Exhibition finale: No Baron, no Kelenna, no Andris

With the regular-season opener less than a week out, Don Nelson is not going to take any chances in Friday’s exhibition finale against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Nelson said at Thursday’s practice that he would not use center Andris Biedrins or guards Baron Davis and Kelenna Azubuike — and possibly other players as well — to ensure they don’t suffer an injury.
As for practice, it was a light crew. Davis and forward Matt Barnes were absent with the team’s permission to deal with personal matters. A team spokesman said it was a likely possibility that Barnes would not be available for tonight’s game.
Forward Brandan Wright did not practice because of a sore lower back, although he said that he expected to be able to play Friday. Azubuike started practice but left early with flu-like symptoms. Forward Al Harrington, who took a couple of hard falls against the Seattle SuperSonics on Tuesday, also had a light day of work because of his sore tailbone.

— Geoff Lepper


Warriors 126, SuperSonics 122 (OT)

It’s a little late, but let’s empty out the notebook from Tuesday’s exhibition victory…

Seattle SuperSonics guard Earl Watson was jawing with fellow UCLA products Matt Barnes and Baron Davis in the visitors’ locker room at KeyArena on Tuesday — “You ran into my hand,” Watson insisted about the bloody, 2-inch scratch just below Barnes’ neck — when the subject of Warriors rookie forward Brandan Wright came up.

“He’s a young Chris Bosh,” Barnes crowed to Watson. “I tried to tell you.”

While it still counts for nothing in the standings — “Oh, I don’t think you should make any judgments on a preseason game,” coach Don Nelson sighed during his postgame media session — Wright’s performance in the latter stages of Tuesday’s 126-122 overtime exhibition victory was still impressive: seven points (3-for-4 floor), six rebounds and a steal in less than 14 minutes.

A quarter of an hour in October does not make you an All-Star and Team USA member, as Bosh is. But the night was all the more astounding because Nelson had basically written Wright off for the evening, if not longer. The coach has said in the past that he expects Wright to join fellow rookie Kosta Perovic in the NBA Development League, and admitted “I wasn’t even going to play him.

“He hasn’t had an outstanding practice or outstanding game,” Nelson explained. “I just finally said, ‘You know what? I ought to stick him in there, see how he does in a pressure game.’ And he really played well. He definitely got my attention. I have to do a double-take on him now. Both he and (Stephane) Lasme did very well.”

Wright and Lasme surpringsly won the battle in OT against Seattle veterans Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox. The highlight was a 19-foot jumper from the top of the key for Wright that gave the Warriors a 118-113 lead with 3:46 to go.

“That’s something I really worked on in preparation for this season,” Wright said of his perimeter J. “You’ve definitely got to add to your game coming to the NBA. You’ve got to add something every year, and that’s one of the things I definitely worked on over the fall, just getting more comfortable stepping out.”

** Barnes said he “finally caught a rhythm for the first time all preseason” in going off for a team-high 16 points — 3-for-5 from 3-point land — with 10 points in the fourth quarter.

“Better late than never,” he said. “I’ve just got to build on that.”

While Barnes said it made no difference where he played on the court, it was interesting to note that when he was in at the 4 (he started the second half in place of the ineffective Mickael Pietrus), he went 0-for-3 with a foul and a turnover. Nelson yanked Barnes after 4:03 in favor of Lasme. When Barnes came back, he was played the 3 for the remainder of the night.

** It didn’t quite match the intensity of Monday’s battle between the Knicks and Celtics, but the Warriors and Sonics went fairly hard at each other Tuesday. Most teams are ready for the regular-season to start already.

** Injury-wise, there were some scares. Al Harrington crashed to the ground twice in the space of a couple of minutes in the second quarter, and came up grimacing at the pain in his tailbone.

[Funny aside: After the first fall, Nelson started growling at the kid working mop-up detail under the basket to clean up the wet spot left by Harrington. Sitting on the bench next to Nelson, the trio of Stephen Jackson, Stephen Silas and Keith Smart all had bemused smiles on their faces, as if they’d heard that tone before.]

Less amusingly, Baron Davis — who had played the entire game to that point — went down hard with 5:36 left in the third quarter after embarking on a wild foray through the lane. He lay on the ground while Monta Ellis fouled Kevin Durant on the other end of the floor, then got to his feet and reached at his right calf, as if to stretch it out. He waved off Warriors athletic trainer Tom Abdenour, but walked slowly to the bench — so slowly, in fact, that he walked right through the middle of the Seattle dance team, which was performing during the break in the action.

Both players looked OK after the game, but there was no official update Wednesday from the team.

** The Sonics tried to zone up the Warriors on a couple of occasions in the first half with a 1-2-2 scheme, but Golden State outflanked that maneuver by letting Davis float in the open area at the free throw line, where he quickly dissected the defense. It’ll be interesting to see who’s the key to how the Warriors attack that situation when Davis is on the bench.

