Playing teams like the Orlando Magic serves as a stark reminder of how drastically the Golden State Warriors’ roster situation has devolved. At just 7-11, the Magic are the sort of team that the old Warriors would only lose to if they lost interest and played sloppy. But against today's Golden State roster, Orlando should cruise to a fairly easy victory, at least on paper.
The Warriors finally got a taste of victory over the Chicago Bulls as the Warriors were able to avoid the late game meltdown that has become an unfortunate hallmark this season. But then they turned around and got absolutely smacked by the Miami Heat in their last game out.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (4-16) at Orlando Magic (7-11)
WHERE: Amway Center - Orlando, FL
WHEN: Sunday, December 1, 2019; 4:30 pm PST
WATCH: NBC Sports Bay Area
Blog Buddy: Pinstriped Post
Warriors on the mend
While Kevon Looney's potential return is the main story here, watch for updates around D’Angelo Russell. Russell has been out with a sprained thumb, but as Anthony Slater reported prior to the Warriors’ last game, the All Star point guard is out taking shooting warmups with the team and not wearing any sort of protective gear.
His return may come sooner rather than later, though the team’s timeline (at least from the their public stance) is closer towards the end of the week.
D’Angelo Russell went through a full pregame shooting routine in Miami. Nothing covering his injured right thumb. Doesn’t seem far away from a return. Don’t rule out the end of this current 5-game road trip.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 30, 2019
For Looney though, he’s been ready. The team has been slow-playing his return, pointing towards a need for better conditioning rather than a return to health. Looney’s health issue is a little weird, and one that we will hopefully get some more clarity on as he returns and is able to directly answer questions.
Looney, a critical piece for the Warriors in both the near and long term, hasn’t played since logging around 10 minutes in the first game of the season (back on October 24th). The team was cautioning patience and pointing towards Monday’s game rather than today - but he’s close, and that’s the important thing.
Draymond Green is now on a formal minutes restriction from the team. Given the way the season is going, this is as much preventative maintenance as anything.
“We’ve purposely kept him under 24 minutes per game. Tonight when the game got out of hand I took him out but if the game was more competitive we would’ve left him in late,” Kerr said. “I don’t think we need to play him big heavy minutes in a season like this where we’re obviously playing for the future.
“But he needs to be on the floor to help guide these young players. We have to find a balance for him to make an impact on this team but not wear him down at the same time.”
Steve Kerr on Draymond Green: "The one thing we won't do is run him into the ground. We have to manage a good schedule for Draymond minutes-wise."— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) November 2, 2019
Other players finding their stride
Concerns for returning players aside, let’s take a moment to appreciate the humongous strides made by the Elite Eight.
Though Eric Paschall has been putting in work all season (17 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game) and rightly getting recognition for it, the loss to the Heat was the first game that rookie Jordan Poole showed real promise. It’s been a rough season for Poole. Even after shooting five of six from deep in the last game, he is still making just 27 percent of his three pointers on the season. Despite the loss, he pitched in 20 points and through a longer lense these developments look promising.
I don’t know if there’s a path to retaining him beyond this season, but Alec Burks (16 points in the loss to the Heat) is emerging as a reliable scorer that would be most welcome off the bench for a resurrected full strength Warriors squad next season. Pairing both Burks and a working version of Poole could put Golden State on a path to attaining the coveted “bench shooters” that have evaded them since the time of Leandro Barbosa.
What’s Orlando up to?
Their 7-11 record is good enough to get them within sniffing distance of the edge of the playoffs in the East, but the Magic are struggling against mediocrity, both in the immediate term as well as from a roster construction standpoint.
According to NBA.com, the Magic have the weakest offense in the league right now but they manage to be a middling team on the strength of their 11th ranked defense, allowing just 104 points per 100 possessions.
Led by Evan Fournier (18.4 points on a very solid efficiency of .604 TS% ) and Nikola Vucevic (17 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game) this is a weird looking roster to me. Against the short-handed Warriors they should have an easier run of things, especially given the Warriors league-worst defense. But there’s no one on that roster that is especially impressive to me.
This is a game the Warriors could win if just a few things go right for them. Offensively, watch for Paschall and Burks. The Magic have a legitimately good defense, and the Warriors offense has been inexorably fading lower and lower as the season goes on. This is a team that will have prepped for our primary threats, so Paschall and Burks (and Green) are going to need to hit the counter moves.
The Magic have penciled this one in as a win at home, against a struggling team facing a back-to-back on the road. I expect them to handle business, but the Warriors are going to make them nervous till the end.