Warriors-Hawks promises a measuring stick for postseason

This is my Friday column previewing the Warriors-Hawks game. WARNING — this is a basketball column. 49ers’ fans, feel free to skip this.

The Warriors play in Atlanta Friday Night against their alter ego — the Atlanta Hawks, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Is the game a special test or just another regular season NBA game?

“Just another game,” Andre Iguodala whispered through gritted teeth Wednesday night as he stood in the Warriors’ locker room after the Warriors defeated the Mavericks 128-114. “We don’t look at it as the biggest game of the year because every game is a big game for us.”

Right.

“It’s not the Finals or the playoffs,” Stephen Curry pointed out as he sat next to his locker. “But, it’s a big game that a lot of NBA fans will tune in to. We’re going to be ready to play. We know they will as well. And we want to come out and have a good showing and try to start our road trip off on a good foot against the best team in the East right now. We don’t hype it more than that. It’s just a good test for us to go in and try to beat a great team.”

Sure.

“It’s just fun,” Steve Kerr rationalized at his postgame press conference. “It’s a fun game. It doesn’t really mean a whole lot if we win or we lose. In terms of the big picture, both teams are having great seasons. One loss, one win – I’m not sure what that means, but it’s a great test and it’s a great challenge. These are the most fun games I think for players, when you go against a team from the opposite conference because you only see them twice, and a team that is playing as well as they are, and a team that plays a very similar style.”

The Warriors and the Hawks practically are mirror images. They have the two-best records in the NBA despite losing in the first round of the playoffs last season and making minimal changes to their rosters this past offseason.

The Warriors and the Hawks want to believe they’ve improved by quantum leaps. Have they really? Are they great teams, or are they merely good teams that played great in November, December and January? Sometimes good teams play great for a few months. The Oakland A’s last season come to mind. You know what happened to them.

Before Wednesday night’s game against Dallas, a reporter asked Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle how the Warriors have changed since last season.

“I mean, there are some differences,” Carlisle said, buying himself time to figure out what those differences are. “They’re another year more experienced. They’re another year more together. They’re another year more playoff hardened.”

Call those the intangible differences. Are there tangible differences between this season’s Warriors and last season’s Warriors?

The offense is one tangible difference. The Warriors scored 104.3 points per game last season, and they’re scoring 111.4 per game this season. Big difference. Mark Jackson had offensive firepower and didn’t know what to do with it. He held it back. He got in the way.

Kerr unleased it immediately — more passes, more open shots, more scoring.

Are there any other tangible differences?

I can’t find any.

The Warriors gave up 99.5 points per game last season, and they’re giving up 99.8 points per game this season. The defense hasn’t changed much.

Before this season, Kerr said he wanted to reduce the number of turnovers the Warriors commit. So far, the Warriors have committed 14.9 turnovers per game, down from 15.4 turnovers per game last season – not much of a reduction. Sometimes, the Warriors still play carelessly, flinging one-handed passes to the other team or the hotdog vendors.

Andrew Bogut still is fragile. Who knows how healthy he will be when the playoffs start? That’s a big issue and it looms.

Bogut still can’t shoot free throws, and neither can Iguodala. If they play during crunch time of a playoff game, will the other team foul them until Kerr subs in players who can make free throws?

Kerr still is a beginner. Can he outcoach a veteran like Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich in a seven-game series?

Does Kerr make poised decisions in big games? Even a great coach like Jim Harbaugh doesn’t.

We learned that in the Super Bowl two years ago when he was screaming at the referees and forgot to use his final timeout with the game on the line. A few days ago, we learned Pete Carroll doesn’t make poised decisions, either. He couldn’t get the ball in the hands of his best player — Marshawn Lynch — 1 yard away from the end zone with 26 seconds left in the Super Bowl. Carroll got cute and tried to trick the defense with a quick pass into traffic to a bad receiver. If he wanted to throw a pass, he had a million other options.

Will Kerr get cute in a big game? Will he call some complicated play involving screens and cuts and passes, or will he get smart and give the ball to the best player in the league, Curry, and just get out of the way?

Are the Warriors championship contenders or regular season heroes? Same goes for the Hawks.

No matter how much the Warriors downplay the game, our first clue comes Friday night.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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  1. You do realize that a lot of niner fans root for the Warriors right.. It’s the raiders who root for the Kings.. Hence golden state warriors not Oakland warriors.

