Steph Curry

Warriors proving they're not among NBA elite, but blueprint exists

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The first 30 days of the 2023-24 NBA season are in the books, and the Warriors have experienced a steady series of setbacks, from multiple minor injuries to multiple ejections to a still-in-effect five-game suspension.

The most ominous revelation thus far is that they have seen enough of the NBA’s elite to know they are not included.

The latest reminder came Wednesday night when the Warriors tripped over their tongues and turnovers during a catastrophic second quarter to invite a 123-115 thrashing by the Suns at Footprint Center in Phoenix.

“We were pretty good for the first eight minutes of the game,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Phoenix. “The ball was moving. We were getting good looks. Energy was good.

“But the fouling late in the first quarter really hurt us. They shot 13 free throws in the first quarter, which put us on pace to give up 52. Which is exactly what we gave up. It was foul, foul, foul, foul, foul. You can’t win in the NBA if you’re constantly trying to attack a set defense after free throws – and you’re giving up 44 points.”

Fouling happens for a variety of reasons, one being that the offense is bringing better speed, size and agility. The Warriors were frequent foulers last season and repeating the act this season, ranking second in most free throws allowed.

The slide began late in the first quarter but accelerated in that ill-fated second quarter. It featured 16 points, 35.7-percent shooting, nine turnovers, all punctuated by Chris Paul talking too much and being assessed two technical fouls in a matter of seconds and automatic ejection, courtesy of crew chief Scott Foster.

The NBA’s most imperious official and CP3’s longtime personal nemesis also gave Kerr a piece of the action for coming to Paul’s defense.

That second quarter is when the game was lost, and a late surge generated by the far end of Golden State’s bench merely amused the scoreboard.

“I credit the guys off the bench . . . they competed,” said Stephen Curry said. “They played hard. They flew around the court. They knew they had an opportunity to make themselves seen and felt on the court. They flew around and it was unbelievable to watch. I’m super proud of the way they competed.

“We have to find a little bit of that energy. To know the success of the past won’t necessarily carry you unless you do something about it and impose your will. And, consistently, we have not been able to do it.”

The loss dropped the Warriors to 7-9, but the significance expands far beyond this 48-minute segment. The Warriors are now 0-2 against the Suns, 0-1 against the Denver Nuggets, 0-2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and 1-2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder – giving those four teams gigantic leads over Golden State in the race to gain elite status Western Conference.

What’s more troubling is that three of those four teams have an imperfection or a knock. Phoenix has gotten only three games out of Bradley Beal, who will miss at least three more weeks. Denver hasn’t had Jamal Murray since Nov. 4 and hope to get him back by mid-December. Minnesota is rapidly outgrowing the “not quite ready” stage, but Oklahoma City is supposed to remain in that phase for at least another year.

Those teams are 5-0 against the Warriors at Chase Center, which ought to be sounding alarms throughout the building.

There are replies, however, to what looks like a hazardous path to the desirable top-four finish in the West – or even the top-six finish that would allow the Warriors to avoid the Play-In Tournament.

Draymond Green has missed seven total games and will miss one more. Gary Payton II has missed four games. Curry missed two games with knee soreness. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins couldn’t find buckets for the first three weeks but now seem to be gathering rhythm.

Paul is shuttling between the starting lineup and being the leader of the second unit. There will come a time when he stays in one role.

There is reason to believe better days are ahead.

“I can see the blueprint for this team,” Kerr said. “I think we can be a really good team. I see it and I know what it is. But it starts with us competing together and feeling that energy that comes when a group really is connected and competing and not caring about anything other than winning.”

Until that happens consistently, there will be more games like this one. And they almost always will end the same way.

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