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Morning shootaround — April 20


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No need to fret over Curry | Villanueva fires back at Westbrook | Nowitzki joins Mavs’ growing injury list | Suns happy to keep Watson

No. 1: Why not to fret over Curry’s ankle injury It is more than understandable if Golden State fans are a little edgy — even with their team up 2-0 on the Houston Rockets in their first-round series. Missing the reigning MVP will do that to a fan base. Stephen Curry got some good news on Tuesday, though as an MRI on his right ankle revealed no serious structural damage. Curry remains questionable for Game 3 on Thursday (9:30 ET, TNT), but as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group points out, Curry’s body language reasons reveals this is no injury to fret over:

He’s not on crutches or wearing some bulky brace. He hasn’t needed a cortisone shot, which he took in the 2013 playoffs to play through a severely sprained ankle.

More than that, Curry’s mood is a sign of relief for those whose hearts bleed blue and gold. His entire disposition screams “everything is fine.” When he’s not fine, he can’t hide it well.

Past ankle sprains revealed a darker Curry, whose smile was wiped away by frustration, whose eyes revealed an inner war between faith and doubt.

He is not in that space now. After Monday’s game, he was his normally jovial self. His biggest concern right now is the boredom of having to watch instead of play.

Another sign this is not a big concern: Curry would have been holed up in the training room getting ’round-the-clock treatment. Under Armour would have been scrambling for custom shoes to prevent another injury. Doctors would have had him trying RoboCop contraptions to protect his precious wheel.

Instead, a giddy Curry was jumping off the bench in celebration. When James Michael McAdoo joined the bench (there is only room for one inactive player, and the second half was McAdoo’s turn), Curry relocated. He ended up sitting among fans, closer to the scorer’s table than his team. It didn’t stop him celebrating from his seat, jumping up for highlight plays and reloading his right arm, the imaginary barrel of a rocket launcher, on 3-pointers.

With his black blazer in a sea of gold T-shirts, he looked like a conductor of a cheer orchestra as his teammates beat Houston without him. He didn’t come close to resembling the guy of yesteryear who wasn’t sure if his ankle would stunt his stardom.

With all that said, Curry is not completely out of the woods for Game 3 — though it’s going to take an act of Congress to keep him off the court.

This is new territory for him. He is an ankle expert after dozens of sprains, several management techniques and two surgeries. His expertise is not so vast here, which explains his abbreviated pregame warm up before Game 2.

What’s unknown is what this foot injury requires to heal. Curry left room for the possibility he could be wrong about Game 3. Maybe four days off won’t be enough. Maybe the team shuts him down again to be extra cautious, especially since the Warriors know they can beat the Rockets without him.

Plus what we don’t know: Can he cut the same way? Will he be able to drive against a pressure defense, jump and land with the same fluidity? Or will he have to stay on the perimeter and hoist 3-pointers to keep his foot out of harm’s way?

Those are all the questions that will be answered in the coming days as his right wheel gets presidential attention. As of now, Warriors fans can be confident in this: This is nothing like it was in 2013.

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No. 2:  Villanueva has some advice for Westbrook — Before Monday’s Game 2 in Oklahoma City, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and rookie reserve Cameron Payne engaged in their traditional (and elaborate) pre-tipoff handshake/dance routine. That moment went viral and caused a stir not on its own, but because Dallas Mavericks reserve forward Charlie Villanueva walked into the middle of it, clearly frustrating Westbrook by doing so. Westbrook was asked about that moment after Game 3 and didn’t have much to say about it. Villanueva, on the other hand, decided to film a message for Westbrook about it, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com:

Charlie Villanueva has a simple request for Russell Westbrook: Find somewhere else to dance.

The Dallas Mavericks reserve forward and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar guard had a minor confrontation before Monday’s Game 2, after Villanueva stepped between Westbrook and rookie guard Cameron Payne during their normal pregame dance routine in front of the scorer’s table at midcourt.

Villanueva, who was shoved by Westbrook but didn’t push back, weighed in Tuesday after video of the incident went viral.

“If you want to go dancing and stuff like that, go to a nightclub,” Villanueva said on a Fox Pro Cast video he filmed. “Go to a club and dance. Go to ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and be a dancer. You want to battle and dance, we can battle, but not in a basketball game. Plus, they were in my way, too, so I wasn’t necessarily interrupting their dance.”

In a blog post, Villanueva added: “Now listen, I’m all for pregame hype and rituals. I do them myself all the time. BUT bro, when your pregame routine starts off with ‘5-6-7-8’ that’s just too much. I wasn’t feeling all that right in front of me. Take that to the nightclub or to your side of the court. All due respect, but naaah.”

Westbrook, who also shoved Mavs rookie Justin Anderson during the confrontation, seemingly slighted Villanueva when asked about the incident after the Mavs’ series-tying victory.

“That’s for the guys who don’t play,” Westbrook said. “You’ve gotta do something.”

“I heard Russell Westbrook say that’s for the guys who don’t play, and I don’t necessarily know who he’s talking about because Cameron Payne and myself, we both had the same stat line,” Villanueva said.

