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Despite struggles, Warriors put away Cavaliers late

Champs (28-1) unhappy with recent performances, but help may be on the way with possible return of Steve Kerr, Harrison Barnes

POSTED: Dec 25, 2015 11:30 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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— The "struggling" Warriors on Friday won for only the 28th time in 29 games, an 89-83 victory over the Cavaliers in a Finals rematch at Oracle Arena with a season low in scoring while shooting 41 percent, including 5-for-18 from three-point range

"Look," center Andrew Bogut said, "we haven't played great the last 10 games. That's something that we've addressed in this locker room."

"I don't think we've played well," power forward Draymond Green said. "Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don't think we've played well."

"I'm really impressed with our defense the last two games," interim coach Luke Walton said. "Before that, our defense was struggling."

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches' office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn't happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

What are we? Twenty-eight and one? You're 28-1 and you're not near playing well, that's exciting.

– Draymond Green

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes' absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

"Maybe a little bit," Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

"There's part of it that [makes me mad] and there's part of it that makes me very, very happy," Green said. "I think we've got a lot of improving to do, and we will."

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: "Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You're 28-1 and you're not near playing well, that's exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we'll reach that point. And when we do, I think that's trouble because if we're 28-1 and we're not playing well, imagine where we are. That's why it excites me.

"I think the world has definitely had a lot of views of us when we play well. That's when the offense is flowing and the defense is getting back-to-back-to-back stops and not giving up offensive rebounds. I just don't think we've done that. Our offense hasn't been flowing. We haven't been executing very well and we haven't been putting the amount of stops together that we want, so there's some things to clean up. But at the end of the day, a win like (Friday), you have to definitely take it. Obviously you can grow off of it, but it's a good win."

For a Golden State team that needed some positives for a change and all. The Cavaliers imposed their will, slowed the pace to their liking, forced the Warriors to trudge through the marsh, and it still didn't make a difference in the end. The defending champs won anyway to improve to 28-1 with the bonus of being able to look forward to returning to full strength very soon, if only they can hang on.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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