What the Warriors should do when the lockout ends

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“We Believe” seems like it was so long ago. Since the Warriors’ shocking 1st-round upset and follow-up successful 07-08 regular season (the team missed the playoffs, but won 48 games, more than the 4th-seeded team in the East), the Warriors have been a mess. Baron Davis and the rest of the gang left, the team lost anything resembling interest in playing defense or rebounding, and the offense stopped working smoothly.

With Don Nelson and his replacement, Keith Smart, both gone, and former President of Basketball Operations Robert Rowell gone as well, the Warriors are looking for a fresh start. Here’s what they need to do in order to get their new regime started on the right foot:

1. For the love of God, play defense

Defense is really important, and the Warriors don’t play it. The Warriors were a run-and-gun team when they were successful, but they weren’t as abysmal defensively as they have been over the last few years. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have finished 28th, 29th, and 26th in defensive efficiency. If the team wants any hope of becoming successful, they need a complete defensive overhaul.

New coach Marc Jackson has said all the right things about defense since his hiring, and head assistant Mike Malone has a good defensive pedigree, but defense is about more than “effort” or “hustle” in the NBA. It’s about having a solid defensive scheme, and players who are willing and able to make that scheme work. With all the money the Warriors have in defensive liabilities like David Lee and Monta Ellis, they won’t become a solid defensive unit overnight.

Still, the team does have some promising defenders like Ekpe Udoh, and if they make defense a priority going forward on the court and in their personnel moves, they could return to respectability.

2. Figure out what to do with Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins

Ellis scores at a superstar rate, and can score with superstar efficiency at times. However, he’s undersized, isn’t a passer, and may be the worst perimeter defender in the NBA. Ellis has his passionate believers, but the simple fact is this — if Ellis was that good, the Warriors would not have been so bad when Ellis was given a blank check for both minutes and shot attempts. The Warriors have been shopping Ellis and opting to keep Steph Curry, who is both the better passer and the more efficient scorer, but they’ve been having trouble finding takers on Ellis’ nightmare contract.

Biedrins was once one of the most promising young centers in the NBA, but injuries and the complete deterioration of his free-throw stroke have turned him into a borderline rotation player. When Biedrins goes to the free throw line, horrifying things happen, and it’s had a negative impact on every aspect of his game. If Biedrins can get back to being aggressive offensively, attacking the boards defensively, and making around 60-65% of his free throws (why not give underhanded a try, as Don Nelson suggested?), he’s worth keeping. If not, the Warriors will have the unenviable task of trying to shop both Biedrins and Ellis, who are owed a combined $20 million a year through the 2013/14 season.

3. Get the offense flowing again

Having a run-and-gun offense isn’t just about shooting the ball up as fast as you can. There needs to be some organization to the chaos, and the Warriors haven’t had it. The team wasn’t much better than average offensively last year, and they need to make their offense the relentless, terrifying machine it was in Nelson’s first two seasons as coach by passing and spacing the floor effectively, not just gambling for steals, forcing breaks, and jacking up shots in the first 7 seconds of the shot clock, even if they’re tough ones. If the Warriors can do any of those things, it will be time to Believe again. But with the team’s thrown-together roster and second new coach in as many years, things might not happen overnight for them.

Devin Booker forces OT with deep turnaround buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Bucks beat Suns (video)

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I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.

But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.