** Reporters and scouts are seated on the baseline at KeyArena, and Sonics forward Damien Wilkins practically landed in our laps at one point, coming to rest on the padded lip along the top of the table after pursuing a loose ball. Somehow he managed to partially crumple a paper coffee cup, but didn’t spill a drop.

— Geoff


Magic’s Coming!

FYI for all my fellow hoop junkies. Magic Johnson will be in Oakland tomorrow. The 24-Hour Fitness in Oakland (off High Street) is celebrating it’s one-year anniversary Saturday. Magic will host the festivities, which run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
There will be a shooting contest, the prize being $24,000, several giveaways, free food, etc. Most important, you may get to see the greatest point guard of all time. It’s not often he makes an appearance in the Bay.


Reason for Panic?

I’m in San Antonio, and I just saw something that looked to be desperation, but I’m not sure.
It was the start of the fourth quarter. The Warriors were up 86-80. Guess who emerged from the bench: Baron Davis, Al Harrington, Kelenna Azubuike and Marco Belinelli. That’s at least three starters playing the fourth quarter of a preseason game.
It gets worse. Guess who took the floor for San Antonio:
Francisco Elson, Anthony Lever-Pedroza, Keith Langford, Matt Bonner and Ime Udoka.
Should we be worried that the Warriors are going hard against the Spurs C team and still coming up short? Should it bother Warriors fans that Nellie is so desperate to see something positive that he’s keeping key players in much longer with hopes they show him something?
“Nobody was really good enough at all phases of the game to get a high grade. Azubuike was probably the most solid for us on both ends of the floor.”
The Warriors, despite big minutes from several of their best players (Kelenna played 39 minutes, Baron played 30, Harrington 32 and Belinelli 29), lost to a Spurs team that was without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry. Even Greg Popovich sat this one out, watching from a seat in the stands, about a dozen rows behind the Spurs bench. Sure, the Warriors were without Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis, but that’s hardly an equal trade.
There are two preseason games left and the Warriors appear out of sync and unsituated. The shooting guard and power forward positions are still undecided (though Azubuike is likely to start at the 2) and they have yet to nail down any pattern of rotation. Several players — such as Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes, and Al Harrington — have been sporadic in their play.
With two preseason games left, the Warriors should be in rhythm. Nelson went deep into the game trying to find that rhythm, but instead watched his squad get torched by Darius Washington, who likely won’t make the Spurs’ roster.
Matt Barnes said they do have that rhythm in practice, but for some reason, it’s not showing up in the games. They certainly should be in stride now, ready to hit the ground running. Uh, they’re not.
“We need to sit down and look at some film and see what we need to work on,” Stephen Jackson said. “We definitely need to get better on defense for sure … and just focus on the other things we need to work on and move forward as we get closer to the season.”
Are you worried?


Warriors’ lineup: Harrington out, Ellis in?

Barring injury, Baron Davis and Andris Biedrins will be on the floor at 7:40 p.m. on Oct. 30 to face the Utah Jazz in the Warriors’ season opener.
Everything else is anyone’s guess.
Actually, it’s only one guy’s guess that matters, as Don Nelson made clear once again Monday night. Prior to the Warriors’ game against Zalgiris Kaunas, Nelson told reporters that he’s going to experiment with Al Harrington as a sixth man and that Monta Ellis will go back to being a combo guard, instead of becoming a pure point guard due to a lack of practice at the latter spot. (As of Monday, Ellis is now expected to miss at least another week before he begins drill work, let alone full practices, which means he’ll get one or two more exhibition games, at most.)
There’s going to be much more on this in tomorrow’s paper (we can’t give EVERYTHING away), but here’s the story in a nutshell…
Ellis hasn’t made enough progress towards being a full-time backup for Baron, in Nelson’s opinion, so he’ll split time at both guard spots again. And because Nelson wants to pair Ellis with Davis (BD will be picking up the opposing shooting guard, avoiding a mismatch for Ellis), that means Ellis may start alongside him. That would make an odd man out of Kelenna Azubuike, who has worked tirelessly in pursuit of Jason Richardson’s old spot.
As for Harrington, Nelson said he first pondered the notion of Al-as-sixth-man during the Dallas series, when Harrington went from being the starting power forward to completely out of the rotation in the space of three games.
“I think this is something that, when he was out there smoking his cigars, he was thinking about it in Hawaii,” Harrington joked.
Harrington has experience at the role; he finished second behind Antawn Jamison in the NBA’s Sixth Man Award voting in 2003-04, when he averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Indiana Pacers.
Nelson said he’ll consider Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus and Austin Croshere as his starting power forward, but let’s be honest. If the coach is willing to bench the two guys whom he considered far and away his best training-camp performers, then almost nobody can be sure of their role on this team. Unless you’re BD or Andris.

