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Analysis: Warriors throttle Nuggets in Denver, 125-101

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Golden State makes an impressive statement on the back-to-back against a tough, young Nuggets team. What did we learn?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Did you know that Pacific Coast teams going to Denver on a back-to-back over the last 10 years have a horrible winning percentage against the home team Nuggets?

While Denver has struggled to be competitive over the last few seasons due to a young roster and the loss of talent due to injuries, they always seem to have the advantage at high altitude against road-weary teams. This seemed like a trap game on the schedule after a well-handled victory on Tuesday against the Mavs in Oakland.

Golden State overcame some narratives that have plagued them to start the season — lax effort, streaky shooting and poor defense — on their way to coasting to the victory in a fast-paced affair. Don’t mistake the Nuggets for a contending team at this point; their 3-5 record is punctuated by a bottom-third offense (due to a lack of outside shooting) and a porous defense that gives up over 108 points per game.

They still have a long way to go on developing their young core, but some people saw them as a possible team to jump into the playoff race given the many great young pieces like Mudiay, Nurkic and Jokic — and even guys like Garry Harris and the rookie Jamal Murray. Their star in the shadows seems to be Juan Hernangomez who is making a strong case that both Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried should be shipped out for pieces, ASAP. Can anyone else see a deal at the deadline with a team like the Heat or the Bulls, for some young pieces to surround this Denver core?

Regardless, the Warriors came in and took care of business early and often, building a 20-point lead that stayed consistent for most of the game. By halftime, the only questions left were statistical and avoiding injury in garbage time, which is the way we have come to expect Dubs games to go over the last few years. Let’s take a look at a few things we learned from Thursday’s match-up:

The Warriors are looking more comfortable every game

This is a bit of a no-brainer — everyone expected this team to have some growing pains. Although there was some initial panic at the state of play, the Warriors seem to be working themselves out. Especially as Klay Thompson’s shooting comes back around, teams can no longer sag off of him and hope his stroke isn't back yet. The floor is spacing out nicely on the offensive end, and the passes are coming in crisp. The Warriors could do without the 15 turnovers, but it should be noted that many of these have occurred in garbage time.

At the beginning of the season, the ball was being tossed out of bounds. While defenders are still getting their hands on some of the passes out of the pick-and-roll and through the post, the majority are starting to hit their targets. Draymond Green and Kevin Durant have developed a great feel for where Durant wants the pass on the curl. Much like Stephen Curry, Durant needs a pass in a specific spot because of his size, and the facilitators are responding. Even Zaza Pachulia in his limited action is showing great passing skills to the cutters. Surely Durant and Pachulia have never played in an offense like this before with as much off-the-ball movement as the Warriors do. While it is fun, it takes comfort to play in the flow without feeling forced.

On the defensive side, the ball is starting to bounce the Warriors’ way. I am not 100% sure if it is luck or if it is effort, but the loose balls are starting to fall in our hands again. In the first three games of the season, it felt like every loose ball was going against Golden State. As rebounders stared at each other, opponents would pick up the scraps. Blame team defense, but it is hard to work on the defensive end for 20 seconds, then have the forced shot bounce right in the other team’s hands.

Guys are starting to attack the boards, and give credit to Kevon Looney and of course Draymond Green for working even harder. Credit could be awarded to Kevin Durant also, but he loses focus every once in a while on this end and still has spurts where he forgets he is playing power forward. Perhaps this can be blamed on his time with Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, and even Russ Westbrook — all guys that love to pick up scraps while Durant gets ahead down the court.

JaVale McGee with the starting lineup looked pretty good (but don’t tell Steve Kerr that)

Before we get too excited, the Nuggets have a young, undisciplined front court. When Pachulia picked up two early fouls to avoid putting extra pressure on Green at the 5, Kerr inserted McGee about halfway through the first. We were then treated to a faster-paced offense, much more energy on the boards and a defensive presence that has been sorely missed.

JaVale McGee needs the following things to be successful in the NBA:

#1: He needs to be the 5th option on offense. In fact, it is better when the offense is not run through him, a la DeAndre Jordan.

#2: He needs to be allowed to sell out on defense. This means he needs to be surrounded by smart help defenders like Green or Andre Iguodala. He will go big for the close out and big for the block in the post and this so often gets him out of position. It is best to let him be himself, and help around the big man.

#3: He needs a few lobs thrown his way. Every converted dunk charges him up like an and-one mixtape and makes him play harder. When he is not contributing and making mistakes, his body language goes south very quickly.

So how is he best used?

We know backup center minutes appear to be going to the Death Lineup, so if McGee moves into the starting lineup for any reason, Pachulia pretty much becomes pointless in the rotation. Also note that rookie Damian Jones is on the mend and on his way back, and Kerr has already said he loves his game. If you are only giving 15 minutes a game to your starting center, why not make it a hit-or-miss guy like McGee who brings a dynamic to the starting lineup that you don’t see otherwise?

Answer: Kerr is not committed.

He has spent the early part of the season installing a Bogut-like role for Pachulia in the starting lineup on the offensive end. To avoid the confusion and transition, Pachulia should get the token starting job with McGee getting more and more minutes in the first with the starters as a change-up. Face it — this is a good problem to have.

On a side note, the Warriors appear to be the worst team in the league at throwing the lob. From last year with Bogut to this year with McGee, the Warriors’ conversion rate has to be less than 50%.

Durant losing his streak sucks but demonstrates championship focus

Deep into garbage time in the fourth, the only remaining question was if Kevin Durant would score his 20 points to continue his consecutive game streak of consistent scoring output. With Curry’s three-point streak ending, this one seemed well important for the team to keep pushing for. If you think Durant didn’t know about it, just look at the way he and his teammates were trying to get him the ball down the stretch. With about five minutes to go, Durant gets the ball on the block — stuck at 18 points for the game — and goes to work. He isolates, gets his man on his hip and goes for the basket. The refs call the charge to the help defender as Durant hits the ground, possibly tweaking his ankle. He gets up and immediately is checked out — streak over.

Durant should be respected for knowing the streak needed to end. He was exhausted. He knew he could keep trying but everyone on that court knew keeping him healthy was more important. Seventy-two games is a crazy mark to score 20+ points consecutively. But streaks are meant to be broken and it’s another sign that the larger goal of staying healthy and winning a title is better than individual statistics.

On another note: Durant lost his shoe ... again. Can someone please get him some better laces? This might be the fourth or fifth time this has happened already this season.

Garbage Time Notes: So many bright spots around the rotation

  • Ian Clark is aggressive on offense. He is a better shooter than many gave him credit for, and he should keep shooting to keep his confidence up.
  • Preaching to the choir, but Patrick McCaw knows how to hoop. He would be the best point guard to play a pickup game with. He is a hound on defense, he understands spacing and drive-and-kick basketball and he consistently makes the smart move.
  • A lineup that features Looney, Varejao and McGee is comedy gold. They took turns posting up in the iso, seeing who could produce the worse shot. You know who won? America.
  • Random stat of the night: 95 straight regular-season games for the Warriors without back-to-back losses. This is on the front office and the coaching staff should feel very proud for putting together a solid, mature roster and a winning culture.
  • Stephen Curry is really good at basketball. Oh yeah ...

The Warriors head back home with a few days off until Sunday when they face the Suns at Oracle. The rest and the practice will be nice in advance of a big road trip starting next week in Toronto against a few powerhouse Eastern teams. Keep up the momentum!