Skiles, Players Aware Defense Must Improve Against Warriors

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By John Denton
Feb. 24, 2016

ORLANDO – Giddy about capturing a victory in a game their coach dubbed a ``must-win,’’ the Orlando Magic were doused with a blast of harsh reality when Scott Skiles walked into the locker room late Tuesday night.

``Golden State will score 300 on us in the next game if we play like that,’’ barked Skiles, referring to the Magic’s tepid defense in the 124-115 defeat of the woeful Philadelphia 76ers.

Two nights after facing the NBA’s worst team, the Magic (25-30) will get the NBA’s best team in the defending champion Warriors on Thursday at the sold-out Amway Center. Skiles’ cryptic, sky-is-falling prediction might not be as outlandish as some think considering the way that the steam-rolling Warriors have made a mockery of the rest of the NBA this season, including laughable routs of powerhouse teams such as San Antonio, Cleveland and Memphis.

``Every time I watch them I feel like I’m watching the best team I’ve ever seen play,’’ Skiles said of Golden State’s destruction of the rest of the NBA while winning 50 of its first 55 games prior to playing in Miami on Wednesday.

``If they’re not (the best ever), they’re right there,’’ Skiles continued. ``Their big people – (Andrew) Bogut and (Draymond) Green – pass the ball better than most team’s guards. They’re the best passing team in the league, hence them shooting the ball so well. Everything is sharp with them.’’

How sharp have the Warriors been thus far? To wit:

  • The Warriors became the fastest team in NBA history to 50 wins on Monday in Atlanta, doing so in just 55 games. A whopping 32 of those wins have come by double digits, including the routs of the Grizzlies (50 points), Cavs (34 points) and Spurs (30 points).

  • They have 26 road victories and 25 wins against teams with .500-or-better records – both NBA highs. Even more impressive is the fact that the Warriors haven’t lost consecutive games since last June in the NBA Finals – and they responded to that with three straight defeats of LeBron James and Cleveland to win the Larry O’Brien trophy.

  • The NFL has crowned two Super Bowl champions since Golden State last lost a home game: Jan. 27 of 2015 in a 113-111 overtime defeat against the Chicago Bulls. The Warriors won their final 18 home games last season and all 24 so far this season, giving them 42 straight victories at noisy Oracle Arena. That’s two more than the Magic’s 40 in a row from March 21, 1995-March 19, 1996 and two shy of Chicago’s all-time record of 44 set from March 30, 1995-April 4, 1996.

  • Stephen Curry won the MVP last season and this year he might win the MVP and the Most Improved Player award. He’s boosted his scoring average from 23.8 points per game last season to 29.8 ppg. this season – all while sitting out of 15 fourth quarters because of one-sided scores. Not only is he in line to hit the coveted marks of at least 50 percent shooting from the floor (50.8 percent), 40 percent from 3-point range (45.5 percent) and 90 percent from the free throw line (90.9 percent), he has 28 games this season with five or more 3-pointers made – 15 more than the NBA’s next closest player (teammate Klay Thompson).

  • Not only do the Warriors have the leading candidate to win the NBA’s MVP award, they likely have the runner-up also. Green, a fourth-year pro who was the 35th overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, has made teams pay for trapping Curry on pick-and-roll plays with 11 triple-doubles. By averaging 14.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists – all career-best numbers – Green – and not Curry – might be the front-runner for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and the Defensive Player of the Year award.

  • Put it all together and it creates a pretty daunting task for a Magic team that is doing everything in its power just to get back into the playoff race. Orlando has actually found its best groove of 2016, beating Boston, Atlanta (twice), Dallas and Philadelphia of late. Only narrow losses to San Antonio and Indiana have kept the Magic from becoming the hottest team in the NBA this side of, well, the Warriors. And they head into Thursday’s eagerly anticipated game knowing that they will have to be even better just to keep pace with the Warriors.

    ``We’ve got to do a better job of keeping our man in front of us and do a better job collectively and we’re capable of doing that,’’ said Magic guard Victor Oladipo, who had 22 points and three steals in Tuesday’s defeat of Philly. ``(Golden State) is in a place right now where they are all playing free and playing at a high level because it’s fun. They just love playing with each other and I think that’s why they play so well. It’s going to be a great competition and I’m looking forward to it.’’

    Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons, who is coincidentally an Orlando native, was asked earlier this season about how often he tunes in late at night to watch Golden State’s offensive artistry. He responded that while it’s fun to watch the Warriors, it’s no fun playing them because of the many challenges they present to foes on both ends of the floor.

    Oladipo disagreed, saying he can’t wait to try and use his defensive skill to slow down Curry and Co.

    ``I watch them all of the time, but I don’t think it’s not going to be fun to play them,’’ said the guard who had 27 points against the Warriors on Dec. 2, 2014 when the Magic narrowly missed out on beating Golden State (98-97). ``Why not match up against the best if you want to be the best? I’m looking forward to it being a great game.’’

    ``Greatness’’ will likely be attached to the Warriors if they can eclipse the 72-10 record set by the Michael Jordan-led Bulls of 1995-96. Golden State entered Wednesday night’s game in Miami needing to go 23-5 the rest of the way to eclipse the Bulls.

    Count Skiles in the group of NBA types who thinks that the Warriors can get that coveted record if they so choose.

    ``If they want to do it, sure they can do it,’’ Skiles predicted. ``It’s just a matter of whether they put it as a priority or not.’’