For Warriors, succeeding in 'hardest year' is a matter of mind

If the tutus were made of any other material, Stephen Curry would have had a much easier time trying to "wrap them" for his two daughters, who were waiting for him to get home with a present for Halloween. But these weren't silk or cotton tutus that Curry was trying to shove into an athletic bag Monday night after he scored a game-high 31 points in the Golden State Warriors' 141-113 drubbing of the LA Clippers. These blue-and-gold Warriors tutus were made from a stiff, chiffon-like material that was easy to smash or catch in a zipper. So Curry was, to paraphrase John Wooden, being quick but not hurrying.

"We all have things more important than basketball in our lives," Curry said as he concentrated on placing the tutus in the bag just right.

There are those who will never understand what could be more important than basketball to a two-time MVP as he tries to lead a team to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals. And particularly this year as the Warriors have gotten off to a rather sloppy 5-3 start heading into Thursday's game in San Antonio.

But while the traditionalists, Thibodeau-ians and Kobe-philes would argue for all-night shooting sessions or 4 a.m. runs up the nearby sand dunes to cure the Warriors' early-season malaise, Curry was actually following his coaches' instructions to rest.

You say that word in the modern NBA and people go straight to the San Antonio Spurs resting players en masse during the regular season or last year's leaguewide debacle around resting star players for high-profile nationally televised games.

That's not what Kerr wants the Warriors doing. Sure, they'll rest players at strategic moments or if they're dealing with chronic injuries. But Kerr believes it's far more important for them to rest their minds so their spirits are in the right place come playoff time.

"The season is so long, and there are so many stresses on us," Curry said. "If you let those stresses get to you, they'll get the best of you."

There's no need to remind Curry of the game in Memphis on Oct. 21 when he was ejected for throwing his mouthguard in the direction of a referee. He knows that was frustration working through him.

This is what happens when people deal with mental or physical fatigue over a long period of time. Tired people get irritable, frustrated, short and crabby. They snap at things that would usually roll off their backs. They dwell on petty grievances.

"This is the hardest year," guard Shaun Livingston said. "Just the way our mind feels. It's mentally taxing over physically. ... So we're trying not to snap. We're trying to build some resistance to that."

Kerr has been there. As a player on the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls and the Tim Duncan-era Spurs, he says this Warriors team reminds him of the 1997-98 Bulls team that won "only" 62 games in the regular season after winning 72 and 69 games and NBA championships the previous two seasons.

"In [1997] with the Bulls, we started off 8-7 ... and we were having all these team meetings," Kerr said. "[This] feels exactly the same. The fatigue, the emotional and spiritual fatigue that sets in when you've been going to the Finals.

"That's why LeBron [James] going to the Finals seven years in a row, to me, is one of the most amazing accomplishments ever for a player in this league."

So instead of extra workouts or team-building activities, Kerr told his players not to come to training camp early this year. As in, do not show up until media day. Spend every day and minute of their already-shortened offseason with their families or doing things they enjoy.

"Like we had two months off. Everybody else has five," Draymond Green said. "So they're going to have time to miss the game. And we kinda don't have time to get away from it."

For Green that meant traveling and spending time with his young son. For Curry it was time with his family, golf or cleaning his garage.

"I just want to spend like three hours in there and accomplish nothing," Curry said with a smile. "I just go in and rearrange everything."

Kerr calls it "filling up your cup," and it has been a part of his philosophy since he took over as the Warriors' coach four years ago. Now, after three straight seasons that stretched into mid-to-late June, with all the pressure that comes along with stardom, chasing and breaking NBA records and trying to win NBA championships, he believes mental rest is even more essential than physical rest.

"You feel it after a number of years. The team has a different vibe around it, and you've gotta fight through that," Kerr said. "When I got here three years ago, these guys were bouncing off the walls every night. They couldn't wait to play. They had lost in the first round [to the Clippers] the previous year. They had this hunger, this motivation."

After the Warriors won in 2015, Kerr missed the first 43 games of the season due to complications from back surgery. The team rallied around young assistant coach Luke Walton to win its first 24 games of the year and set a course to break the Bulls' 72-win regular-season NBA record. Last season, the Warriors were avenging a Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and integrating Kevin Durant into their system.

This year? Honestly, they're still figuring out what this year is.

"Is it defending the title? Is it finding what makes us a team? I don't know yet," Warriors president and general manager Bob Myers said. "It's not like we have to figure out our identity. We know what our identity is. We just need to kind of grab it."

Such is the conundrum of a team in the middle of a dynasty, which is why so many fizzle after two or three years or have a gap year between runs. Kerr is determined not to let that happen. He talks often with his assistant coaches, players and Myers to gauge the right approach. Lately that has been blunt and sarcastic statements to the press about how sloppy the team has been (Golden State has averaged 19.7 turnovers in its three losses) while trying not to snap or start breaking clipboards as they blow leads by going for home run-type plays.

"I want to snap. I'm competitive. I want to win every game," Kerr said. "But I recognize, especially having been in their shoes, literally, with that Bulls team. I recognize that we're gonna be fine. I know we're gonna be fine.

"If you're a yoga person, you talk about prana. This life force in you," Kerr said. "Each team has its own personality.

"We have to get there. And I can't force that. As a coach, it's my job to recognize that and adapt to that and try to guide us and navigate us. I can tell you this year is gonna be a lot harder than that first year."