Warriors searching for aggressive defensive intelligence


LOS ANGELES -- Draymond Green delivered a deserved challenged to his Warriors teammates following their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers as they crawled into the NBA All-Star break with a fitting 29-29 record. 

While the Warriors' offense hasn't been perfect this season, their issues on that side of the ball aren't close to their floundering defense. Some have pointed to Mike Brown's departure for the persisting problems. The Sacramento Kings have improved by leaps and bounds this season, though they aren't a juggernaut on defense. 

Sometimes it's all about looking within. Especially defensively. 

“It’s the will to defend, to stop and guard your man and sink when you help and trap the box," Green said after the Warriors' loss at Crypto.com Arena on Feb. 14. "Rotate. Defense is all about one or two steps extra. Am I going to take that extra step to get there, or not?

"That’s all will. And we don’t have that as a team.”

What does that look like to Gary Payton II? The veteran guard who had to grind through the G League and multiple teams before being recognized as a game-changing defender has been sorely missed this season for his non-stop effort and competitiveness to do the dirty work. 

It's simple. All you need is two words. Nothing more, nothing less. 

"Energy and effort," Payton said Wednesday after Warriors practice. "Easy."

Payton is on the same page as Green with the Warriors' defensive lapses. He's looking for them to be more aggressive in an intelligent way. But the Warriors also won't have Payton on the court until at least mid-March, putting even more of an onus on Andrew Wiggins, who currently is away from the team while dealing with a family matter, 20-year-old Jonathan Kuminga and Donte DiVincenzo, as well as Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole -- two guards who can put up 20-plus points on any given night, but allow the same or more as well.

Entering Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors' first time back on the court coming out of the All-Star break, Golden State ranks 20th in defensive rating (115.0) and 27th in points allowed per game (118.5). Those numbers aren't close to what they were last season. On their way to winning a fourth title in eight seasons, the Warriors had the best defensive rating (106.9) in the NBA, and allowed the third-fewest points per game (105.5). 

In their final two games before the break, a win against the Washington Wizards and a loss to the Clippers, the Warriors allowed 260 total points -- a 130-point average -- and both opposing teams shot the lights out. Despite coming out on top, the Warriors watched the Wizards shoot 60 percent from the field, 42.9 percent on 3-pointers and 85.7 percent on free throws. The Clippers made 53.3 percent of their shots, 47.7 percent of their attempts from deep and 86.4 percent of their tries from the free-throw line. 

Combined, the Wizards and Clippers shot 56.4 percent from the field (97 for 172), 45.3 percent on 3-pointers (29 for 64) and 86 percent from the charity stripe (37 for 43).

Tuesday's Warriors practice was all about getting up and down the floor again, forcing sweat to drip to the floor and be conditioned for a huge 24-game stretch to end the regular season. Wednesday was more about crunching the numbers, going over the film and players getting the individual work they need. 

"We look at everything," Kerr said Wednesday when asked which defensive stats stick out to him. "Obviously free throw attempts for our opponents, transition points per possession, pick-and-roll defense. We look at all of that stuff and try to factor it all in, show the tape, show the players some of those numbers and see where we can get better."

Here are the numbers for those categories: The Warriors are tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves in allowing the most free throws per game (26.0), but they allow the second-fewest transition points per possession (1.08) and give up the seventh-most points per possession by pick-and-roll ballhandlers (0.92). 

Staring at the stats are one part of the equation. Players can't compute all of that in the middle of chaos, though. 

There's a balance to all of this. As the Warriors look to flip the script to a frustrating season defensively, offensive improvements will only help them there as well. 

"I don't look at the stats too much," DiVincenzo said Wednesday. "I know the coaches do and it's important. For me, it's more the flow. I think for us, if we can get good shots offensively and we can get set in our defense, picking up full court, causing havoc -- I think the flow for us is better.

"I think sometimes we either get turnovers or we can get better shot attempts, and then it's harder for us to set our defense. We're out of rotations quicker and we're scrambling, so it messes with the flow of our game and on the defensive end. If we can get set, I think we're a much better team." 

RELATED: Where Warriors sit in post-All-Star break power rankings

Steph Curry is guaranteed to miss at least the next four games as he continues rehabbing a lower left leg injury. There's no telling when Wiggins will re-join the team, too. That's the Warriors' two All-Stars from last year gone when needed most during a wildly up-and-down season. 

Outscoring your opponent is the name of the game. So is making stops on defense. That's even more important with two high-level scorers unable to play, including an all-time great.

Yes, balance is key. The scale has teetered far too heavily on one side than the other. If that starts to change, thoughts of the Warriors finally looking like defending champions can start to be a reality again. 

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