LOS ANGELES - Golden State Warriors leader Stephen Curry walked past a group of reporters following a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday and jokingly appraised his new team mate.
“DeMarcus Cousins sucks!” Curry shouted.
Even in jest, Golden State is providing serious indicators of rediscovered form.
And with a season-best eight-game win streak and the return of Cousins to the court, the two-time defending champions have shifted the tenor of a season that once sounded the alarm bells on their NBA reign.
Is the current mood and energy the best it has been all season? Curry would say so, he told Reuters.
“We’ve had a very dramatic first (47) games in terms of all these different storylines and things going on around our team. We talk about it a lot, and things are starting to click.”
Golden State (33-14) has had its episodes of drama this year, including a flare up between coach Steve Kerr and reserve Jordan Bell on Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
That aside, the group is all smiles again and has climbed back to the top of the Western Conference.
So what came first for Golden State, the wins or the joy? Both have seemingly arrived in tandem to recalibrate opinions on the league’s most scrutinized team.
For four seasons, and four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, Kerr has preached the value of playing with joy.
It is the quality that has distinguished the Warriors from dynasties of the past built on physical dominance and ferocity.
Golden State’s current four-year run, which has included three titles, is the best in NBA history and features a record 265 wins over the past four regular seasons.
But the barometer for good basketball transcends wins or losses for the Warriors. The recent season debut of Cousins, who missed nearly a calendar year with a ruptured left Achilles, has gone a long way to spreading good vibes.
“All of our guys are excited for DeMarcus’s arrival and the challenge of fitting him in,” Kerr told Reuters.
“We’re in the middle of a long season so this is an opportunity for us to experiment, try something different and enjoy that process.” Integrating the seven-foot, 270-pound Cousins into Golden State’s deadly three-point offense is a terrifying prospect for the NBA and a jubilant one for the Warriors. When Cousins debuted on Jan. 18 with 14 points and six rebounds in a blowout win against the Clippers, the Warriors became his personal cheering section. They erupted on the bench when Cousins dunked for his first points, and Curry and guard Klay Thompson doused him with water at game’s end.
“Since I called him (to recruit him to the team in July) I’ve been excited to have him on the team,” Durant said. “He’s a great teammate, and someone that makes the game easier for everyone.”
It is symbolic that Golden State would celebrate each other during a recent trip to Los Angeles that saw them destroy the Clippers and Lakers.
Los Angeles was the site of a pivotal confrontation between fiery Draymond Green and Durant during a game against the Clippers on Nov. 12.
Curry was sidelined at the time and the Warriors went on to lose five of six games – their lowest point in terms of performance or morale.
“It was jut a little bump in the road,” said Cousins, who intervened from the bench during the dust-up.
“There are going to be disagreements and arguments. It’s about overcoming that and coming back together, which those guys did.”
Even with a starting lineup of five former All Stars, the Warriors are not bulletproof. Cousins is a new unique personality for Kerr to negotiate, and Green is mired in a season long shooting slump.
Golden State’s bench does not seem as strong as in years past when it eased the toll of long title runs.
But the Warriors are back to appreciating the immense talent they do have and enjoying their historic journey together.
“I’ve looked out on the floor many times and thanked the basketball Gods for allowing me to coach this group,” Kerr said.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about historical facts and figures, and how many All Stars we have.
“We know we’re lucky to have this roster.”
Editing by Rory Carroll and Peter Graff