Maybe it was the good news on the Steve Kerr front. Or maybe the sight of the the Rockets’ red glare. Or the fact that the regular season is close at hand. More likely, it was a bit of all three.
Whatever the case, the Warriors finally looked like the Warriors in a 123-101 rout of a team of Houston Rockets backups at Oracle Arena on Thursday night.
Hours earlier, it was announced that Kerr’s bum back had improved to the point that the coach would join the team in Southern California on its three-game road trip.
“He wouldn’t be coming down with us at all if he was still as bad as he was, so I think it shows signs of improvement,” interim head man Luke Walton said. “I don’t think it means he’ll be back within the next two days, but all you can ask for is that he keeps getting better.”
It was apparent before the game that the Warriors meant business this time, Draymond Green in particular. He wasn’t even in the mood to talk about his favorite college team, Michigan State, which had a big date with rival Michigan this weekend.
“I’m not here to talk about college football,” Green said. “I’m here to play basketball.”
Then Green led a defense that limited the Rockets to 37 percent shooting.
“Draymond sets the tone for us a lot,” Walton said. “When he gets full bore and he’s aggressive, that’s when he makes plays for us and the guys kind of follow that. Yeah, that’s the defensive effort we’re used to seeing and expect to see hopefully from here on out.”
The status of Andrew Bogut was unknown after he broke his nose on a futile attempt to block a dunk in the first half. And Harrison Barnes, nursing a bruised knee, didn’t play. Otherwise, it was the best day the Champs had in a while.
BLASTED ROCKETS: Seems a lot of people have hopped aboard the Rockets’ bandwagon lately.
Well, Balls ain’t one of them.
For all the talk about how fortunate the Warriors were last season, it was the Rockets who lucked out in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers outplayed them badly before a lack of depth sabotaged them. Only the Clippers could have gagged on a 3-1 lead.
The Rockets went as far as James Harden took them last season, and this one will be no different. He won’t be required to handle the ball as much with Ty Lawson around, but who else can score the ball? Does Trevor Ariza scare you? Dwight Howard? No and no.
The real reason why the Rockets will fizzle out: The most visible, highest-paid players set the tone, and in Harden and Howard, they have one who’s stuck on himself and another who’s broken down and soft.
The Rockets may be playoff caliber, but once they get there, they’ll be a lot like Harden — one big flop.
BETTER WAY: The Warriors took a BART train home after a Civic Center event earlier in the week. And Balls was thinkin’, wouldn’t it have been easier if Draymond Green just bought a helicopter?
DODGERS BLEW (IT): Warriors co-owner Peter Guber couldn’t have been a entirely happy man Thursday. He also owns a piece of the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose postseason was cut short again.
Despite the largest payroll in the history of North American pro sports, the Dodgers could manage only one more victory than a year ago. A shakeup is in order this offseason, and the front office may want to start with manager Don Mattingly and work down from there. When Andre Ethier lit into Mattingly in the middle of Game 5, it looked like the end for the skipper. Might the Dodgers steal from their rivals and consider Ron Wotus, Bruce Bochy’s trusty assistant, who already is interviewing for the Washington Nationals’ vacancy?
HOW HIGH IS UP? The Cal hoops team ranks a close second to Arizona in the Pac-12 pre season poll, as expectations are as high as they’ve been in years.
Now comes the hard part for Cuonzo Martin and his staff — get so much young talent to jell before freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb turn pro next spring.
“I don’t get caught up in the how many years they’ll be in college,” Martin told Balls at Pac-12 media day. “You’re talking about two particular guys who are 18 years old. They’re still young men. I’m not coaching grown men, so I’m coaching them as a father. That’s what we do in our program. It’s not a case that ‘I’ll exempt you from a lot of things.’ I coach them all. That’s how I teach. I teach as a team, not as individuals.”
No matter how Martin does it, it’s Sweet 16 or bust in Berkeley this season.
KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS: Sweet 16? Elite Eight? Heck, senior Tyrone Wallace believes his team has the stuff of the Final Four, a place that Cal hasn’t visited in 55 years.
“That would be the goal, right — to win the national championship?” Wallace told Balls. “I think we’re capable of doing so, but we’ve got to put the work in.
“Our goal obviously is to win big, but we can’t look too far ahead. When you start to look too far ahead to a bigger game or other teams, you start to underestimate [what’s] right in front of you, and that’s a big mistake.”
While Brown and Rabb are front and center, Wallace may have as much to say about where the Bears finish as anyone. As their only senior starter, he’ll need to step up as a team leader on the court.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS: While ex-Athletics Yoenis Cespedes and Ben Zobrist tear it up in the postseason, operations chief Billy Beane continues to spin his merry-go-round of coaches.
Longtime first-base coach Tye Waller followed Mike Gallardo out the door Thursday. He had been with the organization for eight years.
Mike Aldrete, Darren Bush, Scott Emerson and Curt Young, start your résumés.
JUST ASKIN’: Which was more impressive — Jose Bautista’s 431-foot home run in Game 5 of the ALDS or his 25-foot bat toss afterward?
JUST SAYIN’: Wouldn’t a bat-flipping contest be the ideal complement to the Home Run Derby competition on All-Star weekend?
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMMM: Bautista hit 58 home runs for four different teams. He has clubbed 230 homers in seven-plus seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays since then.
When Balls asked about his power surge not long ago, Joey Bats credited a change in his batting stance.
THE LIST: The folks at the Pac-12 have assembled a panel to select the 20 members of its all-time team, but Balls is glad to do it for them:
Guards: Mike Bibby (Arizona), Terrell Brandon (Oregon), Gail Goodrich (UCLA), Walt Hazzard (UCLA), Reggie Miller (UCLA), Jason Kidd (Cal), Gary Payton (Oregon State).
Forwards: Don Barksdale (UCLA), Sean Elliott (Arizona), A.C. Green (Oregon State), Marques Johnson (UCLA), Hank Luisetti (Stanford), Don MacLean (UCLA), Harold Miner (USC), Ed O’Bannon (UCLA), Sidney Wicks (UCLA).
Centers: Lew Alcindor-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (UCLA), Bob Houbregs (Washington), Red Rocha (Oregon State), Bill Walton (UCLA).
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE … Darrall Imhoff?
Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? (A compliment?!?) Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may get your name in the paper one day.Andre EithierDon MattinglyGolden State WarriorsHouston RocketsSteve Kerr