PHOENIX — Last season, the Golden State Warriors opened the year with 24 consecutive wins, not losing until mid-December. Their margin of victory during that streak was less than 10 points only six times.
This season, the Warriors are 2-1. Neither of their wins have come easily. On Sunday, they scratched out a 106-100 win over the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.
Golden State forward Draymond Green likes this year’s start better.
How is that possible? Easy. It’s all about the ending.
“I’d much rather be here now and start peaking when it’s the right time than where we were the start of last season and I feel like we kind of peaked too early,” Green said. “I think we’re in a good space. It’s frustrating, it’s frustrating for everybody. But that’s part of it, that’s to be expected. It will all come together.”
The Warriors only suffered nine regular-season losses in 2015-16. However, they blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals against the Cavaliers, losing in seven games and falling short of a second consecutive championship.
This year’s team isn’t the same as last year. Green and the players know that. Golden State coach Steve Kerr knows that.
In some areas, this season’s team looks better. One big improvement is the presence of former MVP and seven-time All-Star Kevin Durant, one of the most dynamic players in the game.
With all of the combined talent in Durant, Green, and guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, why is this not coming easier?
“I have no idea how long it will take, but I talked about it repeatedly before the season started,” Kerr said. “We’re going to experiment. You can see, we don’t have a regular rotation off the bench yet. We’re sorting through combinations, positions. It’s not shocking to me.”
The Warriors also aren’t hitting 3-pointers. Through three games, they’re shooting 26.7 percent (24-for-90) from beyond the arc.
Kerr hasn’t been pleased with the defensive play either. Golden State allowed 129 points in its season-opening loss to the San Antonio Spurs, then gave up 114 to the New Orleans Pelicans the next game.
On Sunday, the Warriors allowed 55 points in the first half to the Suns, but improved in the second half to limit them to 100 for the game.
“We have not been good defensively, a lot of miscommunication and some confusion,” Kerr said. “I think that some of that is to be expected with half the team being new and some of the terminology being new.”
Golden State has eight players that were on last year’s roster and seven new additions. Along with Durant, the Warriors also have veteran forward David West and center Zaza Pachulia playing considerable minutes in the post, who are combining to replace the loss of Andrew Bogut.
There are several areas that Golden State hopes to get better in. Kerr said he wants to see his team getting more “rhythm shots” rather than just settling for any open look. He and the coaches hope to figure out the best regular rotations, learning more about how to handle their new squad.
But it will also likely take time for the new players to mix in with the returners and be completely comfortable.
“We’re not clicking and everybody can see that,” Kerr said. “But it will come. As I said, the main thing while we’re going through this process is to continue to compete and try to pick up wins and get better.”
Kerr is calling more plays from the bench, something he rarely, if ever, did in his first two seasons as coach. He feels it is helping his players learn each other’s tendencies.
One player who doesn’t necessarily need plays to succeed? Durant.
The Warriors forward brings a new dynamic to an offense that in the past has relied on deep shooting and scoring transition. Durant can score by himself and can power to the basket, but he can also mix in with the other Golden State sharpshooters from the perimeter.
In Sunday’s win, Durant scored a game-high 37 points, going 15-for-16 at the free throw line.
That’s just one of many reasons why the Warriors aren’t worried about this slow start.
“They told me they needed my isolation prowess, I guess, they just need me to be aggressive in isolations and I think that draws fouls,” Durant said. “We’re just trying to get this thing right. I’m glad we’re slowly getting into it. We’re good.”