Thompson: Warriors’ home setback makes one thing clear — they need more

SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Kerr doesn’t normally begrudge his team’s 3-pointer addiction. He is more inclined to defend it, declaring it a staple of their identity and the reason for their potency.

But in Saturday’s prime-time loss, the 3-pointers were a symbol of their impotence, a byproduct of an inability to create. The Warriors took 58 3s in 48 minutes — one off the franchise record, 59, which they set five days ago in a double-overtime (58 minutes) win over Atlanta.

“We didn’t do a great job of getting by them,” Kerr said. “I thought their defense was excellent and we just couldn’t generate many rotations. So it was tough, tough sledding. If they’re in front of you, and you can’t get to the rim, you end up kind of swinging the ball around the perimeter and launching some 3s that are less than ideal.”

This is the Orlando Magic he’s talking about. One of the lowest-rated defenses in the league, 24th in the NBA with 114.1 points per 100 possessions allowed, which is worse even than the Warriors’ maligned defense. The Warriors were rendered so helpless against the size, athleticism and aggressiveness of the Magic’s defense, they had no choice but to jack up 3-pointers. With Stephen Curry out, and Klay Thompson a last-minute scratch, it’s not surprising they didn’t make enough. They missed 40 of the 58 and got handled, 115-101. Their second consecutive home loss, both to teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, underscored the Warriors’ need for reinforcements.

They need more.

Not because they let two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference come to Chase Center and beat them. But because of the five-game winning streak. Remember the vibes during Kwanzaa week? It kicked off with the glow of a short-handed upset of Memphis and ended with an epic gut-check win over Atlanta. That stretch jumped them up in the Western Conference standings. It revived a locker room, and a season, that was aimed at mediocrity. It reminded the rest of the league the defending champions still may have something to say about this year’s title.

What that stretch did was prove how close the Warriors are to being a real contender. It proved they still can be problems in the West. Beating Memphis and Portland and Atlanta without Curry and Andrew Wiggins was exactly the kind of fight they didn’t seem to have at times. The resolve to, as Kerr said, hang in there and rally back showed something. It gave validity to the idea of ​​leaning into this season’s title hopes, which requires filling some holes.

The last two losses? Those underscored how the immediate help they need is not on this roster. Losing to Detroit and Orlando — both of whom have now swept the season series against the Warriors — featured similar kryptonite. Both the Pistons and Magic are young, big and athletic. They played the Warriors as if they knew they could milk that advantage. The Warriors could use a boost in size and athleticism, inside and on the wing. That’s where the lottery picks were supposed to come in handy.

While Jonathan Kuminga seems to have solidified his place in the rotation (his athleticism and energy were sorely missed in the two losses), the youth hasn’t made the difference expected. The Warriors need more. They’ve been banking on it coming from the growth of the young players. But counting on such feels risky. The Warriors have to counter size and athleticism with skill and savvy. It just doesn’t seem like they have enough throughout their roster to sustain them for the regular season and then the playoffs.

The Warriors didn’t play Friday and jumped to No. 6 in the West. They then lost Saturday and dropped to No. 9. That’s how precarious and volatile this season is going to be. They could very well end up in the top four, but just as easily be in the play-in. The variance is due to the volume of youth on the roster and the inconsistency of production.

Curry is trying to come back next week. Thompson, despite what Kerr suggested was a minor setback, has looked more like himself than ever before on this homestand. Wiggins was rusty after missing 15 games, but he’s back on the court. Draymond Green and Kevon Looney have been holding it down during these lean times. So the starting five should still be formidable. Jordan Poole and Donte DiVincenzo are inked in as guards off the bench. Add in Kuminga, that’s eight players. They need one or two more to have what they need to make a run.

The NBA trade deadline is one month away, Feb. 9. The buyout market kicks off after that, and the Warriors still have a vacant roster spot.

An athletic big would be ideal. A wing who can dribble and attack defenses would also be optimal. A veteran with some refinement is a must. The hosts needed all three against the Magic.

The Warriors have problems with the strong and bouncy big men. Their rim protection has its limits — especially when you consider Draymond Green, the Warriors’ best rim protector, has to spend some time on the perimeter solving the Warriors’ point-of-attack defensive issues.

Orlando’s starting frontcourt — Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr. — combined for 62 points on Saturday. The three of them totaled 30 points in the paint, more than the entire Warriors’ team. Orlando had twice as many points in the paint (52) as Golden State (26). The trio of Wagner, Banchero and Carter average out to be 6-foot-10, 248 pounds and 21 years old. The Warriors have one player with that combination of size and age: James Wiseman. Everyone else is shorter, lighter or older.

