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OAKLAND – In the wake of the Warriors loss to the Nuggets Wednesday night, a game in which the Dubs allowed season highs in points and shooting percentage, the questions lingered high and tight.
What happened to the defense so often extolled by coach Mark Jackson? How could point guard Stephen Curry commit such a ghastly isolation turnover in the final minute? Why would David Lee, often the tallest Warrior on the court, stand near the rim but offer no resistance? Why did Harrison Barnes commit the hoops sin of surrendering a 3-point play by touch-fouling a man streaking in for a dunk?
And, yes, where was 7-foot center Andrew Bogut, the Warriors' designated rim protector?
These were among the valid questions pondered by the coaching staff and the roster of a team striving to be taken seriously but still prone to puzzling lapses. Rested and positioned to protect their home court, the Warriors were 123-116 losers to a Denver team thinned by injuries and the doghousing of veteran guard Andre Miller.
The sting still was evident Thursday after the Warriors (25-15) practiced before heading to the airport for a flight to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder on Friday.
"We were not as sharp defensively . . . just a disappointing loss," Jackson said. "They got it going, they played well, they made shots. But we were not ourselves defensively, individually or collectively.
"You have nights like that, where you're not as sharp and another team gets it going. That's how it works in this league. The good teams, or the very good teams, make sure they minimize the amount of times you have nights like that. That doesn't mean you can't be beat – but not like that."
That at least addresses the lack of defense. Truth is, the Warriors are a vastly improved defensive team still capable of forgetting that.
On to the other questions:
Curry on his late turnover: "Just a bad possession at the end, tried to do too much at the top of the key, lose the ball and they get the and-one on the other end."
Lee on several occasions, despite being in the role of center and having fouls to give, neither defended nor fouled Nuggets skipping through the paint to score. That requires a "make them earn it" mentality that does not come naturally to Lee.
Barnes' polite foul on J. J. Hickson after the Curry turnover was inexcusable yet a mistake that happens nightly in the NBA. Barnes touched. He should have hacked.
As for the absence of Bogut for most of the fourth quarter, there were a couple factors at play. One, Denver coach Brian Shaw had instructed his players to hack Bogut, sending the notoriously poor free-throw shooter to the line. Jackson wanted no part of that.
Two, the Nuggets were playing small, running high pick-and-rolls, thereby negating much of Bogut's impact in the paint.
Bogut uncharacteristically left the locker room immediately after the game, without speaking to reporters. He surely wanted to be in there to at least have a chance to defend the rim and make free throws.
Bogut likely felt he'd earned enough trust to get the opportunity. He was bummed.
Jackson trusted his other players to hold off an inferior team. He got burned.
THE GOOD: Bogut's early activity/involvement. He made all four of his shots and grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter. Barnes made back-to-back 3-pointers, seemingly for the first time in a month, perhaps indicative of busting his slump.
THE BAD: Overall defense, which allowed Denver to shoot 67 percent in the first quarter and 54.2 for the game. Andre Iguodala, often a deadeye shooter, missed six of his seven shots.
THE TAKE: Jackson put too much trust in his late-game lineup, something he hopes pays off in March and beyond. But by sitting Bogut, Jackson may have picked the wrong poison. A zone defense might have thwarted Denver's offensive sets, forcing jumpers instead of layups and dunks. After a game like this, the coach and the team can only hope to be better for the experience.