Posts Tagged ‘Golden State Warriors’

Morning shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Curry wants MVP | Kidd opens up on Giannis benching | Blazers’ Afflalo injures arm vs. Warriors | George helped Pacers, even as he healed

No. 1: Kerr: ‘Better believe’ Curry wants MVP — If you missed it last night/this morning, Houston Rockets star James Harden chatted with our Fran Blinebury and didn’t pull any punches when it comes to talk of this season’s Kia MVP. Said Harden, “I feel as though I am the MVP. I think the MVP is the most valuable player to your team. Obviously you have to be winning and be one of the top teams in this league and we are.” Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors has yet to make such brash statements, but he has said plenty with his play — and did so again last night. He dropped 45 points on the Portland Trail Blazers and broke his own record for 3-pointers in a season to boot. Afterward, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that Curry is as hungry for the MVP as any other name in the mix, writes Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group:

Until the playoffs arrive, the Warriors will take motivation where they can find it. On Thursday night, fueled by a determination to avoid their first three-game losing streak in a long season, they rode 45 points from Stephen Curry to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 116-105 at Oracle Arena.

“We’re a prideful team,” said Curry, who added 10 assists for his first career 40-10 game. “We know we’ve clinched a lot already in the regular season. It’s just about how many wins can we get at this point … for us to build momentum into the playoffs.”

Curry scored 19 fourth-quarter points, 15 in the final 5:16 as the Warriors finally pulled away. He shot 8 for 13 from the 3-point arc to break his own NBA single-season record for 3-pointers. He has 276 and counting.

Asked about his star guard’s performance, coach Steve Kerr said, “Nothing left to say, except he’s the MVP. He never talks about it, but you better believe he wants it.”

Curry is aware of the constant MVP chatter but said he forces it out of his head when the game begins.

“Finally played a fourth quarter, so I wanted to get out there and make some plays,” said Curry, who has sat out 17 fourth quarters. “It was fun. Never go out there with that as a motivation. You get sidetracked if you start doing that, kind of playing outside of yourself.”

“He’s our MVP,” teammate Klay Thompson said, “and he should be for the league because he does it on a nightly basis and he’s at his best at crunch time.”

Oakland native Damian Lillard, who scored 20 points for the Blazers, was effusive after watching Curry shoot 17 for 23. “Our coverages didn’t matter,” he said. “He made shots with a hand in his face, off balance and deep. He made everything.”

 


VIDEO: Stephen Curry breaks his own mark for 3-pointers in a single season

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 196)

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Even though there are just a few games left in the NBA regular season, it’s time to make some decisions.

So while Sekou Smith lounges at the beach and our super producer Gregg Waigand is out stomping around The Shire, the Hang Time Podcast rolls on. This week, Rick Fox and I persevered and podcasted about the end of season awards. My vote is due soon, so we got into it and tried to figure some things out.

Who should be the MVP? Should it go to the best player on the best team? Or perhaps the best all-around offensive player? Does Steph Curry or James Harden have the inside track?

Does Andrew Wiggins have the Rookie of the Year award locked up?

How in the world do you sort out the All-NBA teams, especially the second and third teams?

Can we select someone to be the Sixth Man of the Year?

We got into all of this on this week’s Hang Time Podcast, and I haven’t even mentioned how we somehow got sucked into a Rick Fox Career Scoring Average vortex, which made me dig through the numbers and confront Rick with some hard truths.

And I didn’t even have to break this out…

Rick Fox, Skechers.

A photo posted by Old SLAM Magazine Ads (@oldslamads) on

All this and more in today’s Hang Time Podcast!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Morning shootaround — April 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Davis: Warriors called matchup a ‘scrimmage’ | Report: Copeland stabbed in NYC club | Playoff hopes dimming for Thunder

No. 1: Davis: Warriors called matchup a ‘scrimmage’ — Entering last night’s game between the Warriors and Pelicans, two things were certain — Golden State had assured itself days earlier of the Wests’ best record and New Orleans was still fighting for its playoff life. According to Pelicans star Anthony Davis, the Warriors were so confident they would prevail, one player told New Orleans’ bench the game would be like a scrimmage for Golden State. After New Orleans beat Golden State 103-100 last night, Davis recounted that tale and more to ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis says a Golden State Warriors player told the host team’s bench in a spate of trash talk before a 103-100 victory for New Orleans that it would be an easy win for the West’s No. 1 seed.

