Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Thursday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Indiana at Golden State (-11.5, 220.5), 10:35 ET

Last time the Warriors took the floor at Oracle Arena, Steve Kerr was expressing his frustration with Draymond Green for lip-readers everywhere to see and Klay Thompson was calling out the fan base for a lack of spirit. Even for two-time defending champions, emotions can indeed bubble over during the regular season even if you’re just killing time until the real games begin.

The Warriors apparently draw the line at losing to inferior teams at home given how charged up they were over falling to the Phoenix Suns as a 17-point favorite, becoming the first team in over two decades to fail to pick up a victory when laying that large a number. The Kerr/Green issue was squashed quickly, but it will be interesting to see how fans react to Thompson’s thoughts on their lack of passion. The All-Star shooting guard doesn’t seem pleased that the paying customers are coasting until April.

“I expect our crowd to be a little more into it,” said Thompson following the 115-111 loss on March 10. “Like, I know it’s not the playoffs, but it is our last go-around in Oracle. The least you can do is stand up when we make a good play.”

Thompson apologized on Twitter, but the mood around the Warriors was testier than it is as they return from a 3-1 road trip that featured wins over the Rockets and Thunder without Kevin Durant. They followed up a loss in San Antonio with a comfortable win over the Timberwolves, giving them three covers out of four on the roadie, putting an end to a 3-13 ATS run since Jan. 31.

While there are still a lot of moving parts, Golden State remains atop the Western Conference, holding a half-game lead on Denver. Only the Bucks and Raptors have better records, so even though the Warriors have said they’re over chasing a No. 1 seed and don’t need homecourt advantage to hang another banner, they’re likely to get after it over the next few weeks considering they have the far easier schedule between them and the Nuggets, who they’ll welcome into town on April 2 as they look to win the season series 3-1.

“It’s definitely a different mind-set,” Kerr said of the upcoming final weeks. “Each game takes on more importance. Last year, I think the final 20 games, we kind of knew we were going the 2-seed, so it’s a little different this year, and I think it’s going to help us.”

This matchup against the Pacers will be the first of just four in its remaining 12 that Golden State will play against teams that will make the playoffs. It has dropped three of its last five in Oakland, so this is a bounce-back game of sorts given the bad taste in everyone’s mouths as the final stretch of seven regular-season games at Oracle opens.

DeMarcus Cousins underwent a scare but results from an MRI on a foot injury suffered in Saturday’s win in Oklahoma City came back clean. He’s been listed as day-to-day and has a chance to return against the Pacers. Fellow center Andrew Bogut is sure to get a nice reception as he debuts after re-signing with the Warriors after completing his season in Australia, claiming MVP honors. Although he’s looking a step slower, his size and IQ give him a shot to be an asset and carve out a role going forward.

Kevin Durant played in a back-to-back after returning from an ankle sprain that helped spark that Suns’ rally and caused him to miss the first two games on Golden State’s trip, so Kerr will have a loaded frontcourt in play to throw at the Pacers, who are led by center Myles Turner and forward Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis. Indiana is currently fourth in the Eastern Conference, one game up on Boston, who they would meet in the first round of the playoffs if the standings hold. The team has fallen in the first three stops of their four-game Western road swing, losing to the Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Clippers. Indiana heads back home after this game before hosting Denver and venturing back on the road for tough games against Oklahoma City and Boston. Although it has played a grueling slate featuring many of the teams with the NBA’s best records, the Pacers are 2-5 over their last seven contests.

If they’re going to pull off an upset to avoid a winless road trip, they’ll have to do it without head coach Nate McMillan, who will miss the game due to a death in the family. Dan Burke will fill in for the second time. The Pacers are 0-1 on his watch. Point guard Darren Collison missed Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers with a quad injury that contributed to Indiana getting off to a slow start since replacement Cory Joseph couldn’t get going. Collison is unlikely to suit up against the Warriors.

Tyreke Evans took advantage of the need for a catalyst to step up and had one of his best games of the season, finishing with a team-high 19 points and seven assists in addition to eight rebounds. It was only the fourth time in 17 games that he’d scored in double-digits and the first time he’d done it since Feb. 22. Evans didn’t play against the Sabonis added 13 points and 16 rebounds as the bench got the Pacers back in the game in L.A. before ultimately falling short, so look for their contributions off the bench to play a major role in this one.

Golden State won the first meeting between these teams 132-100 on Jan. 28, dominating in all facets. Stephen Curry led the way with a game-high 26 points as his team shot 54 percent, so Indiana is going to want to be more aggressive at the onset to keep the Warriors from finding an early rhythm and getting their fans into the game early. The Dubs hung a 40-spot on the Pacers in Indianapolis, going up 69-48 at halftime. Evans didn’t play in that first meeting. Rookie Edmund Sumner started with Victor Oladipo having just been lost for the season less than a week earlier. He shot 1-for-10. Wes Matthews has since been signed and gives the Pacers a much better chance of defending the Splash Brothers.

Indiana saw its run of seven consecutive games going ‘under’ the posted total end on Tuesday night at Staples. The low-side has prevailed in 11 of 12 involving Golden State, including each of its last nine.

Best of the Rest

Denver at Washington, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Nuggets continue a four-game road trip that started with an upset in Boston with a back-to-back that starts in D.C. and continues Saturday night in New York against the Knicks. Considering how strenuous Denver's schedule will get when it returns from the trip, it better take care of business against the few sub-.500 teams remaining on its slate if it plans on supplanting Golden State as the No. 1 seed. The Wizards are definitely vulnerable, coming off an OT loss in Chicago on Wednesday that realistically ended their playoff hopes. Trevor Ariza suffered a groin strain that forced him out of the loss to the Bulls early. The 'under' is 11-1 over Denver's last dozen games.

Utah at Atlanta, 7:35 p.m. ET: The Jazz comfortably took care of business against the Knicks on Wednesday night with a 137-116 rout, getting 30 points from Donovan Mitchell. They'll likely have a much tougher time getting through the Hawks, but are 5-1 on the second night of their last six back-to-backs. The 'under' has prevailed in seven of the last eight games involving the Jazz, including each of the last five. They have held four of their last six foes under 100 points but will have their work cut out for them holding down Atlanta, which has topped the century mark in 13 of 14 contests. Utah center Rudy Gobert had 25 points and 13 boards against the Hawks in a 128-112 win on Feb. 1

Detroit at Phoenix, 10:05 p.m. ET: The Pistons are still sixth in the East, but we'll see whether they prefer to stay there given that the 76ers appear to be the likely team awaiting in the No. 3 spot. Would they prefer a series with a Raptors team they've swept this series and would mean less travel? We could see some strategic tanking come into play. It may just not come tonight. Detroit lost to Cleveland on Monday and will play at Portland, Golden State and Denver going forward between now and next Tuesday, so this is their best shot at a win. The Suns aren't at full strength since starting small foward Kelly Oubre (thumb) and point guard Tyler Johnson (knee) aren't expected to play and backup big man Richaun Holmes (quad) is listed as questionable. Devin Booker scored 37 points in Detroit's 118-107 win on Nov. 25

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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