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No. 3: Nowitzki (knee) joins Mavs’ growing injury list — After upsetting the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road in Game 2, the Dallas Mavericks returned home with hopes of taking control of the series. Whether or not their longtime star, Dirk Nowitzki, will be 100 percent for Thursday’s Game 3 (7 ET, TNT) remains unknown at this point. Nowitzki fell in Game 2 and came up rubbing his right knee. The good news is Tuesday’s MRI revealed a bone bruise. The bad news may be whether or not Nowitzki is fully healthy the rest of the series, writes Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

Nowitzki slipped and fell early in Game 2 and came up rubbing his knee and flexing it. He finished with 17 points and four rebounds.

“This thing with Dirk, now, we hope this is not something that’s going to cause him to miss any time,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

Hope.

That’s what the Mavericks are leaning on now. That and a medical staff led by athletic trainer Casey Smith that is second-to-none in sports.

It’s really not shocking that Nowitzki would join Deron Williams (sports hernia), J.J. Barea (right groin strain), David Lee (right heel) and Devin Harris (left thumb) as Mavericks who are operating at less than 100 percent.

This has been a recurring theme for months.

Of those five injured players, only Harris is a sure thing to play in Game 3 on Thursday. And, of course, Chandler Parsons (right knee surgery) is out for the season.

The medical situation would be downright comical if it wasn’t so depressing.

And it makes the fact that the Mavericks are knotted at a win apiece in the best-of-7 series all the more amazing.

The face of the franchise might be hindered in Game 3, and there’s no guarantee Williams, Lee or Barea will be on the court, either, although all three have expressed optimism that they will return before this series gets much older.

And, given the way these Mavericks have kept themselves together with bailing wire and duct tape, it would be no surprise to see any or all of those guys come out of the infirmary and play well.

The short version of the medical update is that Barea and Lee are improving, and Williams’ status is unchanged. He played 26 minutes on Monday, then had to sit out the last quarter-and-a-half when the pain from his sports hernia became too much.

Williams’ situation is one that means so much to the Mavericks. And it’s pretty much his call on how much pain he can tolerate. Sitting out for a game isn’t going to make the injury go away.

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No. 4: Suns see hidden gem in Watson — A 9-24 finish and the second-worst record in the Western Conference is hardly what the Phoenix Suns envisioned for 2015-16. After firing coach Jeff Hornacek in early February, the Suns bumped one of Hornacek’s assistants, Earl Watson, into the interim coach role. He ended up with that 9-24 mark, but also made inroads with Phoenix’s defense and young players. The team rewarded Watson with a three-year deal as coach and team brass see him as a potential Doc Rivers-type, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

The Suns did not conduct formal interviews with other head coach candidates because they already had heard from Watson during three interviews in February, March and April.

“The more and more we discussed it, Earl continued to emerge from the front of the pack and really had everything we were looking for at the top of our list in terms of ability to connect with and motivate players, ability to communicate effectively and directly and the ability to teach and inspire while also being direct with players and holding them accountable,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said.

The first interview convinced the Suns that Watson had the leadership qualities to command respect of the locker room. The second interview confirmed that he had gained that and made inroads with a wayward team’s defensive and competitiveness despite an injury-depleted roster.  The third interview sent the Suns to contract negotiations on three-year contract, and Watson’s relative affordability as a rookie coach was not a factor because they had the budget for an “elite” coach.

The Suns see those qualities in Watson, who is the NBA’s youngest head coach at 36 and only five months older than McDonough (Orlando has the NBA’s youngest GM in Rob Hennigan, 34).

“He reminds me a lot of a young Doc Rivers,” McDonough said of Watson.

“They both have a presence about them,” said McDonough, who worked for Boston’s front office for all of Rivers’ nine seasons as Celtics coach. “They both have a command of the room. When they speak, there’s some natural leadership qualities and characteristics that emanate from them and everybody pays attention and knows who’s in charge and who the boss is.”

Young guards – like Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe – built a quick affinity for Watson because his initial back-row assistant job focused on their development. Along with other players, they gave Watson immediate buy-in as an interim coach because he directly laid out roles and expectations, part of the mutual trust and comfort that the players wanted to carry through the offseason.

“We were making big strides,” Booker said. “We were competing in every game and we had the attitude that we wanted to win. We weren’t waiting on the summer. We’re trying to get wins. We’re building for this year. It’s good that the question is out of the air. ‘Who’s the next coach going to be?’ We know where we’re going. We know what it’s going to be like and we have to build from here.”

There also is a belief that Watson’s persona could improve the team beyond coaching. He was a primary reason the Suns came so close on LaMarcus Aldridge last summer in free agency. That was because of their bond as Portland teammates, but most NBA players know him from playing against him and the Suns think his charisma can do the rest.

“I think Earl will be a powerful recruiter,” McDonough said. “He certainly did a great job with LaMarcus Aldridge, getting us very much in the mix for LaMarcus. I have no doubt that will continue, especially as head coach. I think he will have a lot of clout and hopefully help us land some elite free agents.”


VIDEO: Suns players voice their support for Earl Watson

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ray Allen says Stephen Curry is on his way to being the best ever … If you’re a Kobe Bryant fan (and you have time to read something long), this is the story for you … Monty Williams is not expected to rejoin the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching staff in 2016-17, but will help coach Team USA this summer … With or without Stephen Curry, the Warriors are a deep squad … LeBron James isn’t about to get into a war of words with Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van GundyDon’t expect a farewell tour for Tim Duncan someday … Former All-Star Stephon Marbury has been awarded permanent residency in China … 

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