By Janie McCauley
AP Sports Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. — Big man Marreese Speights is thrilled he has Steve Kerr’s blessing to let it fly from long range whenever he has a good look.
“It’s great, especially if I’m wide open, I’m going to shoot it every time I get the opportunity to,” Speights said. “So it’s good to have the green light from the 3-point line when you’re open.”
Kerr trusts his role players to bring the energy when Stephen Curry and Co. sit down for a breather, or even for good, late in games with Golden State way ahead. They’re a determined bunch of backups.
Speights might even earn himself “Splash Cousin” status from Curry, and that’s one enormous compliment for a 6-foot-10 center coming from the NBA’s reigning MVP who could be headed for a second such honor soon.
“He’s auditioning for that Splash Cousin maybe,” Curry said.
Curry and fellow star Klay Thompson are known as the Splash Brothers for their 3-point precision.
Speights and the rest of the reserves on the defending champions hang with some of the top teams in the NBA, taking immense pressure off Curry and the starters — and that second unit will be relied upon down the stretch and in the playoffs as the Warriors (63-7) chase the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins and another championship.
“We really take that seriously, especially if the game’s going a little slow, we know we can come in and give our team a spark with the second unit,” Speights said. “We make sure we come in there and we’re going to give a lot of energy, play defense and make some shots.”
Popular forward James Michael McAdoo even earned himself the first start of his career in Monday night’s 109-104 win at Minnesota.
Even with Finals MVP Andre Iguodala sidelined by an ankle injury, the bench pushed forward and hasn’t missed a beat.
“You always want to have these games if you can where everybody plays, everybody scores, everybody goes home feeling good,” Kerr said. “We talk about it all the time. It’s really the strength of our team, our depth, the number of guys we have who we can play and be confident in. It helps obviously when the starters get off to a great start.”
With playmakers like Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston, the reserves rank fourth in the league with 9.7 assists off the bench. Kevon Looney knocked down his first career 3-pointer last week, while Anderson Varejao and Brandon Rush are contributing key minutes.
Center Andrew Bogut admires how every person on Golden State, no matter his prominence, has found a way to accept a role and contribute when called upon.
“If we continue to do that, we should get to where we want to get to,” Bogut said. “Our bench has always done that. Our bench the last two years, the reason why we’re playing the way we are, our starters are averaging not starter minutes compared to other teams in the league … these guys come in and do a huge job for us. Everyone that comes in contributes and we don’t have anyone on our bench that’s kind of a human cigar type player. Everyone on our bench can actually come in and play, and play good minutes for us. It’s nice to have that luxury. We feel like one through 15, even the guys who are hurt, can come in and play 15-20 on any given night.”
Kerr said last week that the pressures of this season have worn on the Warriors, from the record start, to the unbeaten record at home in Oracle Arena, to the record still within reach. Golden State is one game ahead of Kerr’s Bulls team’s pace at this stage — Chicago was 62-8 — with 12 games to go and a tough home matchup with the Clippers on Wednesday night. The Warriors are still after the top seed in the Western Conference with San Antonio right behind.
As Bogut noted, it’s going to take everybody.
“The bench is something that we take pride in,” Kerr said.