“They came out and said it was going to be a scrimmage game,” Davis said of the Warriors in a TV interview after the game. “We kind of took that personal.”

In the locker room, Davis would not publicly elaborate on who the Warriors player was.

New Orleans trailed in the first half but rallied with a 60-point second half. Davis led the Pelicans with 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

“We just tried to come out and play,” Davis said. “They said what they said. You try to worry about us and what we’re going to do to try to win this game.”

When asked who the specific player was, Davis responded, “I don’t know who said it.”

“We don’t want to be this pushover team, guys come in and do whatever they want. That’s how we want to look at ourselves,” Davis said of beating the top-seeded Warriors.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis elaborates on his postgame comments

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Kerr becomes winningest rookie coach in NBA history

NBA.com Staff Reports


VIDEO: Warriors knock off Mavericks on the road

The Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday to improve to 63-13 on the season. With the win, coach Steve Kerr moved past former Phoenix Suns’ coach Paul Westphal (62-20 in 1992-93) and Chicago Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau (62-20 in 2010-11) to become the winningest first-year coach in NBA history.

Kerr’s players celebrated the milestone in style:

The win also locked up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for Golden State.

 

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

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No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

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No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

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No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

It’s the Warriors and everybody else in the Western Conference


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Are the Rockets legit contenders?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With 13 days and 105 games left in the regular season, things are starting to clear up a bit.

The only two teams that are locked into their playoff position are the two No. 1 seeds, Atlanta and Golden State. And while the Cavs seem to have the 2 seed locked up and the Wizards would have a tough time climbing out of fifth, Eastern Conference matchups are generally in flux.

The Raptors and Bulls are currently tied for the 3 seed. The Bucks got a couple of big wins last week, but still have some work to do to hold onto sixth. And the 7 and 8 seeds are still very much up for grabs. Both Brooklyn and Boston have tough remaining schedules and Miami just lost Dwyane Wade again.

The Western Conference is a little more clear. The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are in a tight race for the No. 2 seed. The Portland Trail Blazers need just one win (or a Thunder loss) to clinch the Northwest Division and a top-four seed. The Dallas Mavericks would have a tough time moving out of the 7 seed and the 8 seed is down to just two teams (Oklahoma City and New Orleans).

That clarity allows us to start looking at potential matchups and where we might find an upset or two.

The Warriors’ first victim

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Overall, the Warriors are 20-4 against teams 2-9 in the West. Andrew Bogut missed each of the last three losses, which took place in December and January. The only time they lost to a good West team with Bogut in uniform was Nov. 11.

Statistically, the Warriors the best team we’ve seen since the 1995-96 Bulls and the best team in the league by a wide margin. At this point, it’s fair to ask if, in predicting the NBA championship, you would pick the Warriors or the field.

The Pelicans have the tie-breaker, but the Thunder have a 1 1/2 game lead and an easier remaining schedule. New Orleans plays five of their final eight games on the road (three of seven for OKC) and six against teams over .500 (four for OKC).

Serge Ibaka‘s return would make the Thunder a stronger opponent, but there’s nothing to suggest that the Dubs wouldn’t win their first series in four or five games.

Hosting the Mavs

20150403_dal_hou-mem

Though Dirk Nowitzki had a couple of rough shooting nights in Houston, all four Mavs-Rockets meetings have been within five points in the last five minutes.

Dallas’ games against Memphis haven’t been as close, in part because the Mavs haven’t been able to slow down the Grizzlies’ bigs. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to average 39.5 points on 55 percent shooting in the four games.

The 3-6 scrum

20150403_3-6

The Rockets and Spurs play each other twice next week, while the Grizzlies and Clippers each have one more meeting.

The Blazers would probably prefer to see the Grizzlies stay in the 2-3 spots, rather than fall into fifth. But that’s the only 4-0 sweep within this group.

