Barber: Second-half Warriors predictions

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I predict the Warriors will play the Sacramento Kings at Oracle Arena on Thursday night, then host the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

As you can see, I have acquired certain prognosticative superpowers. I’m not sure how it happened. Maybe the radioactive fortune teller who bit me? (Long story.) In any case, with the Warriors returning from a weeklong All-Star break, this is the perfect time to offer some bold predictions for the second “half” of the season, which is actually the final 25/82nds. Here are some things that are going to happen in the home stretch:

The Warriors will finish with the best record in the West.

Oohhh, really going out on a limb there, right? Saying the two-time defending champions will be the No. 1 seed in their conference. But this is no given. The Warriors have a tendency to treat the regular season like six months of pregame stretching, which is why they lost home-court advantage to the Houston Rockets a year ago.

Alas, the Denver Nuggets, currently Golden State’s biggest competition in the West, don’t have the firepower to gain two games on the champs. And the Nuggets, who struggle on the road, must play 13 of their final 25 games away from home, with nine of those road contests coming against likely playoff teams. You want a hotter take? The Warriors will not have the best record in the NBA this year. That will belong to the Toronto Raptors.

The Warriors will sign a backup center.

There is no truth to the rumor that the Warriors could play with a five-man roster and win another championship. But they have done just fine with a 14-man roster this season, leaving one spot open to save a little money.

As the playoffs draw closer, the temptation will be too great for general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr, and the Warriors will make a move to sign someone whose contract has been bought out by another team. On most nights, an extra wing player would be of more service to this team than a fourth big man. But if DeMarcus Cousins were to get injured, Golden State’s lack of size in the post would become glaring again. Whether it’s Robin Lopez or Marcin Gortat or Enes Kanter or some other sort-of-serviceable tall person, the Warriors will fill that 15th spot.

There will be at least one more Kevin Durant blowup.

After the Strife at Staples in November, one train of thought said that the heated argument between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green would prove to be a good thing for the Warriors — that too many issues had been bubbling below the surface, waiting for an outlet to erupt.

For a while, it looked like that flashpoint may indeed have eased the strain, and I believe it did — for Green, who needs to blow his top every once in a while. Durant seemed good, too, until reports surfaced that the Knicks were clearing cap space for the unstoppable forward, and that he was enamored with the Big Apple. Durant finally teed off on the media at an awkward post-game press conference.

Things are smooth again. Durant was the All-Star Game MVP, and appeared to smile throughout his stay in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It ain’t over, though. There will be more rumors, more assumptions, more crawls at the bottom of ESPN, more prying questions from reporters. And if Durant has shown us anything, it is his inability to let media hysteria die quietly. It may happen on the court, or in the locker room, or in an interview, or on social media, but Durant is good for one more baring of the fangs.

Cousins will lead the NBA in technicals from this point on.

The Warriors have incurred more technical fouls than any other NBA team this season. Green has 13, tied with Russell Westbrook and Andre Drummond for most in the league. Durant, an underrated practitioner of the dark art (at least since he got to Oakland), has 11, tied for fifth. And Kerr is always a candidate to spike a whiteboard and get T’d up.

But Cousins will outdo them all — and everyone else in the NBA — between now and mid-April. Green has averaged one tech every 3.2 games, which is a lot. But he must enter a period of good behavior. Three more, and the NBA will suspend him for one game. Cousins, in his short stint since with the Warriors, is averaging one technical every 2.75 games. And I’d like to think the big man is just warming up. Boogie is getting back to being Boogie, which means sweet passes, 3-point accuracy and beefing with the officials.

We’ll see more Jerebko than McKinnie.

Early in the season, Jonas Jerebko and Alfonzo McKinnie both emerged as important cogs in this operation. The 6-10 Jerebko can screen for the Warriors’ sharpshooters and make a few 3-pointers himself. The 6-8 McKinnie is a vicious rebounder, especially on the offensive glass, and he shot surprisingly well over the first few weeks.

But something had to give when Cousins got healthy enough to play. At first, it was Jerebko who blended into the background. In an eight-game stretch between Jan. 16 and Feb. 2, he missed two games on paternity leave, sat out two others as a healthy scratch and averaged less than 6 minutes in the other four. But in the four games leading into the All-Star break, Jerebko was back in the rotation while McKinnie mostly watched.

Perhaps Kerr will continue to shuffle his backup forwards. But it would seem logical to trust Jerebko more in the playoffs. He has played in 32 NBA postseason games, and has started four. And McKinnie isn’t shooting like he did in October. Expect Jerebko to ramp up his minutes when the games start to matter.

Bonus NorCal prediction: The Kings won’t make the playoffs.

Steve Kerr said Wednesday that Sacramento has been one of the best stories in the NBA this year, and it’s hard to disagree. The Kings are young, fast, confident and exciting. They are currently one game behind the Clippers in competition for the final seed in the West playoffs, and tied with Los Angeles in the loss column.

Don’t expect an I-80 Series in the first round, though. The Kings are beginning to fade. And the two teams right behind them in the playoff race, the Lakers and Timberwolves, have the potential to zip past them. Book Sacramento for 2020, not 2019.

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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