VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Kerr won’t stop Warriors from chasing 73 — As the Golden State Warriors have rolled through the 2015-16 season, their success has been compared against that of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who set the NBA single-season record for wins. That Chicago crew amassed 72 wins and Golden State is more than on pace to break that mark. Yet questions remained about whether or not coach Steve Kerr (a reserve on that 1995-96 Bulls team) would led the Warriors pursue the mark … or rest his players for another Finals push. Wonder no more, writes Tim Kawakami of The Mercury News, as both Kerr and star Stephen Curry backed the team’s push for history:
The Warriors are going for 73 regular-season victories — to top the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10 — on their way to an attempt at repeat championships.
Because: Why not?
After weeks of hints and evasions, coach Steve Kerr and star Stephen Curry all but made the official announcement in the hours before Wednesday night’s 114-98 victory over the Clippers at Oracle Arena.
That performance raised the Warriors’ overall record to 64-7, their home record to 33-0 (no team has ever gone undefeated at home for a full regular season) and put an exclamation point on their grand stretch-run plans.
It’s all out there, and the Warriors are no longer going to pretend they don’t know it or want it.
“Now we’re right there,” Kerr said before the game. “That’s pretty enticing.
“It’s really the players’ record. I know they want to get it. So we’ll act accordingly.”
The Warriors’ immediate priority is to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, and the Warriors still have to keep winning games to fend off San Antonio.
And most of all, obviously, the Warriors want to maximize their chances to win back-to-back titles.
A more cautious team — a less historic team — might find a game or two of rest Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green over the next handful of games.
There are risks to going after a record that guarantees them nothing for the playoffs.
But if they’re all feeling good over these next few weeks, the motivation is clear: The Warriors need nine more victories with 11 to play, and it’s right there for them.
The larger point is that this epic season has been fueled by pure competitive fire, and now that the Warriors are on the brink of history, why would they throttle it down now that it’s tangible?
“It’s probably a different answer for each person,” Curry said after the team’s shootaround Wednesday, “but this is probably a good checkpoint.
“Going 10-2 for us is kind of on pace for what we’ve been doing all season.”
“Yeah, this whole idea of setting a record does make things a little trickier,” Kerr said. “It’s the players who are setting a record. It’s not the organization. It’s the players who are doing it.
“So they will absolutely have some say in matters down the stretch in terms of how we approach everything.”
“For us, we don’t want to limp into the playoffs,” Curry said. “We want to continue to play better and fine-tune on both sides of the ball, our execution.
“We want to continue to establish winning habits and a winning mentality as you go into the playoffs.
“Whatever it takes to motivate us at this point, whether it’s just continue what we’ve been doing, searching for that 73, No. 1 seed, whatever it is.”
Also, Curry added: “Sitting out and watching is just boring. I don’t like watching games if you have the opportunity to play in them.”
VIDEO: Golden State tramples the Los Angeles Clippers for win No. 64
No. 2: Young Jazz grow up with big win in Houston — Although they are one the youngest teams in the NBA, the Utah Jazz have made serious headway in growing up over the last 1 1/2 seasons. In the second half of 2014-15, they flexed some defensive might that helped set the table for hope of a playoff run in 2015-16. Injuries have made a mess of Utah’s depth at times this season, but they found themselves heading into Wednesday’s showdown in Houston with a chance to grab control of No. 8 in the West with a win. That’s precisely what the Jazz did and our Fran Blinebury was on hand to watch a young team take a big step forward in the playoff hunt:
Maybe some day when the full roster is healthy and back on the floor together, when the full intensity of playoff fever has returned to Utah and they’re regularly holding the big games again late into May and June, the Jazz will think back to a night like this.
When they fought and battled, worked and scrapped and found a way.
Gordon Hayward‘s pick and Rodney Hood‘s drive and dish and Derrick Favors‘ resounding slam with 1.6 seconds left was the margin on the scoreboard in an 89-87 win over the Rockets. But the difference was in the way they simply kept competing.
For the Jazz, No. 8 is great and every one of these late-season games is a chance to grow and build. With the win, the Jazz went from a half-game out of the playoffs to a half-game in.
“I think this whole process right now is good…,” said coach Quin Snyder. ” … and that’s exactly why whether it’s one game or a number of games, just being in an environment like this one on the road, being in the hunt competitively, puts our team in a situation that is new for us. To the extent we can be there, whether we stay in eight, drop out or whatever the case may be, it’s a good opportunity for us to get better.”
The Jazz are a team that’s come into the last couple of seasons thinking this was their year to step up and move back into the playoff picture. But setbacks have come in the form of critical injuries and this season was no different when Dante Exum went down with a torn left ACL and then Alec Burks fractured his left leg.
This is what most of them have been waiting to experience now for years, the intensity level rising as the number of games on the schedule goes down, the crackling importance of each game as March heads toward April and the finish line.
“We had this one circled going into it, a big game,” Hayward said. “It’s hard not to look at the standings at this point in the year and know what’s at stake. So each game’s gonna be a big game for us from here on out and we have to treat it like a playoff race, which it is.
“I don’t think we were nervous in the first half. We were just making the wrong plays. They’re one of the leaders in the league in steals and forcing turnovers. They were trapping our pick and rolls and it had us frustrated a little bit. In the second half we just played with more force, more energy.
