One glaring difference stands out when watching Warriors basketball sans swingman Stephen Jackson, who was traded to Charlotte on Monday.
"Ball movement is a lot better," Warriors guard Anthony Morrow said. "We've got to keep moving the ball like we've been doing. Our whole team right now, it's just beautiful. We're playing really well right now as a team. I'm really proud of my team."
One positive out of the team's recent 1-4 stretch is better ball movement. Improved distribution offers a glimmer of hope in the upcoming stretch of games against Portland (today, 7:30 p.m.), Dallas, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Down to seven or eight players thanks to injuries, the Warriors stayed competitive against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference — Cleveland and Boston — by sharing the ball. They totaled 46 assists the past two games. It symbolized the togetherness and tighter chemistry they seem to be developing.
The absence of Jackson is a big reason for better ball movement.
"Jack is a scorer," rookie guard Stephen Curry said, "and he feels like he can take his man 1-on-1 at any time in the game. That's just the style of play that he's good at. Once he gets the ball and sizes up his man, things slow down just naturally through that. Everybody else on this team I think kind of plays differently, so the ball moves a little quicker."
Also, guard Monta Ellis has gotten markedly better at penetrating and finding open teammates. Once criticized for passing mostly to Jackson, Ellis has spread the ball to the whole team.
After declaring for two days he didn't want to "do more" now that Jackson is gone, Ellis is showing signs he's ready to step into the role as team leader.
"I'm the leader. It starts with me. Everything starts with me," Ellis told the Boston Globe. "Making sure everybody gets involved in the game. Making sure everybody knows the plays. Making sure everybody starts the game off right. Yeah, that's me. I've got to get that back into my head that I am the piece of the puzzle. I am the head leader. It all starts with me, so I've got to get everybody going, get this franchise back to who I know we can (be)."
Ellis may have to figure out what's gone wrong in the third quarter. Wednesday against the Celtics, the Warriors were outscored 31-19 in the third. In their eight losses, they have been outscored by a total of 106 points in third quarters.
"We've been terrible all year," coach Don Nelson said. "Very few games do we come out in the third quarter like we do at the beginning of the game. And I don't have an answer for you why. But we've got to get better in the third quarter."
Another contribution to the improved ball movement is the presence of Curry. He was forced back into the starting lineup Tuesday and Wednesday because of the injuries. Despite his rash of turnovers (nine the past two games), he's been an aggressive playmaker, giving the Warriors an extra distributor.
Curry had seven assists against Cleveland and Boston, and his ability to maneuver around the defense and see the floor has paid dividends.
The tone has been set for how the Warriors have to play. It seems now they've got the mind-set to do it.
"If we all just play together and stay together," Ellis said, "and just go out and play basketball, we can do some damage in this league."