Is Warriors’ blowout loss to Pelicans new normal at back-to-backs?

Is this the new normal of Dubs with a cautious back-to-back plan? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The Warriors on Sunday gave their traveling fan base, and even the road crowd, a night to remember in their 127-120 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. Hell, even Houston’s couch couldn’t help but enjoy the show.

Klay Thompson scored 41 points and made 10 3-pointers. Steph Curry dropped 33 points in one of the best overall games you can have, with 15 assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Andrew Wiggins added 22 points and Draymond Green did what he does: he provided eight assists and grabbed six rebounds. The next night, they all wore street clothes with a loss of 45 points.

None of Curry, Thompson, Wiggins or Green played against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on Monday night. The result was a 128–83 loss, the largest margin of error in a Warriors loss this season, and the first time they failed to score at least 100 points.

Golden State’s latest dropout loss begs the question: Is this the Warriors’ new normal on back-to-backs? Their understandably cautious approach does them no good in the short term.

“This is one of those things, last year Draymond missed half the year with a back injury,” Kerr told reporters 90 minutes before the tip. “You get into a situation where you kind of chase your tail and you don’t listen to the performance team and all of a sudden guys are out for a long time. We just can’t risk that.

“I feel terrible for the fans here, but unfortunately the schedule is set up like this. It’s a shame.”

In their first 18 games, the 8-10 Warriors have now played four sets back-to-backs. They are 2-6 in those eight games and have only won once on the second night of a back-to-back. That lone win came against the San Antonio Spurs a week ago, but it was at home and with Curry, Green and Wiggins.

The only missing piece was Thompson, who was on the second night of a back-to-back all four times this season. He continues to say he wants to play back-to-backs at times this season, but is relying on the training staff. Chances are that the plan will not change in the foreseeable future.

Playing it safe with Thompson is both the plan and an understandable plan. The same goes for Green, whose career is focused on defying the odds through his body. Curry and Wiggins are the more curious additions to this cautious approach.

In Curry’s case, he is the oldest of the group, turning 35 in March. He does have an injury history, missing the last two weeks of the regular season last March and then aggravated the same ankle injury in the NBA Finals. His injury title this season was for right elbow pain, and not just because of the plethora of points he scores every night.

Curry has wrapped his right elbow on the bench during matches. The problem was not addressed and it clearly wasn’t bad enough to slow him down. What about Wiggins?

He is only 27 years old. Wiggins isn’t exactly a vet like Steph, Klay or Draymond. In the two games he has missed, both on the road against the Pelicans, Wiggins was out with pain in his left foot. Both games were also the second night of a back-to-back.

Kerr is not worried about the number of players on the injury list early on. He also didn’t hold back on how the Warriors are different from other teams.

“No, not at all,” said Kerr when asked if he was concerned at all. “We’ve been doing this for a long time and our players are working really, really hard to stay ready and hopefully play until June, which we’ve done six times in the last eight years. We also play a lot of national television shows.” We fly more than any team in the league, year after year. We see a lot of teams doing back-to-back in one city. We don’t.

“We understand that we have a responsibility in this league with our position, the franchise that we are, to put on the best show we can every night, but that also includes preserving the health of the boys in the long run We’re dealing with this as best we can.”

Here’s some good news and bad news about the Warriors’ schedule: They have 11 back-to-backs to go. However, eight of their 15 back-to-backs are in their first 36 games. The last 46 have seven back-to-backs.

With almost all of their decisions this year, the Warriors have a long-term view of the big picture. They know what players like Curry, Thompson, Green and Wiggins can do for them in the regular season. They also know how much more valuable they are in the playoffs.

Andre Iguodala is not engaged in basketball in November. The Warriors had their eyes on March, April, May and June as they brought him back for one final season in the offseason. More experience is on the way and the young Warriors gained that on Monday night.

“Yeah, experience,” Kerr said after the loss when asked about a silver lining. “We’ve got a lot of guys, you go down the list — they need reps. They need basketball experience. We’ve got some rookies, some sophomore guys, some guys who haven’t played a lot of basketball, so every game they get, every exercise, is important.

“What I discovered early in my playing career was that it takes a few years to get really comfortable playing on an NBA floor. Unless you’re LeBron [James] or someone like that, it will take a few years for sure. So we have to be patient and like I said, I have to coach them better.”

One of those players was rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. The number 28 of last June’s NBA draft scored his first career points and made his first three-pointer.

Baldwin, 20, scored seven points and also had six rebounds and three steals. The loss was only the third game he played this season. By nightfall, he had played a total of less than five minutes in a Warriors uniform.

He ended up playing 15 in New Orleans.

“I just think as young players collectively trying to figure it out in the league, we have to figure out how to compete,” said Baldwin Jr. “Even when the odds are against us. I think we got that right tonight on some counts.

“I think tonight was all about competition and heart, and of course I think I took that away from this game.”

Young players like Baldwin have gained experience in the Big Easy, and it’s necessary with the way the Warriors roster is put together. Jonathan Kuminga, 20, played a game-high 39 minutes and scored 18 points. But he was a minus-38 in plus-minus. Moses Moody, 20, played 33 minutes off the bench, had 10 points but three turnovers and was a minus 29. Second round pick Ryan Rollins, 20, saw 16 minutes of action and finished with three points and three rebounds, but turned the ball five times and got three fouls.

James Wiseman’s experience is now coming into the G League. He played his second game with the Santa Cruz Warriors and scored 15 points in 23 minutes with 11 rebounds. Wiseman also flipped the ball five times and had a minus-7 in plus/minus rating, the only Santa Cruz player not to have a positive plus/minus rating.

RELATED: Kerr believes G League will help Wiseman build a foundation

Kerr won’t be able to salvage all of his veteran stars during back-to-backs for the rest of the season. Thompson may not be playing back-to-back all night both nights. Green will certainly also get extra rest days. There’s also reason to believe there’s some strategy to how Kerr has handled the scheme thus far.

Getting Iguodala back is one piece of the puzzle. So is the development of the young players, the give and take with this whole plan. The biggest problem is the health of the Warriors’ Big Three, along with Wiggins and Jordan Poole. Everything else comes second.

Understanding the Warriors’ norm is an impossible question. The unpredictability is part of what has made this all so special. Still, it feels a little different now.

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