VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Warriors go to ‘Splash Brothers’ well to upend Heat — When the Golden State Warriors drafted Klay Thompson in the first round of the 2012 Draft, pairing him with Stephen Curry led to the dawn of the ‘Splash Brothers’ era just a season later. That duo powered Golden State into the postseason and a first-round series victory. Yet the Warriors have grown much from those days — and have a championship to prove it — but last night in Miami in a nip-and-tuck game with the Heat, they went back to those ‘Splash Bros.’ days, writes Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com:
The Splash Brothers dynamic no longer defines the Golden State Warriors, but every now and then, it revisits to save the Warriors. That was more or less what happened in a fairly artless 118-112 Golden State victory over a Miami Heat team that outplayed its visitor for much of the game.
As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward: “That’s Steph and Klay. That’s what they do. When they both do it on the same night, that’s when we’re really tough to beat. And it shows you how good Miami was that we needed every point to win the game.”
In the middle of the Miami big three’s epoch, Warriors digital marketing coordinator Brian Witt coined a nickname to describe a suddenly frisky squad out West. The “Splash Brothers,” established the Warriors’ brand right as the team began its ascent. Catchily, succinctly, it conveyed the unusual idea of a backcourt that specialized in 3-pointers. It’s how the public came to understand Golden State as something of an entertaining gimmick, before it became clear this iteration of gimmickry would end teams’ seasons.
Quickly, the Warriors grew beyond their nickname, with Green emerging as a star, and other additions proving essential. The Warriors are no longer the “Splash Brothers,” but the organization’s belief in this backcourt was a part of its foundation. And maintaining that foundation was, at one point, heretical. In 2014, much of the Las Vegas summer league was abuzz over how stupid the Warriors were for balking at a possible Thompson for Kevin Love trade.
Jerry West, who serves on Golden State’s executive board, loved Thompson’s game, and believed in the vision of this 3-bombing backcourt. He cited Golden State’s meager 2013-2014 passing numbers as a reason Thompson might be unleashed in a new offense. Kerr, who took the coaching job that season, also preferred continuity, knowing that, at the very least, the defense would be elite.
After this particular victory where he scored 33 points, Thompson said of the dynamic, “We can both get hot. It was a tough game tonight and when you have scoring lulls and stuff like that. Steph has incredible takeover ability. I try to play at his level but obviously not as electrifying as him, but I think we can both get hot at the right time if need be.”
The Warriors certainly don’t win without the MVP. En route to 42 points, Curry sank two deep, contested 3s within the last 1:10 of play. The final flourish was enough to overshadow how he also drained a 40-foot first quarter buzzer beater with as free and easy a stroke as you’d see on a foul line jumper. Those 40-footers are part of the warm-up routine. It’s not crazy to expect more of them in the future.
For now, the present is what absorbs these Warriors, especially at a time when every news conference contains a question about “73 wins.” “Process” is the focus, “one day at a time,” is the clichéd phrase of choice. Whether Golden State reaches that benchmark or not, they’ve undeniably built something special, a vision to behold in the wake of Miami’s run as four-year title favorite. It all started with “Splash,” before building into something no one could fathom.
VIDEO: Warriors.com recaps the team’s win in Miami
Coming off his worst game of the season — a 12-point, six-turnover debacle on 5-for-18 shooting in a loss to the Detroit Pistons — LeBron James vowed that his body is not breaking down as the season drags on into the post All-Star, pre-playoffs dog days.
In fact, James said he’s better off this season at 31 years old than he was last season, when he missed a career-high 13 games, including a two-week hiatus to rest.
“It’s how my body was feeling,” James said Wednesday after the Cleveland Cavaliers held shootaround in preparation for a 114-103 win over the Charlotte Hornets. “Last year I was banged up. It’s not a mindset, it’s just reality. This year I feel 10 times better than I did last year. So that’s the mindset.”
James has sat out only one game through the Cavs’ 41-15 start to the season. However, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after the loss to the Pistons that his gut instinct was to rest James that night and that he wished he followed through on it.
Lue previously stated that his goal was for the Cavs to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East before he started resting James, a 13-year veteran, in preparation for the postseason.
James admitted making five straight trips to the Finals has started to catch up with him, but not that he would consider sitting out games.
“I guess I’ve played so much basketball, man, feeling great, those days are pretty much over,” James said. “I don’t know anybody that’s played 13 years that you can say, ‘Oh, I woke up and I feel great.’ I feel great as far as life and getting an opportunity to wake up, but as far as me feeling like a 23-year old, those days are passed.”