So, while both Houston and Memphis should be gunning for the 2 seed, everybody else should be prepared for a competitive first round series.

The playoffs are 15 days away and they’re going to be great, even if the Warriors look like the clear favorite.

One Stat, One Play: Ball movement boosts Warriors’ offense


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Warriors Ball Movement

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Steve Kerr inherited a great defensive team, but one that wasn’t making the most of its talent on offense. The Golden State Warriors ranked 12th in offensive efficiency last season, despite having two of the most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history.

Kerr aimed to give the offense a boost by emphasizing pace and ball movement. The Warriors take more than 20 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, when efficiency is at its highest.

Getting quick shots has, in a way, helped the Warriors’ defense. And they’ve been defying history by ranking first in both pace and defensive efficiency.

But their quick shots aren’t just about Stephen Curry pull-up jumpers in transition, as spectacular as those might be. Several teams talked about ball movement in training camp last fall, but the Warriors have certainly come through in that department.

20150402_pass_incr

League-wide, there’s no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. There are bad offensive teams that pass the ball a lot and good offensive teams that don’t. But in the Warriors’ case, Kerr knew that more ball movement would help make the most of the talent he had on the roster.

And it has. The Warriors have jumped from 12th to second in offensive efficiency and are in a battle with the Clippers for the No. 1 spot as the season winds down. If they take it, they’ll be the first team since the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls to rank No. 1 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a possession where Curry gives the ball up after a defensive rebound, but gets it back five seconds and four passes later, with a clean, catch-and-shoot look from the top of the arc.

The Warriors have long had the league’s best point differential by a wide margin. And now, they’ve run away with the league’s best record. They put a 10-game winning streak on the line against the visiting Suns at 10:30 p.m. ET on Thursday in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader.

Blogtable: Kerr’s smartest move yet?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOSteve Kerr coaches up the Warriors at Staples Center

> The Warriors have set a franchise record with 61 victories this season. The Knicks have set a franchise record with 60 losses. How smart does Steve Kerr look now, choosing the Warriors over the Knicks? And would he have made much of a difference in New York?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI just so happened to mention that dichotomy to Mr. Kerr at the end of the evening Saturday in Milwaukee, noting the symmetry and the gulch between the two teams. The camera lights had been turned off and he shook his head and muttered, “Brutal.” Anyway, to answer the first question, as smart as Kerr is, he didn’t have to be a Mensa member to ascertain which of those positions packed more potential. The Warriors’ and Knicks’ contrasting trajectories were well-established. So, how much impact did he have on this season’s results? If you credit him outright for 10 of Golden State’s victories — or assume he could have staved off 10 New York defeats with his wiles — that’s still a 50 victories vs. 50 defeats difference. And that still would be “brutal.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I don’t think Steve Kerr deserves the Nobel Prize in chemistry for being able to tell the difference a vintage bottle of wine and a barrel of toxic waste. The only way he could have made a significant difference with the hand dealt by the Zen Master would have been to bring reach through a wormhole in time to bring some of his former teammates named Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Tim Duncan.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Does Steve Kerr look smart? Hmmmm. Let me take zero seconds to think it over. Of course he does. Einstein smart. It’s the genius decision of the season, and maybe several seasons. And not just because of how things turned out this season, complete with Kerr coaching the Western Conference All-Stars … in Madison Square Garden. It’s that the Warriors have a huge window of opportunity ahead. Unless Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes decide to retire around this time next year, Golden State will be better than the Knicks the next two full seasons as well. At least two seasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I can’t call Kerr a genius for choosing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson over Carmelo Anthony. Had he done otherwise, he would’ve needed his eyes checked. Anyway, Kerr wouldn’t have made a difference in New York — who could with that crew? — and I’m not yet convinced he’s made a difference in Golden State; only the playoffs will tell us if he’s indeed a better fit than Mark Jackson.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That first question was rhetorical, right? He wouldn’t have made much of a difference in New York, unless Phil Jackson gave him more freedom with the offense than he gave Derek Fisher. The Knicks’ steep learning curve with the triangle offense was a big reason why they got off to a terrible start and eventually (and rightfully) decided to take another step backward. Things would have been better with a more standard (and easier to learn) NBA offense that still promoted the ball movement that Jackson was looking for. Defense is another story, though. While Kerr was handed a top-three defense at Golden State, the Knicks were a bottom-10 defense that got worse with the departure of Tyson Chandler. It’s doubtful that anything could have been done on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You didn’t have to be smarter than a 5th grader to figure out that the Warriors’ gig was a much better job opportunity than that … um, challenge in New York. So Kerr choosing the Warriors was a no-brainer really. And unless he has magical powers none of us know about, including the ability to transform role players and journeymen into All Stars, there is nothing else to see here folks. Nothing!

