The Santa Cruz Warriors pulled out a 109-106 win against the Iowa Energy Wednesday and now stand at 12-7. They play three games at home starting Friday with a sold-out game against the Los Angeles D-Fenders, who are 6-11.
Tickets are available for Sunday and Monday games. Click here to buy.
Living Without Leslie
There's no question that Travis Leslie is one of the most important players on the roster for the Warriors. The first round draft pick in this year's NBA D-League draft has started every game that he's played in (the only Warrior to be able to say that). In those 14 games, he's lead the team in scoring per game with 15.7 points per game, but where the Warriors really miss him is on the defensive end.
In a majority of games Leslie, along with Stefhon Hannah, have been the tone setters on defense. He is second only to Hannah in steals per game, but the two things that he does best on defense is rebound and play strong on-ball defense.
Along with leading the team in scoring he's also lead in rebounding, averaging 7.9 per game. His effort on the boards is something that they have sorely missed. Although he stands at just 6 feet 5 inches, he is able to crash the boards with the forwards and centers. This was critical because it lead to many fast-break chances on offense, something that the Warriors have seen very little of in the past few games.
Before the game against the Tulsa 66ers last Friday, he told me that he was day-to-day with a groin injury. Look for him to make his return to the starting five in this weekend home stand.
Return of Dan Nwaelele
It's been a long road for Dan Nwaelele since his return to the states. He made the team from an open tryout in Oakland and was one of the players that really stood out to me during the training camp early in the year, but an early ankle injury sidelined him for the start of the season. His mid-range and outside shot are the two parts of his game that are elite and it's shown through his short time back on the court.
In his first five games back he's scored 11.6 points per game, and his minutes are continuing to increase. Head coach Nate Bjorkgren has said that his, and everyone else's, minutes will depend on the flow of each game, but he's been one of those guys that can catch on fire when he starts getting into a rhythm.
Case in point was against Sioux Falls Skyforce where he shot the lights out from three going 4 of 6 and finishing with 21 points. He single handily turned the flow of the game around with his outside shots something that very few players can do.
What does this mean for the rest of the season? Well, the Warriors are very deep at guard and with Darington Hopson starting to get more time as well, Dan will have to fight for every second to stay on the court; however Nwaelele is to good of a weapon to not be on the floor for at least 20-25 minutes a night. Things could get interesting if the Leslie gets the call up from the NBA anytime soon and he leaves a whole in the Warriors starting line-up.
Trades and Moves Paying Off?
The Warriors have been active in the past few weeks. First they picked up Chris Johnson who has easily been the steal of the season. Since he joined the Warriors as a returning player(Johnson played one season with the Dakota Wizards) he has been a force down low. His numbers do not do justice to the difference he's made defensively. Offensively he's been efficient, but sometimes he's turned into a scoring machine and taken over games.
The next two moves have been head scratchers. They shipped out Carlon Brown for Paul Carter and then traded Carter for Shawn Taggart. Both Carter and Taggart are decent players but neither played a single minute for the Warriors. Taggart was promptly waived by the Warriors just one day after the trade. So in essence the Warriors traded away a rookie with scoring ability in Brown, for absolutely nothing.
Brown now with the Idaho Stampede has made his way into the starting line-up and has been a difference maker for the Portland Trailblazers affiliate.
Struggles Away From Home
It's easy to make the case that it's better to play at home for every team, but for the Warriors, undefeated at home, are an example of what a good home crowd can add. They are 5-7 on the road.
Whether it's been because of the travel over to another arena, or they just can't get up to play without the sold-out crowds, they have not shown up to play early in every road game that they've lost.
Take the last loss to the Skyforce. After the first quarter they were on the low end of the 28-16 score and at the half they trailed 52-34.
Then in the second quarter the beast known as the Santa Cruz Warriors defense woke up and helped the offense go on a 20-point run. If the Warriors had competed at that same level throughout the entire game it would have been a complete blowout.
So when people look at what positives they can take away from these road losses, I would say that the Warriors have the highest potential in the NBA D-League. If they can bring some of the home field magic to the road, they will be scary.