OAKLAND – After winning a championship two seasons ago and setting an NBA record for victories in a season last year, the Warriors are about as intimidation-proof as an NBA team could be.
Yet they are not arrogant enough to dismiss an imminent threat, and that’s what they’ll confront Tuesday night at Oracle Arena.
The Utah Jazz are a team of long, smart and agile players. They have an identifiable style that contrasts with that of the Warriors. And they’re regaining health, as small forward Gordon Hayward and shooting guard Rodney Hood are back in the lineup. Neither played on Dec. 8 in Salt Lake City, when the Warrior held on for a 106-99 victory.
Asked what he could take from that game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was quick to answer.
“Nothing,” he said. “We won’t take anything from that game. It’s a totally different team now . . . I don’t even think I’ll watch the tape from last game.”
Nor should he. Hayward is the team’s leading scorer. Hood is the third-leading scorer. They have been big factors in Utah’s resurgence, winning seven of eight – with the only loss coming to the Warriors.
“Hayward’s always been a good player,” Kevin Durant, who’ll get the primary defensive assignment, said after shootaround Tuesday morning. “He’s always been tough to guard. He’s physical, can play either hand, can get to his left really well, shoot the 3, pass – he can do it all, man. He’s one of the players I admire in this league. I know not having him in the lineup was a huge blow for them. And not having Rodney Hood as well, who’s coming into his own.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us tonight. It’s going to be a tough test. If we get hit in the mouth early, it’s going to be a long night. We’ve got to be ready from the jump.”
The Warriors (24-4) are among the league leaders in pace, while the Jazz ranks next-to-last. Utah (18-10) stations shot-blocking big man Rudy Gobert in the paint on defense while trying to wear down opponents with ball movement on offense, milking the clock and reducing fast-break opportunities.
It’s a style designed to disrupt the rhythm of a team like the Warriors.
“You’ve got to not turn the ball over, not foul them and put them on the free throw line and slow down the game even more,” Stephen Curry said. “And then when you get stops, you’ve got to be able to turn them into fast-break opportunities.”
Kerr often speaks of teams that get the attention of the Warriors, using the term “appropriate fear” to express the level of focus needed to avoid defeat.
That would seem to apply regarding the Jazz.