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Kerr would have made no difference. Even with a few more wins, the Knicks would’ve still looked hopeless based entirely on the dearth of their talent in combination with Carmelo Anthony’s injury. Looking ahead, the killer for New York is that so many franchises will have cap space when the new TV money floods the market in 2016 — it’s going to influence the market for the next two summers, making it harder than ever for the Knicks to compete for free agents.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI just emailed Steve and asked if he has any advice for playing the lotto. Because not only did he end up turning down the Knicks, he got a better contract from the Warriors. And sure, it wasn’t a complete surprise this happened — after all, the Warriors were a playoff team last season, while Phil Jackson started stripping down the Knicks and selling them off for parts even before the start of the season. And I don’t know exactly what kind of winter they had in the Bay, but I’m guessing it wasn’t as historically brutal as they one we just endured here in New York City. So if anyone ever has to feel like they made the right choice, Kerr is that man. Now can I get those Powerball digits, Steve?

 

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

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No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

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No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

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No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron has no issue with Love’s MVP vote | Golden State wraps up Pacific | McHale expecting worst with Beverley’s injury; Howard may return tonight

No. 1: James not faulting Love for his MVP choice — Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love has been in the spotlight a little bit after some recent interviews. He recently told ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” how his relationship with Cavs star LeBron James is ‘evolving’ and, in a chat with “The Dan Patrick Show”, Love said that if he had an MVP vote, it would likely go to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (and not his teammate, James). So is James miffed over who Love would pick if he could vote? Not in the slightest, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

“I don’t really think too much of it, really,” James said after Cleveland Cavaliers practice on Tuesday. “I don’t really get involved in that. I think the voters are going to decide who is the MVP. I think what Russ has been doing, his numbers have been pretty crazy keeping those guys afloat in the West in his play. Steph Curry can make a case, for sure, what he’s been doing — James Harden and myself, as well. So, Kevin has his own opinion of who he believes is the MVP. No one should fault him for that.”

Love was a guest on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday and was put on the spot to pick either Oklahoma City’s do-everything guard or Cleveland’s captain for the NBA’s most prestigious individual award.

“I would just say because of time spent on the court, you know ‘Bron took those few games off and those couple of weeks off. … They’re both having MVP-type seasons, but I’m going to go with Russell Westbrook because every single night you’re looking at his stat sheet, they’re fighting for a playoff spot even with Serge Ibaka going down now, Kevin Durant potentially being out the rest of the year and [Westbrook] still going out there and really fighting for his team and them winning and fighting for that seventh and eighth spot in the playoffs,” Love told Patrick. “I think Russ is arguably having the better season.”

Love expanded on his choice on Tuesday when asked if he was surprised all the attention his answer caused.

“If you choose to get the little three or four second clip,” Love said, believing his answer was controversial only when taken out of context. “In my whole answer I said LeBron could very well be the MVP. Steph Curry, James Harden — those are guys that you all talk about. You know very well all of them could be named (MVP).”

James said he doesn’t judge this season for him based on his previous MVP campaigns, but rather on his impact he’s made in the games he’s played.

“When I’m on the floor, you judge me by when I’m on the floor and my winning and do I win?” James said. “And when I’m on the floor, do I play at a high level? And that’s all I care about. When I’m on the floor, is my team winning? Because I think that has a lot to do with it. And, how are my numbers when I’m on the floor? Judge me by that and then when I’m not on the floor.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after practice about Kevin Love’s MVP comments

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