— Geoff Lepper


Carlos Powell, former Warrior

The Warriors made their first cut-down of the season on Saturday, waiving rookie small forward Carlos Powell. Powell, a training-camp invitee whose contract was not guaranteed for 2007-08, was one of only two healthy players who appeared in neither exhibition game in Hawaii (rookie center Kosta Perovic was the other).

Powell, who played in the most games in school history (132) during four years at South Carolina, caught the Warriors’ eye during two seasons in Portugal and New Zealand, and impressed as a member of their summer-league team. But despite his fearsome dunking ability, Powell wasn’t able to overcome the glut of talent the Warriors have at the 3 (Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, plus Al Harrington if they go big or Kelenna Azubuike if they go small).

“We’re just loaded at that spot,” Warriors coach Don Nelson said.

Said Harrington: “I think he had a great camp. I wish he could have got on the court. Hopefully, somebody will have seen something to where he can get another job. I think he’s talented enough that he will play in this league.”

— Geoff Lepper


Warriors 119, Lakers 106

Thursday’s exhibition game ended too late to get any details into Friday’s paper, so here’s an update from the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu:

** Despite playing the entire first quarter without a true point guard (Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes splitting ball-handling duties in the half-court), the Warriors still did well enough to score 30 points. The Jackson-as-point guard experiment was not spectacular, notwithstanding his on-the-money alley oop to leading scorer Kelenna Azubuike (22 points) in transition. The Warriors were able to succeed in that period because they hit 13 of 22 shots, and that’s something that’s really stood out in these two games — everyone on this roster has the ability to hit open jump shots. Yes, the Warriors will rely on the fast break to help fuel their offense, but their half-court game is infinitely more varied this season because of that all-around shooting ability. And that’s a very good thing.

** Center Patrick O’Bryant continued to play outstanding ball, this time in the place of injured starter Andris Biedrins. What was most impressive was that O’Bryant showed off a completely different facet of his game than he did Tuesday. This time, O’Bryant featured his offensive game (10 points on 5-for-6 shooting), most notably his ability to post up defenders and then find cutting teammates for easy layups (leading to four assists). If he can do that with regularity in the regular season, he will make a fairly compelling case for a place in the rotation.

** Barnes was joking before the game about being “in midseason form” with all his assorted bumps and bruises, and he added another one with 8:20 remaining in the third quarter, when he knocked knees with ex-Warrior guard Derek Fisher. Barnes got to his feet rubbing his left knee and lower thigh, then hobbled off to the bench and did not return.

** Mickael Pietrus, who like Barnes was looking to avenge a poor performance on Tuesday, did so for 2 1/2 quarters (17 points, four rebounds), but then had to leave after twisting his back at the 5:59 mark while defending a Bryant 3-pointer. It was officially diagnosed as a strained back, and he also did not return.

** Pietrus was replaced by rookie Stephane Lasme, but that only lasted a couple of minutes before Lasme joined the injury parade with a sprained left ankle.

** Rookie Brandan Wright started at power forward and performed adequately. He wasn’t terrific — things started poorly when Ronny Turiaf spun him like a top for an easy three-point play 57 seconds into the game — but he wasn’t terrible, either. Nelson said pregame that both Wright and Kosta Perovic will probably bounce between the D-League and the Warriors. Given how Perovic has looked in scrimmages, you’d have to give the edge to Wright in terms of who’s more likely to stay in Oakland.

** Wright was the target of some of Don Nelson’s verbal ire, but it was nothing compared to the tongue-lashings administered to Marco Belinelli, who is still struggling in assimilating the playbook but managed to score 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting. He also finally got on the floor for the first time with his idol, Kobe Bryant. Belinelli wound up picking up Bryant a couple times, and even forced a turnover on one of Bryant’s more reckless drives.

** Speaking of Bryant, Lakers coach Phil Jackson had to admit pregame that his star has been “distracted, obviously,” by owner Jerry Buss’ admission that he’s willing to listen to trade offers for his lone remaining superstar. Bryant had another bizarre performance in which he constantly broke down the Warriors’ defense only to dish off to teammates who often couldn’t convert. It wasn’t necessarily Bryant’s way of telling Buss, “Go fetch me some better teammates,” but sitting courtside, it sure seemed like it.

** The way Barnes kept attacking Lakers rookie Coby Karl, you would have thought Coby’s dad, Nuggets coach George, had cut Barnes loose at some point in his NBA travels.

** Lakers camp is not a bad gig for the referees, either. Jim Clark, Gary Zielinski and Tommy Nunez Jr. worked both games here and enjoyed a mostly free day off in Honolulu on Wednesday on David Stern’s tab.

— Geoff Lepper