OAKLAND (AP) — Steve Kerr refers to Pelicans star Anthony Davis “one of the very best players on earth.”
That means the Golden State Warriors’ defense will face a far different test than what San Antonio presented in the first round of the NBA playoffs when New Orleans arrives for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night on the defending champions’ home floor.
The pace. The playmakers. And, of course, the load that is Davis.
Davis’ daunting playoff averages: 33 points, 12 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.
New Orleans got here even after losing All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins three months ago to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon. That’s when Davis said the Pelicans became “great.”
“It was tough. We were still learning when he was here,” Davis said.
“We were still in that early stage of trying to figure out how to close games, how to play for each other, defensive assignments. And we started to figure it out before he got hurt. ... Then when he went down, we had to change everything again.”
Golden State gets it. There was a stretch last month the four All-Stars were out and the Warriors lost seven of 10.
Now, they might get back a big reinforcement: Stephen Curry. The two-time MVP was listed as questionable for Saturday’s series opener as he works back from a sprained left knee he hurt March 23.
“Totally different series from what we just faced,” Kerr said of a five-game first round with San Antonio. “Very much about pace. They like to get out and run, where the Spurs are more of a half-court team, so it’s an adjustment, a big adjustment. And obviously, Davis is one of the very best players on earth.”
Here are some things to watch for as the best-of-seven series begins at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have won a franchise-record 12 straight postseason games:
The Warriors dominated the Spurs without Steph. Now, he’s likely coming back and adds another dimension to a team already clicking as it chases a repeat championship.
Curry resumed full practice with contact Thursday and his status was still unclear, though it certainly appears he will play soon.
Full strength immediately or not, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry realizes the tall task.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity for us to play the world champs and see where you are as a franchise and see what it takes to win a championship,” he said.
Kerr knew he wanted Gentry on Golden State’s staff when hired to coach the Warriors before the 2014-15 season — and it’s among the first calls he made. Gentry served only one season as the team’s top assistant but was instrumental in developing the offense used today.
“I would say Alvin was critical for my growth as a head coach,” Kerr said.
He meant plenty to the players, too. Ask All-Star Klay Thompson.
“He was a great guy to be around. He was a huge part of why our offense opened up and was a huge part of our pace of play and our ball movement,” Thompson said. “And I think he’s done the same thing in New Orleans. They play with great pace now. They play similar to us as far as spreading the court and you’ve got playmakers everywhere. So Alvin was instrumental in what we built here.”
New Orleans swept Portland in the first round, so the Pelicans got to watch the Warriors finish off the Spurs on Tuesday night.
“I do think we’ve had an advantage in that way just having time off and everybody locking in and watching them play,” Jrue Holiday said.
The Warriors know how much the addition of Nikola Mirotic meant to New Orleans since he was acquired to help fill the void left by Cousins’ absence.
“We pretty much threw out all three game tapes prior to Mirotic’s arrival,” Kerr said. “Those don’t mean anything to us. Once he arrived, the whole team looked different.”
Thompson is feeling it.
After some ups and downs during the regular season, he shot 52.9 percent — 46 for 87 — in the first round including 16 of 31 on 3s for 51.6 percent.
“It always feels right, at least in my mind it does,” Thompson said of his shooting touch. “It has to. Hopefully, I can continue that (consistent) trend. But it’s something that I will never doubt myself when it comes to shooting. I put too much effort into it.”
ON A ROLL
Golden State has won 24 of the last 26 games including playoffs against the Pelicans, 12 of 13 at home dating to the 2012-13 season.
“Our guys know that to beat the defending champs is going to be extremely hard,” New Orleans guard Rajon Rondo said.