    1. CK ..

      I read, somewhere, that when the Dubs move
      ‘cross da bay .. they might be dropping the
      “Golden State” from their name …

      and I dunno why

  2. The Warriors and the Hawks want to believe they’ve improved by quantum leaps. Have they really? Are they great teams, or are they merely good teams that played great in November, December and January?
    .
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    I’ve only seen one Hawks game this year so I really can’t comment on whether they’re for real or not.
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    But the Dubs ARE for real.
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    Their second unit could start for half of the teams in the NBA!
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    What’s the the last team you could say that about???
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    Anything short of the Finals for this squad is underachieving IMO.
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    They definately need a healthy Bogut though.
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    They won’t win a trophy with perimeter shooting alone…or will they?
    .
    .
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    ~ALOHA~

  3. Another big difference in this years team is pace. They play a lot faster this year and pass the ball way more.

    Both teams should be hyped to play this game but it might be tough for the Dubs traveling across the country coming off a back to back. Also expect Bogut to get a day off here soon with 6 games in 9 days.

  4. Anyone else notice that Korver is quietly having, what some would say, a better season shooting-wise than Steph?
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    I’m taping this game.
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    Guys will be dropping bombs from everywhere tomorrow night!
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    Defense will win it in a close one for the Dubs though.
    .
    .
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    ~ALOHA~

    1. Korver is an assassin. His percentage is unheard of, but he doesn’t handle and shoot off the dribble like Steph does. Curry’s all around game makes him an MVP candidate.

      Atlanta has a top defense as well.

      I can’t wait to see Bazemore!

        1. I think he’ll be excited to play(isn’t he always though), but I doubt he has any ill will towards the Dubs. They gave him his shot and a foot in the door. I just like the way he plays. Fortunately we have Holiday now. Very similar players. I think Holiday is a better shooter.

          1. As far as pure exuberance goes…Bazemore takes the cake.
            .
            But no, I don’t think he has any bad feelings.
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            More fun to think is just a little bitter though. :)
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            Enjoy the game!
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            WARRIORS!!!
            .
            .
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            ~ALOHA~

  5. Grant,

    By your analysis, the only tangible difference between this years Warriors team and last, is points scored per game. You imply this one tangible difference doesn’t represent the amount of improvement in the Warriors that everyone else sees and that there might be a smoke and mirrors element to the Warriors’ success.

    Except for one thing, they’re scoring more that seven points more than last year!! This represents the difference between the second highest scoring team (Mavericks) and the seventeenth scoring team (Wizards). Yeah, that’s not significant.

    Come on, Grant.

    BTW, I completely disagree that the only tangible improvement in the Warriors is points scored per game. Even incremental improvement in the many categories in which the Warriors have improved, will have a very real effect. Just the improvement in turnovers committed could easily result in an extra couple of wins. That seems pretty tangible.

    Additionally, their point differential is +11.6! Only seven teams have racked up a double digit point differential in an NBA season. Six of those seven won the NBA title in the year they posted a double digit point differential. And the one team that didn’t win the NBA title (Bucks) had the misfortune of posting a double digit point differential the same year that Lakers posted an even bigger double digit point differential and beat the Bucks in the finals. The point differential info is from a recent Tim Kawakami article (from memory).

    Additionally, the Warriors lead the NBA in FG% differential, which is another good barometer of post season success. I believe they’re also first in offensive and defensive efficiency.

    These underlying stats are excellent, and tend to suggest that the Warriors improvement is very real. I’m not saying they’ll win the championship, but they’ve got to be the favorite to do so.

      1. There is a lot of season left, but the Warriors’ underlying stats are so good, I don’t see them having much of a dip in the second half.

        If I’m not mistaken, there was quite a disconnect between the A’s first half record and their underlying stats.

        This is most definitely not the case for the Warriors.

        We’ll see…

          1. Maybe, but those are surface stats.

            For pitchers look at K/9, BB/9, K/BB, H%, strand rate, and HR/9.

            For hitters look at BB% and K% (there are several other, less accessible stats relating to power and speed, but they would require lengthy explanations)

            Of course, underlying stats can fluctuate during the season, but they are much less dependent on short term variation.

            A good ERA is dependent on a combination of skill and luck (how much skill and how much luck depend on the pitcher)

            You know you’ve seen a mediocre pitcher come out of nowhere to have “career year” and then the next year go right back to being mediocre. Why? Because his great ERA was an illusion.

            Almost every time you would find that the pitcher in question had an abnormally low H%, abnormally high strand rate, abnormally low HR/FB, or some combination of the three.

            In other words, his “career year” performance wasn’t supported by underlying stats.

            The same thing holds true for hitters. An abnormally high BA, can usually be traced directly back to an abnormally high % of batted balls falling for hits (high H%) or an off season improvement in K% and / or BB%.

  6. “We he call some complicated play involving screens and cuts and passes, or will he get smart and give the ball to the best player in the league, Curry, and just get out of the way?”

    First of all you have a typo here.

