OAKLAND — In his pregame media chat, Warriors coach Mark Jackson laid it on the line, “Tonight is a big night for us.”
Why so big?
The Warriors were playing the Portland Trail Blazers, the surprising Blazers who are way ahead of the Warriors in the Western Conference standings. And the Warriors have been slumping.
A while back they had a 10-game winning streak. But coming into the Blazers game, they had lost five of seven games and were giving up points by the ton. Which means they weren't playing defense — and that's very bad for a defense-first team.
So, Sunday night's game was a State of the Warriors Game. Could they play well, could they beat an elite team? As a general rule, teams that beat elite teams are themselves elite teams.
The Warriors want to be elite.
Maybe they are. They won 103-88. Easy. A walk in the park. An elite kind of night.
Before the game, Jackson made a pretty good case for Portland. “Tonight, there's no answer for Damian Lillard in pick-and-roll situations and isolation situations,” he said from his coaching situation. “There's no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge. We've got to contest shots and try to make them uncomfortable.”
Well, the Warriors had answers to every question posed by the Blazers. When it came to shooting, Aldridge couldn't hit the broad side of a barn — he hit two of 14 shots and David Lee made him look mediocre. And Lillard had a pretty good night — 16 points — but wasn't in the same universe as Stephen Curry, a more dangerous shooter, just a better player. Which means the Warriors corrected their defense — they had given up 120 or more points in three of their previous five games.
Before Sunday's game, I asked Jackson, “How do you get your guys to play better defense? Do you yell at them, plead with them?”
“I coach them,” Jackson said. “Hold them accountable. 'Understand how teams are going to hurt you.' You prepare. You talk about it. Playing in this league, there's going to be nights when you have it and there's going to be nights when you don't have it. The great teams, in spite of not having it, find ways to get it done.”