but still must overcome one major roadblock

SAN FRANCISCO — Clay Thompson did the styling. Jordan Poole smiled. Jonathan Cuminga was the poster.

Pure jubilation emanated from the Chase Center as the Golden State Warriors closed out the 5-0 home stand with another comeback win, this time 108-99 against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday. Most impressive was the fact that they won every game without the help of Andrew Wiggins, who is out indefinitely for family reasons, and Stephen Curry, who is expected to return with calf injuries on Sunday.

It’s just the second five-game winning streak of the season for the Warriors, who have been looking for momentum like a missing remote control for their entire baffling title defense in 2022. They are now four games over .500 for the first time this season in a single game against the fourth-seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference.

Interestingly, another five-game series of Golden State also went without Curry in the roster. in fact, their 14-12 record in non-Curry games (7-4 in this last stretch) is one of the main reasons a disappointing season didn’t turn into a disaster.

Thompson’s resurgence was essential to keeping the Warriors afloat without an offensive engine and emotional leader. After speaking early in the season about the pain he felt over the harsh criticism of his relatively slow start, Thompson has been out of the light since Christmas, over 26 points per game on 44 percent of three-point shooting. Overall, he is a fraction of a point behind his career-high average and shoots 41% from depth. He also got his swagger back, as he showed with that brash, good-natured pull-up from almost midcourt late in the fourth quarter of Friday’s victory over the Pelicans.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr also spoke with Thompson about developing his game, as all great players should do as they age. He blamed the sharpshooter for playing the ball more and breaking boards, and on the current five-game winning streak, Thompson has responded with an average of 3.4 assists and 6.4 rebounds, including a career-high 11 rebounds on Thursday when he won ” Los Angeles Clippers.

While he and Jordan Pool kept the offense afloat without Curry, the real story was on defense, which allowed just over 100 points per 100 possessions on a perfect home stance, compared to 114 in 60 previous games. In this regard, Thompson noted an improvement in trust and communication. Defensive anchor Kevon Looney mentioned developing better habits and limiting fouls. Jonathan Cuminga advocated increased physical activity and general chemistry.

Call it what you will, but the defense looks like a championship for the first time since Golden State won the title last June.

“We’ve been much more focused on the game plan, on the keys, on the big picture of what we’re trying to do in every game,” Kerr said of the increase in defensive effectiveness. “I think it makes some sense that this is happening now because it’s a stretch and a lot of our young guys have been through it already.”

By “young guys,” Kerr is referring to Cuminga, who seems to have literally made the leap in the last few games, along with Poole, Donte DiVincenzo, Moses Moody, Patrick Baldwin Jr., and two-way players. Ty Jerome and Anthony Lamb. Di Vincenzo was especially important during the Curry-free stretches, and he turned into Kerr’s Swiss Army Knife, capable of shooting, lightening, parrying and defending with equal skill and enthusiasm.

The Warriors have a trump card in their back pocket – the best starting XI in the NBA. Curry, Thompson, Looney, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green have a plus-22 net rating this season, by far the best of all five players who have played at least 300 minutes.

“This group won the championship last year, so that gives us confidence,” Kerr said of his starting lineup. “We have seen individual growth and we know we have certain lineups that we can really count on. I think it’s all about the fact that we believe that if we’re healthy and we press, we can beat anyone.”

The Warriors look like the Warriors again, a curious development considering they were missing vital elements in Curry and Wiggins. But there is another major hurdle to overcome: they need to win on the road.

Both of Golden State’s five-game winning streaks this season have come at home, where Golden State has a brilliant 27-7 record. However, as soon as they leave the friendly confines of San Francisco, things get ugly – like 7-23 is ugly. The Warriors scored 119 points per 100 possessions on the road, the third-worst record in the NBA, ahead of only the lowly San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.

They had fantastic home stretches that were immediately ruined by devastating rides. But Looney sees reason to believe things will change when the Warriors travel to Los Angeles to begin a three-game road trip against the Lakers on Sunday.

“I thought earlier this season when we won at home, it was just because we were throwing or something,” Looney said after Friday’s victory over the Pelicans. “But in the last few games, we played our basketball style and won the right way. And I think we can keep that on the road.”

Most of those who follow the league have been waiting for the Warriors to make their inevitable run. The talent is clearly there and the roster is basically the same as the one that lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy last year and they seem to be starting to pack things up with Curry, Gary Peyton II and ultimately Wiggins who, is expected to return to the team. fight.

But if we’re going to consider the Warriors the real title contenders again, they need to prove they can win away from home. A strong end-of-season performance, especially away, will only bolster the confidence of the four-time champion, who will terrify every opponent he sees in the playoffs.

“It’s exciting. But there is no time to relax, ”Thompson said after Friday’s victory. “Just because Steph is coming back, we can’t slouch and expect him to save us. You have to keep playing with the same mindset and the same effort. But I mean we are all so excited to have our guys back. “


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