James was asked if Golden State’s run is diminishing the accomplishments of other teams, like the Cavs.
“There’s so much great basketball being played, and I understand that those guys are the cream of the crop,” James said. “They’re the defending champions, and they’ve continued to get better as they were from last year. But they’re not going to be the only team that enters the playoff pool. You can be 82-0, man, once the playoffs start, everyone’s 0-0. Let’s get back to the beginning. It’s messed up, but that’s what happens. And hopefully you’ve built enough chemistry, which it seems like they have, and enough out on the court where you can take that on to the next phase, but regular season record-wise is great for the record books, but it means nothing for the postseason.”
VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ win against the Hornets
No. 3: Bickerstaff, Rockets ‘not worried’ about playoff race — The Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and (maybe) Sacramento Kings, are in the thick of what should be an interesting run for the Western Conference’s final few playoff spots. The Jazz topped the Rockets on Tuesday night to vault past Houston and into the No. 8 spot, but Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff isn’t sweating how this playoff chase will shake out, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
The Rockets’ loss to the Jazz on Tuesday dropped them into ninth in the Western Conference, a half-game behind Utah and two games behind seventh-place Portland heading into Thursday’s rematch with the Blazers. The Rockets, however, argued they are more concerned with how they are playing than what it means for their postseason chances.
“It’s not about where we are in the standings,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “It’s about us continuing to fight and play the right way. I think we did that.”
“We’re not worried about other teams,” Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We’re not worried about the playoff race. Our focus in on being the best we can possibly be. It’s not going to happen overnight, but if we focus on the process, we’ll win enough games and it will take care of itself.”
No. 4: Hollins sounds off on Nets’ front office — In July of 2014, the Brooklyn Nets hired then-former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins in hopes he would lead a veteran group to the franchise’s goal of a championship run. But the Nets lost in the first round of the 2015 playoffs and he was fired on January 10 of this year as Brooklyn flounders in the Eastern Conference cellar. Hollins, a noted old-school coach who is not a particular fan of the analytics-driven movement, opened up about his dismissal and the Nets front office in various interviews, which have been compiled by Brian Lewis of the New York Post:
While Hollins didn’t specifically name names within the Nets’ hierarchy, or even refer specifically to the Nets, the 62-year-old — who was fired Jan. 10 by owner Mikhail Prokhorov — talked about how micromanaging and meddling undercuts any coach and how he was left shocked and disappointed at being let go.
“The main thing when you’re looking for a job is finding somebody that allows you to be you and lets you coach as you coach,” Hollins said on SiriusXM radio. “If you’re successful, great. If you’re not, get rid of him.
“But the micromanaging, the meddling of who should play and how you should talk to this guy and how you should talk to the media, what you should say or shouldn’t say because how it looks for the organization versus just speaking the truth — those things weigh on you when you spend so much time trying to massage everybody instead of just coaching.”
It’s well known the Nets’ Russian brain trust was baffled by Hollins’ critical comments about several of his players and let him know it. It’s unclear whether their concerns were over Hollins losing the locker room — which he apparently did — or devaluing their assets. Either way, it was a bone of contention.
“I think for me, a coach is the guy in charge. His relationship is the most important with the players,” Hollins said on SiriusXM. “I think GMs have tried and wanted to be closer with the players, the marketing people want to be closer with the players, and they want to sell, and they want the players to feel good about their experience. The only experience you can feel good about in this league is winning and having success. Losing and being marketed will never make you feel good.”
Hollins also was interviewed by independent sportscaster Drea Avent and asked about his reaction to the word “scapegoat” being attached to his role in the Nets’ struggles and his firing.
“We live in a society where every time something goes wrong, there has to be a blame,” Hollins said. “We live in a very sue-happy society, for lack of a better term. Not just in sports, but in all walks of life, somebody has got to be at fault anytime anything goes wrong. You go to Starbucks and you drink that coffee, and it’s too hot, you sue Starbucks.
“My thing is this: It’s nice to have the fan support. I look at it from this perspective: The people who know sports and know who you are, they know what you tried to do and what you tried to accomplish, and they understand every situation. And there are some people who don’t.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is so good, he’s breaking NBA 2K16 … Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart says he’s not worried about his reputation as a flopper … A one-on-one chat with Toronto Raptors backup guard Cory Joseph … The Orlando Magic have reportedly claimed forward Chris Copeland … The Phoenix Suns have claimed John Jenkins … New York Knicks interim coach Kurt Rambis says a lack of defensive chops is what’s keeping Jimmer Fredette from playing for the team …