“Of course, this game didn’t wrap anything up for us. We still have 11 more games to play. But yeah, this is fun. Especially for me, this being my sixth year in the NBA and it’s only the second time I’ve been in this. The other time was the lockout season and I have a much different, bigger role now. For all of us this is a great experience that we can use later in our careers. It’s definitely fun.”
VIDEO: Derrick Favors’ dunk seals Utah’s comeback win vs. Houston
No. 3: Cavs’ GM, coach addressed LeBron’s recent behavior — What LeBron James has done off the court of late has drawn as much attention as anything he’s done on it all season. From his activity on social media in unfollowing the Cleveland Cavaliers (and others) on Twitter to his in-game chat with Miami star Dwyane Wade during the Cavs’ blowout loss to the Heat to other activities, many have been trying to get a read on what James’ actions mean. Although he recently told the media he was shifting into ‘playoff mode’, team officials and the Cavs’ coach wanted more of an answer than that, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:
The Cavaliers have noticed LeBron James’ occasionally peculiar behavior of late and have addressed it with their star.
Two members of the team’s top brass – coach Tyronn Lue and general manager David Griffin – have had conversations with James over the past few days regarding separate items.
Lue spoke with James after Saturday’s 122-101 loss in Miami, during which at halftime James was noticeably chatting it up with his friend, Heat star Dwyane Wade, instead of warming up with the Cavs trailing by 21.
Griffin replaced former coach David Blatt with Lue in part to demand more accountability from James — which the player covets — and their chat was an example.
Griffin’s talk with James on Wednesday afternoon was a little more general, but was sparked by James’ comments to The Bleacher Report that he wanted to play with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul on the same team for a “year or two.”
Lue said James apologized to him for his behavior at halftime Saturday night, and Griffin’s discussion with James was positive and productive, with James echoing recent public statements about an upward trend for the Cavs heading into the playoffs.
It’s difficult to determine precisely what caused James’ shift in focus, and there have been some questionable moments since the change.
He skipped speaking to reporters at shootaround Monday (a rarity for him); unfollowed the Cavs on Twitter and then declined to say why; and barely communicated with teammates who tried to talk to him before the game.
And on Tuesday, James said he might join Snapchat, which raised questions of a conflict with his own business interests via Uninterrupted – the digital platform he created for athletes (it’s really not a conflict).
But perhaps James’ sharpening can be traced at least in part to the discussion he had with Lue, in which the coach told him his interactions with Wade sent the wrong message to his teammates.
“I just told him we can’t have that, being down like we were and him being the leader,” Lue told cleveland.com. “Just me being a competitor, I didn’t like it. We had a long talk about it. It was good. He understood, he apologized, and he’s been great.”
In the course of a long session with reporter Howard Beck about his friendship and rivalry with Anthony, James said he would “take a pay cut” to play on the same team with Anthony, Wade and Chris Bosh, and was hopeful the union could happen.
While the comments themselves were made long ago, they were published at a time when James and the Cavs are under enormous scrutiny, in part because of several cryptic messages James has posted to Twitter and Instagram over the past few weeks that have raised questions about his desire to stay in Cleveland.
James has said those messages were not about anyone on the Cavs but declined to disclose their meaning, leaving fans and media to wonder if he was chastising teammates or even signaling his displeasure within the organization.
Though the Cavs believe the Tweets to be innocuous, given the bevy of attention heaped upon James and the Cavs lately, Griffin’s message to James was it’s time to play ball.
James has done that and then some this week – against the Bucks he caught a no-look pass from J.R. Smith and ripped off a reverse dunk in traffic.
And then after the game, he dumped some cold water on his own dreams of a Big 4 with Anthony, Wade, and Paul.
“I don’t know how realistic it could be,” James said. “It would definitely be cool if it happened, but we don’t know how realistic it could be to have us four.”
No. 4: Health, not playoff seed, more important to Raptors’ Casey — With two more victories, this season’s Toronto Raptors will become the first squad in franchise history to reach 50 wins. That’s a more than reachable goal as Toronto has a dozen games left and faces four non-playoff teams (New Orleans, New York, Brooklyn and Philadelphia) in that stretch. But what about the Raptors trying to catch the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference? Coach Dwane Casey won’t cede the fight easily, but also won’t be so dogged in pursuit of it that he risks injuring one of his star players, writes Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:
Dwane Casey doesn’t believe in jockeying for a specific playoff matchup.
It can lead to trouble, said the head coach of the Raptors before Wednesday’s game with the Boston Celtics.
“I’m one of those guys that you have to take whoever comes to you,” Casey said at shootaround.
“The basketball gods will always get you if you start saying, ‘hey, we want to play this team,’ because you will get what you ask for. I’m a firm believer let the games, possessions, quarters take care of themselves.”
“Health is more important to me right now than to catch Cleveland,” Casey said.
“But I’m a competitor. It’s tough because you want to win every game, but, big picture-wise, we want to be healthy at the end of (April) when the playoffs start.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says on a scale of 1-10, he’s at a “10” thinking there will be no lockout … Just three months after the NBA D-League single-game scoring mark was set, Russ Smith of the Delaware 87ers broke it last night by scoring 65 … Great feature on the life story of Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo … All this losing in Philadelphia is starting to get to 76ers big man Nerlens Noel … Where would the Utah Jazz be without Trevor Booker‘s high-energy play? … The Brad Stevens/Danny Ainge-era Boston Celtics have made a point of signing players with a chip on their shoulder … Carmelo Anthony really wanted to be drafted by the Detroit Pistons back in 2003 …