Game Thread: Draymond Green will be a game time decision
Warriors keep banging that small ball drum as they start road trip against struggling Magic
After his recent selection to his seventh All Star appearance, Stephen Curry will be once again shouldering a ton of responsibility as the Golden State Warriors take on the struggling Orlando Magic tonight. This will be the first of a four-game road trip, and one that should (hopefully) see the return of the Warriors front court.
Draymond Green, a late scratch in the overtime thriller of a win over the Miami Heat due to a sore ankle, is listed as “questionable” - though coach Steve Kerr did say after Wednesday’s win that he expects Green to be available tonight. Both Kevon Looney and rookie James Wiseman are out for this game, but indications are that both are nearing return as well.
In the meantime, I’ll never get bored of Nellie Ball!
WHO: Golden State Warriors (16-13) at Orlando Magic (11-18)
WHEN: Friday, February 19, 2021 // 4:00pm PST
WATCH: NBCSBA, NBA League Pass
Lean roster shows promise, and possibly a roadmap to the playoffs
Coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors have taken some heat for their “sorta in, sorta out” approach to chasing wins this season. Could the Warriors run a shorter rotation and chase immediate success? Sure, but it would come at the cost of development time, and would likely have bumped portions of the roster aside that are now shaping up nicely.
But the Warriors’ hand has been forced, first with the season-ending injury to Marquese Chriss, and then the domino cascade of injuries that took down Wiseman, then Looney, and most recently Green. With a limited menu of options, the Warriors have gone small, and it’s been working out great.
Curry has been phenomenal, shining bright enough to make even the staunchest of haters squint in light of his brilliance. He leads the league in total points, total three-pointers, and hearts captured. Recently selected to his 7th All-Star game, none of this would be possible without Curry.
But I personally hate the “he has no help” narrative. It would be short-sighted and tremendously unfair to ignore the other players that have stepped up for a short-handed Warriors team that has won four of their last five games.
Andrew Wiggins has been fantastic. Even as he weathers a bit of a shooting slump (he’s 15 of 49 from deep in the month of February, just 30.6%), Wiggins defense and all around hustle are quickly becoming a defining feature of these Warriors. Against Jimmy Butler in the last game, Wiggins held the Heat’s leader to just 1 of 5 from the field, two points, no free throws, and one assist.
I just got back from Tahoe, and was walking the dog through the neighborhood yesterday evening when a neighbor responded to my casual wave with a shout. “You were right about Oubre!”
You see, as many of you reading this, I’m deeper into the Warriors than almost anyone else around me - so conversations often turn to ‘what do you think about…” It was a few weeks ago, and that neighbor was talking about trading Oubre and saying some less than flattering things about the Warriors newest acquisition. I was preaching patience. I’m a big believer in regression to the mean, and I was pretty firmly convinced that there was no way Oubre suddenly morphed into someone who went from hitting low- to mid-thirty percent from deep into someone who was worse than Andirs Biedrins.
No one symbolizes the Warriors tightrope act this season as much as Oubre. I know Kerr took a lot of unfavorably scrutiny for this entire concept, but here is part of his response to the backlash regarding his earlier statement about the Warriors “not chasing wins” this season. It was framed as an answer to why Curry isn’t playing heavier minutes, but the answer illuminates a lot about the patience behind the team’s approach to Oubre as well. From Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, here’s Kerr:
We are looking to the future. We think we can be a championship team again in the next couple years. We’ll see if we can get there. But that’s the focus. And so if that means being disciplined this season and keeping Steph fresh and keeping his minutes around 34-35, then by all means that’s worth it, rather than maybe scrounge together a few more wins this year and wear him down.
Oubre is clearly starting to figure out the Warriors offense, hitting cutters with greater frequency, looking for Curry more often - and staying out of his way on those off-ball cuts. Golden State holds Bird rights on Oubre, meaning they will have the option of bringing him back next season. A couple of months ago, most people would have said ‘hard pass’ on that, but now Oubre is increasingly looking like a welcome addition to the Warriors plans.
Kent Bazemore deserves credit here too. An agent of chaos, it’s never really clear what Bazemore will bring in any given moment. He’s committing fouls at a rate of nearly 5 fouls per 36 minutes; a rate that Cleaning the Glass lists as the worst in the league (the 1st percentile). But he’s got the energy of a four year-old hopped up on birthday cake and piñata candy, knows how to play the game the right way, and has the tools to get going - as he did in the last game; which the Warriors would not have won without Bazemore’s excellent performance.
The Magic, still not good; but a bit better
Tonight’s opponent, the Orlando Magic, is not a good team. They’ve lost seven of their last 10 games, and even though they’re going to have a bevy of additional players this time around, I expect the Warriors to handle them. The four players who didn't face the Warriors last week but will be available tonight are Evan Fournier, Michael Carter-Williams, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Chasson Randle. Solid, but hardly world-changing players.
One player to really look out for tonight will be Nikola Vucevic. He had 25 points and 13 rebounds last week against the short-handed Warriors, and will be coming off a strong 16 points and 16 rebound performance in the Magic’s recent win over the New York Knicks. Without Green, the Warriors started Mychal Mulder against the Heat’s capable Bam Adebayo, but Green’s availability will be a bit more important tonight against the inside/outside pressure that Vucevic can bring.
Like that Bernie Sanders meme, the Warriors are, once again, asking for that third consecutive win - an oddly elusive prize for a fairly solid Warriors squad. I think tonight’s the night. The Magic are just so, so weak offensively, the Warriors should be able to choke their rickety offense to a standstill.
Also, I think Green returns tonight. I know Kerr said they aren’t chasing wins, but the Warriors really do want to handle business against the softer opponents.
Warriors crush Magic 120-104.