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Warriors go east after OT win in L.A

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In its final home game until Dec. 11., Golden State saw a number of streaks come to an end that captured its cartoonish dominance nicely.

Without Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, Sacramento came into Oakland’s Oracle Arena and claimed a 110-106 win, snapping the Warriors’ string of 32 straight wins against Pacific Division competition. The defending champs had a run of 36 consecutive games holding opponents under a 50 percent shooting clip snapped as seven Kings scored nine or more points in producing a 53.2 percent shooting night. Golden State hadn’t been carved up like that since March 11 of last season, when San Antonio took advantage of Durant and Curry being out of the lineup.

The Warriors missed their last seven shots and didn’t get Klay Thompson many clean looks, stumbling as Sacramento cashed as a 13.5-point underdog, yielding a 7-to-1 return on the money line. The Kings erased a 10-point lead in a game that featured 17 ties and 16 lead changes. Even without their two biggest guns, it was still strange to see Golden State fail to make winning plays when it mattered most. The loss spoiled an opportunity to finish a second consecutive perfect homestand, snapping a seven-game streak at Oracle that featured wins by double-digits each time out. Their average margin of victory in those games was 23.4.


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Losing to Sacramento hammered in the point that the Warriors are currently vulnerable as they prepared to go on a season-long six-game road trip, which began with a 127-123 OT win over the Lakers that they were in danger of losing at the buzzer in regulation. Golden State isn't sharp. Guys are banged up and not defending with great intensity. Fading them may not be a great idea though.

The Warriors were down both Kevin Durant and Draymond Green against the Bulls at home last Friday, so oddsmakers took 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 as their 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 had veteran point guard Tony Parker debut for the first time all season on Monday, Golden State’s success has now become about the manner in which they go about things. There are a number of coaches off the Gregg Popovich coaching tree currently in the head seat, 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, whose ties to the organization came via two separate stints as a reserve in which he won two more rings. He learned a lot from Pop, and has bought in wholeheartedly that players need rest in-season, even telling his core-four that they should expect breaks to limit wear and tear.

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 has commented that he’d err on the side of caution when it came to injuries. If you’re not 100 percent, odds are you’re not playing.

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 championships 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. He then hurt his foot on Saturday but convinced Kerr and his other coaches that he could play through it. 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.

“KD it’s just been lingering a little bit,” Kerr told reporters following the loss to Sacramento. “It’s not a huge level of concern. We’ll just take it day by day.”

Green plans on playing through the 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 after everyone participated in opening a six-game road trip on Wednesday at the Lakers. Curry has been dealing with swelling in his right hand, but he’s likely to play most of the road trip, barring a setback.

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.

On paper, Golden State will be extremely vulnerable as a road favorite due to all its 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 has been getting 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 and often served as the point guard against the Kings, running the offense and serving as a distributor and shooter on the perimeter. Golden State prevailed 110-96 against New Orleans despite trailing 31-17 after one quarter and Curry shooting just 3-for-13 from 3-point range as he dealt with the hand issue. Although the slow starts are a concern, over the course of 48 minutes, the Warriors are dominating opponents.

Every team suffers losses like the one Golden State took on Monday night. We just don’t see it happen to this historic group very often. We’ll see how the Warriors 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 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.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

  
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