Warriors Take First Long Strides Towards Playoff Mode

OAKLAND -- Here comes the experimenting, followed by the evaluation, followed by the fine-tuning by the coaches.

And here come the players, with fuller engagement and higher focus and a dose of fury.

The Warriors opened the stretch run of the season Thursday night with a performance that was part rehearsal, part examination and part petri dish. They also won.

For much of the a 134-127 victory over the Clippers, the Warriors looked like a team taking its first long strides toward the finish line and for what's to follow -- the playoffs, 51 days away.

"We're definitely approaching it differently," Draymond Green said. "We've kind of paced the whole way through, kind of talked about staying healthy and getting through the season the right way and getting ready for the playoffs.

"But we also understand that we've got to prepare for the playoffs. There's 23 games left. You want to start building the right habits, go into the playoffs rolling."

The Warriors quickly addressed one of their biggest issues, starting the game as if it mattered from the opening tip, closing the first quarter with a 34-23 lead. They shot 66.7 percent while holding the Clippers to 41.7 percent.

Hoping for an energy boost as well as the seeking the athleticism and length to deal with LA center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors coach Steve Kerr started JaVale McGee for Zaza Pachulia.

The move worked out fine; McGee generally did what was needed.

"We've got two centers that play two different ways," Kevin Durant said. "Zaza comes in and gives us a different punch with his physicality and his smarts in the pick-and-roll, passing the basketball. And JaVale comes in and gives us guy that can put pressure on rim. Coach felt like we needed more pressure at the rim and it kind of opened us up a bit on the wings.

"We're going to need both of those guys."

Kerr's tinkering didn't stop there. He played 10 players in the first quarter, including the three veterans -- Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West -- who normally open the second quarter.

The Warriors also resorted to a lot of high pick-and-roll, particularly when the game tightened in the fourth quarter. It worked, with Stephen Curry repeatedly scorching the LA defense, scoring 11 of his game-high 44 points, including three 3-pointers, in the final 6:50.

"We're just tweaking a couple things, just to take a look," Kerr said.

"A lot of that is on us as players to be mindful of that and understand what's working," Curry said of the strategy. "Until a team stops it you have to continue to milk that play, that set."

This was by no means a textbook show. There were too many live-ball turnovers, 15, leading to 24 LA points. There were some fundamental errors, particularly with boxing out, allowing the Clippers to put up 11 second- and third-chance shots.

And, moreover, there was the blowing of a lead that was as high as 18 early in the second quarter. The Clippers cut it to 12 at the half and got as close as two in the final minutes.

"We could've knocked them out earlier," Kevin Durant said. "We had three turnovers in a row. I think that gave them life. When we're up by that much we just have to be solid, make the right plays, continue to hit singles like we talk about and know that we're up 17, the next play we might not knock them out but if we hit two or three good plays in a row, they might be done.

"Once we get to that, we're going to take the next step and go to the next level. We're already at a high level. "

There will be more experimenting by the coaching staff, and some of it will involve Jordan Bell, who has been out for five weeks but could return as early as Saturday. There will be greater focus and fewer careless turnovers.

"We had our moments tonight," Kerr said. "Our talent took over. But we've still got some work to do."

That they do. The All-Star break is over. If their work against LA is any indication, the Warriors are altering their mentality, increasing urgency and aggression. They looked like a different team than that which went 4-4 over its last eight games.

The coaches know what it takes to, and so do the players. They've done it before. They have the goods to do it again. That much was evident Thursday night.

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