Barber: Clunky Chase Center debut as Warriors fall to Lakers 123-101

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Monday at the Warriors’ 2019 Media Day, Steve Kerr said what we’d all been thinking.

“This is such a dramatic change from where we’ve been over the last four years that I think it allows for more change, more internal evaluation, what can we do better,” the Golden State coach said. “You know, the new building is almost a metaphor for how we can approach the season.”

You bet it is, and we’ll be beating that dead horse all season long. (This, too, is a metaphor. The Press Democrat does not condone the beating of horses, living or dead.)

The Warriors have a new home court, and a new practice facility, and new offices, and a new roster that will have to find new ways to win in the NBA. All of those things were formally introduced to the public Saturday night at Chase Center, which is now an actual basketball arena and not just an ominous tower of glass and steel rising above the Mission Bay shoreline.

Saturday was both a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers and a dress rehearsal. The countdown had been ticking for months, but this was everyone’s chance to figure out exactly how all of this works.

How do you get to the game? What’s the ingress to this formerly isolated warehouse district? Is there really a ferry? Where do you enter the arena? What’s the best route to your seat? Where’s the good food? Is the entire building one giant bar? What is going on here??

“Before the game, I didn’t know where my assistant coaches were,” Kerr said. “I didn’t know where to find them. Literally. We’ve got this facility down here, and there’s all these different rooms. I went to get something to eat, nobody was there. Went up to my office, couldn’t find anybody. So we haven’t found our rhythm yet, and our routine, and that’s gonna take some time.”

I felt particularly disoriented standing in the Warriors locker room prior to the game. The home locker room at Oracle Arena was about what you would expect from a 50-year-old facility: cramped quarters, stale carpeting, shower and bathroom area too close for anyone’s comfort. Very nice clothes in rather dingy lockers.

The Chase Center locker room looks like corporate meeting space on the Death Star. It’s circular in form (with a piece of the 2014-15 Oracle court laid into the center and a re-creation of the Oracle ceiling above), sleek and modern in appearance, and wonderfully spacious compared to its predecessor. Each locker is its own tech hub, with individual TV monitor, USB ports and charging station.

“You got your own remote!” Glenn Robinson III told me prior to the game.

Robinson played for four other NBA teams before coming to the Warriors this summer. He said he’d never seen a locker room to compare to this one, arguing that the round shape is more democratic than the typical rectangular setup. Robinson showed me the recesses into which the glass doors fronting each locker slide when a player opens them.

At that moment, the lockers were open-faced. But when players first enter the room, all of them are behind glass. “Like a Hall of Fame,” Robinson and I said at the same time.

New and improved, but confusing as hell. That was the general impression, and not just for Warriors fans and reporters. Before the game, as forward Alfonzo McKinnie ambled out of the locker room and into a hallway that led to some stairs that led to another hallway that led to the court, a team PR rep asked him, “You know where you’re going?”

“I don’t,” McKinnie said.

Which brings us back to the metaphor. This is new territory for the Warriors, both geographically and competitively. When they took the floor for that inaugural preseason game against the Lakers, the picture didn’t look right. There were Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, as familiar as likenesses on Mount Rushmore. And McKinnie has a small piece of the Bay Area’s heart by now, too. But the other starters Saturday night were D’Angelo Russell and Omari Spellman.

You know their names, and probably their faces. But seeing them in the Warriors home whites, weaving around the court with Curry and Green, was like a weird dream sequence.

And things didn’t go well. Right off the bat, in fact, it was awful. The Lakers led 11-0 before Curry finally hit a midrange jumper. The Lakers attacked the rim with impunity — as if the Warriors couldn’t have seen the JaVale McGee lob play coming a mile away — while the home team looked disjointed on offense. By the final buzzer, the Warriors had hit just 39 percent of their shots, and 26 percent of their 3-point attempts. They lost 123-101.

This is not the well-oiled machine we have come to expect. In the third quarter, Spellman grabbed a rebound, pivoted and tossed a little outlet pass to Robinson. It hit him in the butt. That sort of sums up the evening for the Warriors.

“It’s a typical preseason game,” Kerr said afterward. “A lot of different combinations out there. Players playing limited minutes. A little chaotic.”

Even the scoreboard operator was in preseason form. The massive appendage that hangs from the Chase roof is a font of in-game statistics. The main numbers, the ones that follow the name of each person on the floor at the time, are PTS, REB, AST and FLS — points, rebounds, assists and fouls. But the last of those columns was keeping tabs not on the fouls assigned to each man but, somehow, the numbers of fouls he had forced opposing players to commit. I predict that will be changed fairly soon.

There were good tidings, too. Rookie Jordan Poole scored 17 points in 22 minutes. Jacob Evans, who looked lost at times last year, hit a 3-pointer and scored nine points overall. Eric Paschall, another rookie, was active on both ends of the court. Power forward Maquese Chriss, fighting for a roster spot, chipped in with eight points and six rebounds in the absence of big men Kevon Looney (hamstring strain), Willie Cauley-Stein (foot sprain) and Alen Smailagic (ankle sprain).

You can call it a work in progress. But the Chase Center crowd didn’t seem to mind. The Warriors’ season could go in a lot of different directions, but this arena is destined to become a San Francisco landmark — once we all memorize our favorite routes.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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