Barber: Warriors overcome dog days, beat Heat 120-118

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OAKLAND

The Warriors had a little internal debate about dog days Sunday night.

Before the game against the Miami Heat at Oracle Arena, coach Steve Kerr was talking about DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors center célèbre.

“He’s basically singlehandedly negated the dog days,” Kerr said. “He really has. These last games, before the All-Star break, usually from mid-January on, you have about a three- or four-week stretch where you are just dying to get to the break, but we have bypassed that. DeMarcus has come in and energized our team.”

But after the game — after the Warriors had clawed back from a 19-point deficit and outlasted, rather than vanquished, the Heat — forward Draymond Green offered a rebuttal when someone asked him about his team’s recent slow starts.

“You want my honest opinion?” Green asked.

Uh, has anyone ever wanted anything else from Draymond Green?

“My honest opinion, it’s the dog days right now,” he continued. “You usually hit that in January. We haven’t really hit that, because we got DeMarcus back, so it kind of gave us an extra boost. We there right now.”

Kerr is a smart man and an astute observer of human psychology, but I’m with Draymond on this one. Cousins did indeed light a fire under the Warriors when he joined the starting lineup in mid-January. But do you hear that barking in the background? The dog days have definitely arrived.

The Warriors have won 14 of their past 15 games, reasserting their dominance over the NBA. But they are not at a crescendo right now. Friday in Phoenix, they trailed the awful, awful Suns by three points going into the fourth quarter before rushing back to win by 10.

“We came out playing like (bleep) tonight,” Cousins said after that game, as quoted by The Athletic. “Myself, everybody. (Kevin Durant) kind of hollered at me during the game, like, ‘We got to get our energy up.’ I agreed with him 100 percent.”

The Warriors were nowhere near their peak on Sunday, either. The Heat aren’t terrible. They’re right around .500. But they’re a team the Warriors should handle at home. Golden State did win, 120-118, but it was a treacherous game that easily could have gone the other way. Miami was up 118-115 with 50 seconds left, before a step-back 3-pointer by Durant, an offensive rebound and made free throws by Cousins, and a couple of misses by the Heat.

That’s back-to-back — well, “stinkers” might be the wrong word, but the scent hasn’t been delightful.

True, the Warriors did some things right Sunday. They shot better than 53 percent as a team, and in the second half they started passing the ball like we’ve come to expect. Durant was money down the stretch. But they got outworked most of the night. The Heat had a rebounding edge of 50-36, and an advantage of 19-6 in offensive rebounds.

That mirrored the Suns game, in which Phoenix had 19 offensive rebounds to the Warriors’ nine.

“Just boxing out,” was Durant’s explanation. “A lot of teams shoot threes, so it’s a lot of long rebounds, so the guards and wings gotta get back to the elbows and rebound. That’s the second game in a row a team shot 20 more shots than us. So whether it’s turnovers or offensive rebounds, we gonna lose in the playoffs like that.”

Kerr always harps on shot attempts, arguing that the Warriors shoot so well, they’re probably going to win if the attempts are fairly even. That hasn’t happened the past two games. As Durant alluded, the Suns got up 20 more shots than the Warriors (due in part to the turnover differential); the Heat hoisted 21 more.

Credit to the Warriors for winning back-to-back games after digging themselves such a trench. But offensive rebounds are largely a measure of a team’s will. This team’s will is sagging a bit.

“They were excited to play against us,” Durant said of the Heat, “and we treated it like it was a Sunday walk in the park.”

We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? The Warriors are talented enough to win just about every game they play. But nobody can sustain that sort of intensity — especially a team that is hunting its fourth NBA championship in five years. So there are dog games at random times. And there are dog days in the middle of the season.

It’s weird to say, but the Warriors benefit from adversity sometimes. It keeps them on edge. Without it, they have a tendency to tune out.

Look at the whole recent Durant kerfuffle. The Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis on Feb. 1, and the Durant-to-New York rumors caught fire. Durant stewed and glared and avoided the media for a week. Distraction? The Warriors breezed, dumping the Lakers by 14 points and the Spurs by 39 points (both opponents were missing key starters) in consecutive games.

Durant was back to smiling by the time the Warriors played in Phoenix — and his team began to struggle. Things get hard for the Warriors when things get easy.

Fortunately for Kerr’s team, the All-Star break is almost here. These guys host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, travel to Portland for a back-to-back on Wednesday, then get a week off — except, of course, for Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who will be flying to Charlotte for the All-Star festivities. All in all, it will be a much-needed reset.

“Usually, the way it goes, you get back from the All-Star break and you kind of got that three- to four-week period where you’ve got that new life,” Green said. “And then all of a sudden you hit the middle of March and you’re ready to get to the playoffs. That’s just the nature of this league. Either you hit that middle of March and you’re ready to get to the playoffs, or you hit the middle of March and you ship your cars wherever you’re going for the summer.”

He added: “You don’t really want to stumble into the playoffs. Last year we did and were still able to win. But you never really want to stumble into the playoffs.”

I don’t know if the Warriors will be stumbling when the postseason begins in mid-April. But I can pretty much guarantee they will hit some rough patches along the way. It’s a product of sustained success. It’s a product of human nature. If the Warriors don’t face any true adversity over the next few months, they’ll have to manufacture some.

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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