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Nevius: Playoffs or not, Warriors need talent

Last week, Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed to the last few games of the season and announced, “The playoffs start now.”

The playoffs can also end now.

Granted, it is likely that the Dubs will hold on to at least 10th place in the West, squeaking them into a play-in tournament.

But there is definitely a scenario in which they fizzle at the finish and don’t make it. Or they are eliminated quickly and disappointingly. The games Monday and Tuesday will be good barometers of what we’ve got in this team.

They are back-to-back games against the Pelicans in New Orleans. And they are must-win for both teams. New Orleans wants to close ground on the Warriors for the last playoff spot, and Golden State needs to shut down the Pelicans and preserve their place.

And frankly, the locals aren’t looking so hot right now. Kerr’s playoff comment might have resonated more if it wasn’t on the heels of an epic dead-bug performance by the Fightin’ Steph Curry’s. They lost to Dallas 133-103 and it wasn’t that close.

And that was followed by a really lackluster effort and well-deserved loss in Minnesota. At a moment that calls for urgency, they’ve got it on cruise control.

Surely the Warriors’ brain trust didn’t expect this. Not two disappointing years in a row. Injuries have been a huge factor — Curry last year and Klay Thompson two seasons in a row.

But this is a snapped-elevator-cable kinda drop. Everybody knew the five consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals wasn’t going to last. But LeBron James goes to the playoffs (almost) every year. Why couldn’t the Warriors continue to be one of those dangerous, deep-in-the-postseason teams year after year?

They sure don’t look like it now, and it is more than just injuries. We keep hearing that Thompson’s return will change everything, but it seems there are larger issues.

At this point the pattern is pretty clear. If you pine for the days when the Warriors zipped the ball around the floor and made shots from everywhere, you can watch Draymond Green and Curry playing their own personal two-man game.

Everyone else is going one-on-one or waiting for a pass so they can shoot a three. The team is apparently ride-or-die with Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr., but I am not convinced either one is suited for the Warriors’ style we know and love.

Getting manhandled on the boards is a recipe for problems and the Warriors have proved that all year. They meant to address that with No. 2 draft pick James Wiseman, but now he’s injured and likely won’t be seen until the next regular season. Who knows what they have in him?

And now, as the season runs down to playoff crunchtime, Curry is taking ever more audacious shots. He has certainly earned the heat check. His 96 threes in April are the most in a single month in NBA history. But it also has an oh-what-the-hell vibe.

Watching Curry get swarmed by two or three defenders isn’t great viewing, but it is working for opponents. The really worrisome thought is that it isn’t that the players aren’t invested enough, but they lack something more important ... talent.

After the loss to Minnesota, Kerr said, “I thought we were focused, we just weren’t good enough tonight.”

Sobering thought.

Kerr, of course, doesn’t need this. Any team in professional basketball would hire him as a coach in a nanosecond. He’s been a general manager in Phoenix, so he could slide into a front-office job with no fuss.

But the obvious move would be back to the broadcast booth. There he could crack wise and cheerfully second-guess people in a low-stress and lucrative environment.

But I think Kerr enjoys coaching. He’s clearly good at it. He is unfailingly supportive and optimistic — his “We’re about to start a run” promise is classic Kerr. And the players notice when, as he often does, he takes the blame when someone screws up.

But it has to be a two-way street. You can’t coach people who are tuning you out. There are hints Kerr is getting tired of making something a priority — like limiting foolish fouls — and yet seeing it continue to happen.

After the Minnesota loss, he went on a bit of an old guy rant about how today’s players just don’t bother to block out opposing rebounders.

“This is the modern NBA,” he said. “Guys don’t box out. It is a disease that is rampant in the NBA.”

This after a game in which his team surrendered 16 offensive rebounds. You definitely get the impression that Kerr has been reminding his guys to box out, only to stand on the sideline, exasperated, while they fail to do so.

“I told the guys if we’d boxed out we easily could have won that game,” Kerr said.

So sure, it would be nice if this team slips into the playoffs. But when the franchise moved into its new billion-dollar arena two years ago, I doubt they were hoping for a .500 team that barely makes the postseason.

They’re supposed to be “light years” ahead of everyone.

If that’s true, they need to stop reliving the glory days and get serious about something more important than the fringe of the playoffs.

Rebuilding.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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