Orlando posed the same problem as Detroit, which scored 52 points in the paint, and the same problem as Atlanta, which scored 72 points in the paint.

Getting into the paint can be a problem for the Warriors, too. Outside of Curry, they don’t have players who can consistently force their way inside while also being adept enough to finish. Poole is the only other player who can create off the dribble. But he has problems getting around certain defenders, which leads to excessive dribbling and his spree of turnovers. Without Curry, the defense is loading up on Poole to keep him out of the paint. Poole has totaled four turnovers or more in 12 of his last 15 games. Ten of those high-turnover games came without Curry in the lineup. The Magic bracketed him to take away his driving lanes and then cut off his roll man, forcing Poole to swing the ball back out to the top.

And if he couldn’t break down the Orlando defense, no one on the Warriors could.

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Warriors need an in-rhythm Andrew Wiggins back as soon as possible

The Warriors usually go to Wiggins in the post when they need a 2. Having never been on the shelf for so long, he expected to hit the ground running Saturday. But it didn’t take long for him to learn the hard way how difficult it is to return after a significant time away. As a result, Saturday proved to be a historic day of chucking. It was just the fifth time in Warriors history they took at least 50 shots from 3-point range in a game where they attempted fewer than 90 total field goals. Golden State took 28 more 3-pointers than 2-pointers, the largest discrepancy in team history, according to Stathead.

Obviously, it’s much harder to contain the Warriors’ offense with Curry in the lineup — especially with Thompson next to him and making shots. But even if you can bank that, the Warriors want them fresh and available to do their thing in the postseason. They could use someone else who can attack the rim without having to first trick the defense out of the way. Someone who can reliably put pressure on the defense from the inside.

That’s what other teams do to the Warriors. Go isolation, break the paint, and either score inside or kick out after the defense collapses. It’s harder for them to guard the 3-point line when they are getting bullied in the paint. Their lack of size forces them to protect the paint by committee, which means they have to be on point with closeouts or hope their opponents miss. Opponents are shooting 42 percent from 3 in the Warriors’ 20 losses, compared with 29.5 percent in their 20 wins.

The Warriors need the option to do that, attack inside to set up or complement their shooting. Such versatility is especially required since teams overplaying on the perimeter is standard practice. The Warriors were last in the league in shots in the restricted area (21.4) before Curry went down. Since Curry’s been out, they’ve averaged even fewer attempts (17.4).

Poole is one guy who can get inside, but he’s having some struggles dealing with the added attention. Orlando followed the blueprint for slowing the Warriors perfectly: overplay on the perimeter to take away the 3-point shot, force them to drive and funnel them to the rim protector.

The threat of his shooting opens up lanes for Poole, but defenses have decided to just take that away by pressing up on him. Poole is being hurried by the defensive pressure, so even when he’s open, he’s still looking rushed. It’s wreaked havoc on his 3-point shooting of him.

The NBA has 11 players who have taken at least 300 attempts from behind the arc. Poole, at 30.4 percent, has by far the worst percentage of the 11. Miami’s Max Strus is 10th at 34.1 percent. Curry, of course, is tops at 43.4 percent. That’s why Poole has an easier time when he’s on the court with Curry. Far less attention on No. 3. But in the instance when Curry is out, or resting, or when Thompson and Poole are off, the Warriors could use someone who does something different.

Or maybe just someone who can hit left-corner 3-pointers consistently. (By the way, Phoenix Suns guard Damion Lee, who will get his Warriors championship ring at Chase Center on Tuesday, is shooting 65.6 percent from the left corner and 48 percent from 3.)

Identifying the need is easy. Identifying the player to fill it is harder. The Warriors hit so flush on their choices last year that it seems easy. But finding a fit is delicate, especially in the middle of the season. Even if the Warriors decide to cash in some assets, the question is for whom?

For that, they’ll have to wait to see who becomes available on the market and if any are worth sacrificing assets to get. Or who works a buyout to get free by March 1.

This entire stretch without Curry has been one big opportunity for somebody to claim the open back-of-rotation spots. DiVincenzo and Kuminga shined. Patrick Baldwin Jr. has emerged as playable in spots and shown some promise for down the line. But right now, the best options for consistency have been in Ty Jerome and Anthony Lamb, players on two-way contracts with the G League who technically don’t have roster spots.

But losses to Detroit and Orlando, both teams stocked with young players who are as exploitable as they are explosive, showed just how far the Warriors’ young pieces, however talented, are from being who Golden State needs them to be.

The same homestand that’s shown the Warriors have the capacity to be special again has also shown where they are blatantly vulnerable.

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(Photo: Thearon W Henderson / Getty Images)

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