    Secondly, the reason the Dubs offense is so much better is because they run a motion offense with lots of screens, cuts and passes. Give the ball to Curry and get out of the way is what Mark Jackson did.

    1. Jackson moved Curry off the ball in crunch time.

      Kerr called the Elevators play at the end of regulation in the Bulls’ game and that play failed. Curry was the inbounder. Bad call.

      1. 1. Not consistently, and when he did it’s because teams were double teaming Curry relentlessly leading to lots of turnovers.

        2. You’re playing the results. The Dubs had plenty of chances to beat the Bulls but they couldn’t make shots they usually make. They missed every three point attempt in the 2nd half and overtime.

        1. Kerr called a bad play in that situation. Give the ball to Curry, put everyone else on the baseline. That’s the Warriors’ most dangerous play at the end of a game. He’s the greatest shooter off the dribble of all time.

          1. It’s not like Thompson is garbage. You can argue that it might’ve been better to put the ball in Curry’s hands, but it wasn’t a bad call.

            Also, Kerr has said in interviews he wants to try (in close games) a variety of end of game plays to see what works. Seems pretty smart to me.

            1. Thompson never got the ball. The play broke down and Andre Iguodala ended up shooting a three pointer. Too much can go wrong on that play. Just isolate the MVP at the top of the key.

              1. Grant,

                My mistake, Grant. I thought that you guys were talking about the end of OT. I should’ve read your comment more carefully.

                At the end of regulation, I believe the W’s were trying to bring Curry off a screen so he could get the ball, but the Bulls blew the play up. You could argue that Kerr should’ve had a better second option than Iguodala on that play, but we don’t know if he did and the players simply didn’t execute.

              2. Grant,

                I’m going by memory, and I’m sure you’re right about Curry inbounding the ball.

                Just because a play doesn’t work in a given instance doesn’t make it a bad play. No play is going to work 100% of the time. And I don’t think the Bulls would’ve just stood around letting Curry get the ball in isolation. I would think Thibodeau would had a plan for that.

      2. Please don’t credit Mark Jackson for anything.. The guy was a dope. Held this team down last year and the year before.. Made horrific substutions that cost the warriors 10+ games last year alone.. Steve Kerr is a stud. Understands the game at whole different level then Jackson.

        1. CK,

          Isn’t that a bit strong?

          Jackson did a lot of good for the W’s. Kerr and his staff is clearly a major upgrade over Jackson and his staff, but Jackson isn’t a dope. Having said that, Jackson’s lack of x’s and o’s skill and unwillingness to hire competent assistants hurt the W’s, last year in particular (Malone left for Sac and Jackson drove off the only two remaining assistants – Scalabrine and ? – approved by the FO).

          I’m hoping for a repeat with the 49ers, but I’m not holding my breath…

    1. …and Stephen Curry’s health, and Klay Thompson’s health, and Draymond Green’s health…

      In order of importance: Curry, Bogut, Thompson, and Green. But it’s really close. Losing any one of those four would really hurt the W’s chances.

  7. Grant looking at the shipwreck that is the 49ers I too would rather read about the GSW. Is there any way we can interest Joe Lacob to buy the Niners from the Dorks.

  8. Grant i believe you totally missed the most important statistical improvement. Mins played by the non starters. This years bench is so much better than last years, there is absolutley no comparison. Not only is that an advantage for the simple reason that you have more talented players coming off the bench but also the less min the starters play in the reg season the more physically rested they will be in the playoffs. It relates to Bogut more than anyone else, the less min he has to play in the reg. season the less likely he is to get injured. In fact Kerr has been using his bench alot like Popovich in that he is giving some players nights off.

    1. Spot on OldCoach. The Dubs don’t have one player in the top 40 in mins. The bench is deeper and much improved. They’ll be fresh at the end of the season and going into the playoffs.

    2. Bogut is averaging just 2 fewer minutes played this season than last season, and he’s averaging about the same minutes per game that he averaged two seasons ago.

      Livingston is not so good, and neither is Iguodala — he’s having the worst season of his career. I’d be surprised if Speights keeps up the hot shooting. The Warriors need another defensive big. Ezeli isn’t reliable.

      1. Grant,

        “Bogut is averaging just 2 fewer minutes played this season than last season, and he’s averaging about the same minutes per game that he averaged two seasons ago.”

        I think you missed what Coach was getting at. Bogut played in roughly 81% of the Warriors games last season. This year he is on pace to play in about 70%. That means that while his minutes per game are about the same, his overall minutes will be reduced.

        Whether it is the play of the bench or just the fact that they got off to such a fast start, Kerr doesn’t have to play him as often.

