Here’s a story I filed this afternoon on Jermaine O’Neal returning to full contact practice, and updates on Andrew Bogut/David Lee injuries — @stewardsfolly
OAKLAND – No one expected to see Jermaine O’Neal going through a full-contact Warriors practice little more than a month following wrist surgery – including the veteran center himself – but O’Neal did just that Wednesday.
O’Neal had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist on Dec. 13, and the prognosis at the time was that he would miss three or four months and possibly the rest of the season. But now it appears O’Neal could even beat the assessment general manager Bob Myers’ made last Friday, when he said O’Neal could be ready to play in 2-3 weeks.
The 35-year-old O’Neal said he is taking it week by week and doesn’t really have a timetable, but he’s working as hard as he can to get back as soon as possible.
“It could be a week, two weeks, three weeks … as soon as I feel strong enough,” he said. “They gauge my strength every week, and it’s improved every week, so it could be next week, I don’t know. It won’t be as long as people thought it was, for sure. Hopefully, it does fall into the time frame that Bob said.”
Tonight was my last game as the Warriors’ beat fill-in for the past two months (with big assists along the way from Jimmy Durkin). I’m sure I’ll get a few more games over the final 39, but Friday night, our new permanent beat writer Diamond Leung takes the reins and I guarantee you will like the result. (Follow Diamond on Twitter right now at @diamond83 — he’s already posting Warriors stuff).
It’s a good time to pass the ball. Under my writing stewardship (pun intended), the Warriors have appeared to found their level. They beat the bad teams. They can’t beat the elite ones, at least not nearly often enough. Here are some telling numbers I came up with after their latest loss to the Indiana Pacers, 102-94 at Oracle:
Record against teams with a better W-L than they have: 3-9 (just one of those wins on the road, Miami, and the other two home nail-biters against Oklahoma City and the L.A. Clippers).
Record against teams with worse W-L record than they have: 23-8 (all but two of those eight losses on the road, and one of the home losses to Memphis when it had Marc Gasol; the other was to Denver last week).
In short, the Warriors are the sixth-best team in the Western Conference and playing to that form. The question is: Where from here?
Well, there’s one of those important road wins given back. And “given” is the appropriate word. How do you give up 123 points to the Denver Nuggets when you limited them to 81 less than a month ago … in Denver?
A lot of ways, as it turned out. From the outset, the Warriors seemed content to play Denver’s up-and-down fast-paced style instead of locking down early on defense. Denver shot 66.7 percent in the first quarter, getting way too many easy buckets in the paint, and it continued into the second quarter. Denver shot 61 percent in the first half, and guys like Randy Foye and Wilson Chandler were allowed to look like All-Stars.
The W’s gave up a half-court 3-pointer to Evan Fournier at the end of the third quarter with precisely no defense being played at all. That should never happen, but if it does, someone should at least make some effort to contest the shot. No one did, and surprise, the shot went in.
Then, in a bit of a backhand to the Warriors big news earlier in the day — a deal to acquire scoring off the bench in the form of Boston’s Jordan Crawford — one of their former bench players, Nate Robinson, decided to go off. He scored 24 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, and was positively electric. The Warriors can only hope that Crawford is bringing a couple of these types of games in his back pocket from Beantown, but that’s probably doubtful. Nobody can light up a game off the bench like Robinson when he’s on, and if you can divorce yourself from the pain of the outcome, you have to admit, that was pretty fun to watch, eh?
It was there for the taking, and the Warriors made a valiant run at it. They took it down to the final four minutes, had four 3-point tries that might have sealed the deal, but missed them all. It happens. Hence, they also missed out on what would have been some nice history — a franchise-tying 11-game win streak, a record eighth straight road win, and the first unbeaten road trip in NBA history.
Tough loss. Agonizing, in the end, considering how close the Warriors made it. But any Dubs fan that’s too hard on this team after putting forth this kind of effort on the second night of a back-to-back to close a long, tiring seven-game trip gets no respect from me. You’ve got a determined, commmitted, diverse, fun, winning basketball team to root for, and after so many horrible clubs over the past 35 years, you’re way too shortsighted if you’re pouting or whining right now.
Without a doubt, the Warriors are a very good team that has a glaring Achilles’ heel — its bench. It just isn’t good enough, and that was demonstrated on this night when the starters raced out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter and the bench promptly gave it all back against an experienced backup Brooklyn Nets crew. Toney Douglas was so ineffective, Mark Jackson never brought him back in the second half. Marreese Speights turned the ball over way too many times, continued to miss the shots a so-called “knockdown shooter” shouldn’t miss, and couldn’t handle Brooklyn big man Andray Blatche defensively. Draymond Green didn’t get it going until he could run with the first unit in the second half. And let’s face it, the Warriors are really missing the big, active, defensive-minded Festus Ezeli with Andrew Bogut only playing 25-30 minutes a game.
Carl Steward here, awaiting a flight to Brooklyn for the Warriors’ final stop of the seven-game roadie, which so far has been a wild success at 6-0. The team couldn’t be riding higher than they are right now, having won 10 in a row with most of the wins coming in convincing fashion.
It tells you how well the Warriors are playing that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can combine to shoot 11 for 36 from the floor — 3 for 17 from 3-point range — and still win by 21. Granted, it was against the worst team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, but this game was over by late third quarter in their building on one of the final stops of an exhausting trip. You still have to play well to get a win, and the Warriors did, particularly in the second half.
The Warriors seem to have a sense of the history they can make in Brooklyn now. Tie the all-time Warriors win streak (11). Break the team record for most wins in a row on the road (8). Become the first NBA team EVER to complete a road trip of seven games or more undefeated. David Lee was unaware of that last one Tuesday night after the game, and when informed of the prospect, began to excitedly tell teammates around him about the history they can accomplish by beating the Nets.
Killing time in my toasty hotel room before the Warriors take on the Bucks tonight in frigid Milwaukee (-14 degrees as we speak, with a -30 wind chill), I decided to go back and take a look at the two longer franchise winning streaks on record, the 11-gamer in 1971-72 that still stands as the benchmark, and the 10-gamer in 1975-76 which the Warriors can tie tonight with a victory over the Bucks, who own the NBA’s worst record at 7-26.
What I learned rather quickly about the two longer streaks is that they weren’t nearly as impressive as the current 9-gamer the Warriors have put together. Yes, the Warriors have made some hay against some pretty bad teams, but nothing like those prior teams did.
The Warriors may have played their most complete game of the year Friday night in squashing the Phoenix Suns 115-86. It was certainly their best from a defensive standpoint. They outrebounded the Suns 56-41. They outshot them 52.9 percent to 36 percent. They moved the ball and posted 32 assists, while Phoenix had 12. The Suns were 4 for 23 from 3-point range. Stephen Curry, by himself, had more rebounds than anybody on either team and he had more assists than the entire Phoenix team. He was one point shy from outscoring the young backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe combined.
But more than anything, the Warriors out-efforted a team that had compiled a 17-10 record largely by playing with more effort than the opposition for 48 minutes. Even the bench, led by a composed and competent Kent Bazemore, outplayed the Suns bench. It was a total pasting, and well timed as the Warriors set out on a seven-game road trip starting Sunday in Cleveland.