© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The more the Warriors play without D’Angelo Russell, the more it’s clear they have some level of competence; at the very least, an ability to be consistently competitive. No longer beholden to a self-imposed death by isolation, the Andrew Wiggins-infused Warriors have, dare I say, some pep in their step. There’s energy, and most importantly, speed in how the Warriors play.
The Warriors are… fun to watch? And Wiggins is mostly to thank
As Steve Kerr told his team just about the moment Russell was traded, the Warriors want to — and are getting back to — playing fast. Now, they will likely still lose about 75 percent of their games from here until the season reaches its welcome conclusion on April 15.
But where there was a nauseating predictability and level of pure un-enjoyability about the Russell-led Warriors’ play, that’s evaporated. Wiggins isn’t consistent, nor is anyone else on the team, but this team is getting back to a free-flowing brand of basketball that had them perpetually in games when even Quinn Cook was at the helm of the offense (granted, he had significantly better options around him than this current squad).
Wiggins, who had one of those worrisome, “where’d that guy go?” halves with four points on 1-of-6 shooting with two rebounds and an assist, was scorching in the third. He had 14 third quarter points, and even when he’s doing his disappearing act, he doesn’t constrict the offense into playing a bad version of the Rockets’ offense.
Along with Wiggins, you have Draymond Green, who rightfully has to be coaxed into going full speed, Kevon Looney, who still isn’t anything near what the Warriors had hoped he would be, and then the team’s upper-tier engine room: Marqueese Chriss, Eric Paschall, Damion Lee, Jordan Poole, Ky Bowman.
The lower-tier engine room is effectively the Santa Cruz All-Stars: Juan Toscano-Anderson, Alen Smailagic, Jeremy Pargo and Zach Norvell (a South Bay Lakers alum).
It’s a list of name that’s lacking in sex appeal, but there’s a hunger that’s evident in the group. Yeah, saying a group is “hungry” is cliche. Is parched better? Famished? Whatever over-used, perhaps less-than-appropriate term you want to use for basketball players playing hard, use it. It’s a fair descriptor of this group.
Chriss is showing that he’s probably a bigger part of the Warriors’ future than Looney, and is providing the JaVale-McGee-esque bounce without all the McGee-ness. He had another relentlessly efficient night, while Lee, with a career-high 26 points (7-of-12, 5-of-7 from 3-pt, 7-of-7 from FT) was the surprise scoring option the Warriors had to have to pursue their hope of turning Monday’s game into a competition.
Jordan Poole continued to show flashes that, while he’s an inconsistent volume shooter, he’s got an ability to penetrate the lane with a crafty handle, and can become a better facilitator. The rest of the Warriors misfits, in Toscano-Anderson, Pargo, Smailagic and Norvell Jr. combined for 12 points and looked largely G-League, but all flashed reasons why they’re in the NBA at this present moment.
Smailagic has that weird non-athletic brand of athleticism and strength, along with the potential to develop into a stretch five, and at the very least, a stretch the floor big. Norvell Jr. is long and has a smooth shooting stroke, while Toscano-Anderson provides a capable defensive wing presence and athleticism, with at least a hint of shooting. Pargo is playing like a 33-year-old who doesn’t want to go back to the G-League, where he’s been since 2013 after his last NBA stint with the Philadelphia 76ers.
There wasn’t all that much emotion for Andre Iguodala’s return. That was probably a factor of the Warriors being quite bad (now 12-42) and the Heat being quite good (35-18). Any sentimentality pretty much evaporated once the game tipped off.
The third quarter did see the Warriors, as was the case against the Lakers, get to within six points, but the Heat quickly reminded that they were the better team. For all the energy and decency the Warriors provided, their defense was poor.
That was a particularly fatal flaw, considering that the Heat were (prepare to be nauseated), scorching on offense. They shot 49.4 percent from the field and made 12 of their 33 threes (just one more than the Warriors, who were 11-of-34).
This was a game that was lost on the interior. While Chriss was the ever-present lob threat, he was caught out of position somewhat frequently, and again, Looney looks like a shell of his old self. The Warriors were outscored 50-to-30 on the interior, which for all the burst and positivity of that exciting third quarter, left no real chance of a comeback win.