SAN FRANCISCO – The Warriors starting Friday night in Sacramento are stepping into territory that was a constant house of horrors last season. They won one of their two regular-season games at Golden 1 Center and two of their four playoff games there, including Game 7 of their first-round series.
Golden State’s short trip up north wasn’t so much the Warriors’ sight for sore eyes, but games away from Chase Center in general. That can’t be the case this season, and the road is about to be the Warriors’ second home, starting with an early-season date against the Kings.
Seven of the Warriors’ next eight contests are road games. Following their game against the Kings, they’ll take flight for a back-to-back, facing the Houston Rockets on Monday and the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. The Warriors then have a one-game stop in San Francisco to face the Kings again, this time at Chase Center.
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Then it’s back in the air for games in Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Detroit and Denver.
Returners and newcomers alike have preached how this group’s togetherness entering the season is different, and their first real test is about to be on display. The roster also is more experienced, though nothing is certain until the ball is tossed for tip-off.
"This team has more veteran experience than last year's team,” Steve Kerr said Thursday after Warriors practice. “Veteran teams tend to play better on the road, but with that said, nothing's guaranteed. I don't think we played particularly sharply the other night, so we've got to be sharper to start. Just our rhythm and our timing, you saw how many missed shots there were.
“We've got to get our skill at a good level as we go on the road.”
Golden State Warriors
Last season simply was a disaster when the Warriors weren’t taking the court in front of their home fans. They dropped their first road game by 29 points and suffered a winless five-game road trip soon after. The Warriors lost their first eight games on the road, and finished 11-30 there overall.
Only three teams had worse road records, and all three were selected within the top five of last June’s NBA draft.
Newcomer Dario Saric wasn’t part of the road woes. However, he did witness two of the Warriors’ first eight road losses from the bench last season as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Saric believes the Warriors’ road issues are behind them and trusts this group can prove that on the hardwood.
“It's always harder to win on the road,” Saric said. “Most of the games are going to be close and tight. You have to have closers like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Klay [Thompson] and Andrew Wiggins. And when you have secondary players who are really pushing between minutes, between the stars as we're playing, I think that's the important thing. Sometimes it's just the body language. Sometimes it just goes out and a person has to be like, ‘You know, we are the Warriors.’
“Sometimes it’s not going to be easy. Sometimes you need to steal one. Sometimes you struggle for the whole game and you need to just steal one. If we come with our guard up like champions every road game, then it's gonna be great for us, and I think those guys who have been here for several years have that mode. So I think we’re going to grab some away games for sure this year.”
Five of the seven teams the Warriors are about to face on the road in an 11-day stretch won their season openers, too.
What is about to be in front of them is going to be a hard test to ace, and Kerr knows there is plenty to be done in the future, regardless of the outcomes of upcoming games. The Warriors also won’t be whole again Friday night as Draymond Green will miss his second straight game due to a sprained right ankle to start the season.
There’s hope Green suits up either Sunday in Houston or Monday in New Orleans. With or without him, Kerr has plenty to figure out about his team.
“I also know that with Draymond coming back at some point over the next week or two, we've got more work,” Kerr said. “We've got to integrate him into the lineup. We've got to figure out rotations, combinations, all of that. I don't expect our team to be going full bore for a while, it's not going to happen right away. So early part of the season is just about getting better and working every day and trusting that over the course of 82 games.”
Deciding who a team is nine games into a season is a senseless exercise. Ignoring the opportunity in front of the Warriors also would be irresponsible. How a team responds to adversity on the road can create the kind of identity the Warriors want, and it finally can put any question marks from one of last season’s biggest problems to rest.