          1. They probably would have brought Bogut back after missing only 8 games last year. This year because of the improved roster they could sit him longer. Iguodala may be having his worst season statistically but what he does night in night out to help his team win you ca’nt measure on a stats sheet. His D is out standing and he can defend anyone from 1’s to 4’s. Grant most observers do’nt understand this but the pass before the assist pass can be as important as the assist itself and there is no stat for that. In basketball more than any other sport the stat sheet is’nt very represntative of how much a player affects a win.

            1. Iguodala is a major force defensively and overall a real plus for the team. He has the 17th best plus-minus rating in the league in spite of playing mostly with the second team. He’s a terrible shooter at this point of his career and should be smarter with shot selection but somehow he does positively impact the game when he’s in there. I do cringe when he takes three pointers or shoots free throws.

      2. What you’re saying is that the Warriors aren’t perfect. Do you think the Bulls with Jordan were a perfect team? Or the showtime Lakers? There’s never been an NBA team where the fans didn’t think it needed a tweak or two. This Warriors team is as close to solid as just about any in history, as long as everybody stays reasonably healthy.

        Grant is the designated troll on his own blog. Very efficient and cost-effective.

          1. Aloha Iggy!
            .
            Of course, the All-Star break isn’t even here yet so we have yet to see what happens in the 2nd half…but I think all evidence is to the contrary–ALL EVIDENCE.
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            I mean, they’re playing significantly better on BOTH sides of the ball.
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            They’re creaming the best teams in the West, not just the weaker teams in the East.
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            I understand that you have a different way of thinking than others and you express your opinions without hesitation and that’s cool.
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            In this case though, I don’t think you really believe what your spouting.
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            Something tells me you’re playing devil’s advocate which is fanning the flames of debate (also cool).
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            We’re the guy with the tennis racket and ball and you’re the wall.
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            .
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            ~ALOHA~

            1. Hold on a sec. The Warriors are 0-1 against San Antonio, 0-1 against Memphis, 1-1 against the Clippers and 1-1 against Chicago.

              1. They beat themselves in the Spurs game.
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                Bogut didn’t play in the Memphis game.
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                And although the Bulls were without Butler, Bogut didn’t play in that one either.
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                Bogut didn’t play in either of the Clippers games, I think, but the win came with F.E.’s return.
                .
                .
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                ~ALOHA~

  9. Oh, the Warriors are for real, and so are the Hawks. I believe that this is the first time in NBA history that two teams with single-digit losses have played each other this late in the season. The defense is actually much better this season, since the Warriors play at a faster pace (Kerr demands that they always push the ball up the court and try for early offense) and the opponent’s scoring is almost exactly the same – meaning that the opponents’ scoring per 100 possessions (defensive efficiency) is lower than last year. This season the Warriors are first in defensive efficiency and tied for first in offensive efficiency. Unprecedented. And Atlanta isn’t far behind in all those stats.

    Of course injuries can change things, but betting against the Warriors is not advisable if you value your farm.

  10. The big question will come at playoff time. Will Boggs be not just good to start the playoffs, but stay in the mix through multiple most likely 6 and 7 game intense battles. Playoff ball is the real deal, and the games get extremely physical .

    1. Yep. We learned that it’s hard to win on the road with a 2:1 difference in free throw attempts.

      An entertaining game.

    2. Learned what? That the referees made horrible calls totally favoring the home team, that Dreymon Green had his worse game of the season and no one besides Klay could provide any reasonable punch when the hawks doubled on Curry.

      The hawks won the game but there was no significant story line in the game that told me they are a better team.

      1. That’s because three-fifths of the Warriors starting lineup is severely limited offensively. All 5 of the Hawks starters can score. Tougher offense to defend.

        1. The hawks got very good production from Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore off the bench last night that proved to be a major factor. Their starting 5 may be better overall than our starting 5, but last night didn’t provide any proof of that.

  11. The Warriors hadn’t shown much success over roughly the last two decades. The GM assembles a talent laden roster. They hired Mark Jackson. Finished 2nd in their division two years in a row. Interesting thing is – that wasn’t good enough for the GM/Owner. They had higher expectations, there is only one goal and that is to win championships! So the owner fires the coach even though the decision wasn’t popular with some of his star players and most of the fans. Does the Owner hire an experienced head coach or pick one who has never been a head coach in the league? Will this coach unleash the offense? Make the right decision in crunch time of the playoffs and/or championship series?

    Wow, this rings a bell … seems like I’ve just heard this story before?

    You mentioned Harbaugh and Carroll. You asked if Kerr can out coach Pops to win a Championship. At this time was a perfect opportunity for you to see the parallels that would justify and require you to write about the Warriors on a 49ers blog.

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