OAKLAND -#8212; In his pregame media chat, Warriors coach Mark Jackson laid it on the line, "Tonight is a big night for us."
Why so big?
The Warriors were playing the Portland Trail Blazers, the surprising Blazers who are way ahead of the Warriors in the Western Conference standings. And the Warriors have been slumping.
A while back they had a 10-game winning streak. But coming into the Blazers game, they had lost five of seven games and were giving up points by the ton. Which means they weren't playing defense -#8212; and that's very bad for a defense-first team.
So, Sunday night's game was a State of the Warriors Game. Could they play well, could they beat an elite team? As a general rule, teams that beat elite teams are themselves elite teams.
The Warriors want to be elite.
Maybe they are. They won 103-88. Easy. A walk in the park. An elite kind of night.
Before the game, Jackson made a pretty good case for Portland. "Tonight, there's no answer for Damian Lillard in pick-and-roll situations and isolation situations," he said from his coaching situation. "There's no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge. We've got to contest shots and try to make them uncomfortable."
Well, the Warriors had answers to every question posed by the Blazers. When it came to shooting, Aldridge couldn't hit the broad side of a barn -#8212; he hit two of 14 shots and David Lee made him look mediocre. And Lillard had a pretty good night -#8212; 16 points -#8212; but wasn't in the same universe as Stephen Curry, a more dangerous shooter, just a better player. Which means the Warriors corrected their defense -#8212; they had given up 120 or more points in three of their previous five games.
Before Sunday's game, I asked Jackson, "How do you get your guys to play better defense? Do you yell at them, plead with them?"
"I coach them," Jackson said. "Hold them accountable. 'Understand how teams are going to hurt you.' You prepare. You talk about it. Playing in this league, there's going to be nights when you have it and there's going to be nights when you don't have it. The great teams, in spite of not having it, find ways to get it done."
"How do you hold your players accountable?"
"You hold them accountable by discussing it, whether it be timeout, whether it be taking them out, whether it be correcting them, whether it be practice tomorrow. There's different ways to hold them accountable. I don't believe holding them accountable is cussing them out and disrespecting them because then they have the right to hold me accountable by doing the same thing to me. We don't do that here. We are a professional basketball team with grown men. This is not the first time that we've either played great for a stretch or did not play great for a stretch."
Someone mentioned the Warriors' pregame film session was "grueling." Grueling was Klay Thompson's word.
"Probably a little uglier than normal," Jackson said. "You win 10 straight games, I'm sure they probably wanted to see Part 2 of it. When you're losing, the film is telling. Sometimes, you may think, 'I wasn't as bad as I was,' and then looking at the footage, it exposes you and it exposes you in front of everybody. And the problem with showing the latest film, it wasn't one guy. So, it wasn't comfortable, but we are a team that we challenge each other and now it's about going out and correcting the mistakes we made."