Warriors grapple with ‘real NBA’ after blowout loss to Lakers on Christmas

For the previous four seasons, the Warriors have enjoyed a basketball utopia in which All-Stars are selfless, championships are expected and dazzling sequences are commonplace.

But over the past two months, as mounting losses punctured Golden State’s air of invincibility, head coach Steve Kerr took to reminding fans that this charmed era was somewhat deceiving. After almost a half-decade of dominance, the Warriors are finally enduring what Kerr calls “the real NBA.”

In Tuesday night’s 127-101 loss to the Lakers at Oracle Arena, Golden State got a heavy dose of reality, saving one of its ugliest performances in years for Christmas, the flagship day of the NBA regular season. Disgruntled fans filed toward the exits midway through the fourth quarter after watching the Warriors labor in almost every aspect of the game.

Golden State dug a 19-point hole early in the third before getting within two after LeBron James left for good because of a strained left groin. It was all a tease, however, as the Warriors quickly reverted to bad habits and got outscored 49-25 to close the game.

In its first home loss to the Lakers since Dec. 22, 2012, Golden State piled up six air-balls, shot 9-for-36 (25 percent) from three-point range, botched numerous passes and committed 21 fouls. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had little answer for the Lakers’ parade of double-teams as they missed 25 of their combined 37 attempts.

Draymond Green, who had as many turnovers as points (four) when he fouled out with 5:36 left, wasn’t much help. The only Warriors player to provide consistent energy was 34-year-old Andre Iguodala, who needed only 12 shots to chip in 23 points off the bench.

Lakers center Ivica Zubac — a seldom-used reserve until thrust into the starting lineup last week with JaVale McGee out with a respiratory infection — bullied the Warriors inside for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Before hurting his groin while trying for a loose ball under Golden State’s basket less than five minutes into the third quarter, James had 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

“This loss obviously is a smack in the face, and we have to respond to it,” Kerr said. “That’s kind of the name of the game in this league. We need to come in tomorrow, watch the tape, get some work in and get back at it.”

Tuesday’s blowout was a befuddling showing from a Warriors club that had started to make progress since getting several key players back from injury. Before facing James on Christmas for the fourth consecutive year, Golden State had won eight of 10 games.

The victories masked nagging problems. Far too often, the Warriors have deviated from their passing-game blueprint and succumbed to isolation situations. A once-prized defense suddenly looks vulnerable. With center Damian Jones likely done for the season with a pectoral injury, the undersized Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell are having a tough time anchoring the interior.

Golden State’s ineptitude in marquee games has been particularly curious. Little more than a third of the way through the season, it has lost at home by 20-plus points to four of its biggest threats: Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Toronto and the Lakers.

“We’ve definitely been inconsistent with our play,” Durant said. “We can definitely be better communicating on defense, moving without the basketball and just being aggressive to score a little bit more than we are.”

The Warriors, for their part, don’t seem too concerned. Though multiple players conceded that the team could do a better job adjusting in-game, they mostly reiterated the “real NBA” narrative Kerr has stressed much of the season.

At 23-12, Golden State is percentage points behind Denver for the Western Conference’s top seed. There is also the fact that DeMarcus Cousins’ return from a torn left Achilles tendon, which is expected sometime in the next couple of months, seems likely to solve many of the team’s frontcourt issues.

But after four years of playing deep into June, the Warriors recognize that their biggest obstacle is within themselves. They have four months until the playoffs to find a solution.

“We got to get better, and we know that,” Curry said. “We are not going to win a championship playing like we did tonight.”

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Con_Chron

Warriors after Christmas

A look at Golden State’s records through Christmas under Steve Kerr:

Season

W-L

Finals result

’14-15

23-5

Beat Cavs

’15-16

28-1

Lost to Cavs

’16-17

27-5

Beat Cavs

’17-18

27-7

Beat Cavs

’18-19

23-12

TBD

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/warriors/article/Questions-plague-Warriors-after-blowout-loss-to-13490707.php.

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