Breaking bad habits key to long Warriors playoff run


While discussion rages about the pros and cons of facing the Denver Nuggets in the first round of playoffs, the Warriors must first confront the much more intimate challenge that is mending themselves.

They have a few bad habits – most of which surfaced in the second half of the season – that if retained will be their undoing in the postseason.

Even as they closed the regular season with a five-game win streak punctuated by a 128-107 victory Sunday night over a partial roster of Pelicans in New Orleans, it was evident that Golden State’s coaches and players might need every hour of preparation this week to uncover the best of themselves.

Finishing has been an issue all season, and there it was again against a Pelicans team that used the evening as a training session. The Warriors took a 29-point lead three minutes into the third quarter, and then allowed New Orleans to fight back and get within 11.

Though they recovered and held on, it’s not a comfortable feeling when a bad habit is not broken by Game 82.

“We made some very poor decisions,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We turned the ball over. We took bad shots. That's all it takes in this league, even against a team that's resting all their starters. Everybody in the NBA can play.”

The Pels on the floor for the bulk of the game were mostly marginal NBA players. The Nuggets won’t be so accommodating. Denver wiped out a 10-point deficit in the final seven minutes to defeat the Warriors on Feb. 16 at Chase Center. The very next home game on Feb. 27, the Mavericks did the same – only worse.

The Warriors led by 19 with 10 minutes remaining. They lost by seven.

“We just got to play until the final whistle,” Jordan Poole told me on NBC Sports Bay Area's Warriors Postgame Live. “Everybody is capable of giving you a challenge, night in and night out. Like tonight. It doesn’t matter who is playing, we’ve got to find ways to finish the game and play all 48.”

If only that were all the Warriors will try to repair this week before taking the floor against Denver on Saturday at Chase Center. There’s more.

Like turnovers. They committed 17 on Sunday, gifting the Pelicans 23 points. They won five in a row despite averaging 14.4 turnovers, off which opponents averaged 20 points per game.

Asked what the team will focus on this week, Kerr gave a familiar response.

“Taking care of the basics,” he said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball. That’s what allowed New Orleans to get back into the game tonight. We’ve been at the bottom of the league in turnovers all year. We’ve talked about it the last few days. It’s going to require us to clean up that area for us to advance in the playoffs. That’s the biggest thing for me.”

If only it were turnovers and lack of competitive viciousness. There’s more. Can they reduce the frequency with which they surrender wide-open 3-pointers, particularly those from the short corners? Most teams have several players capable of making those in their sleep.

It’s a matter of following the defensive rules laid down by assistant coach Mike Brown and Kerr. They played the Nuggets four times and know them well. They’ll study them again.

“Learning personnel this week,” Kerr said. “Understanding who to close out to, who to close short to, the details of personnel, the details of our opponent’s game plan and their strategy.”

The Warriors have, when healthy, sufficient talent to be considered a legitimate threat to come out of a loaded Western Conference. They also have shown a stunning ability to repeat their mistakes.

“We’re figuring it out,” Draymond Green said Saturday night. “But we’re not there yet. We’ve still got room to grow.”

That they do. The issue now, however, is time. They’ll return to the Bay Area on Monday and begin serious preparations on Tuesday. Call in the scouts. Call in the executives. Explore every basketball mind in the building, including president/general manager Bob Myers.

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The Warriors have until Saturday afternoon at 5:30 p.m., when Game 1 tips off, to fix the things they’ve been unable to completely fix for three months.

If they fail, the first round will be long and fraught with peril, even if they prevail.

If they succeed, there's a very good chance they will emerge from the first round and play deep into May. Maybe beyond.

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