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Posts Tagged ‘Luke Walton’

As Kerr returns, Walton, Lue in play as possible All-Star coaches

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr, after being sidelined from the Warriors’ first 43 games this season, finally was back on the sideline for their home game against Indiana Friday night at Oracle Arena (10:30 ET, ESPN).

But Luke Walton still might want to hold off making any personal plans for All-Star 2016.

Walton served as Golden State’s interim coach while Kerr recovered and rehabilitated from two offseason back surgeries. Kerr is back now as the Warriors’ coach of record, but the NBA reportedly still is considering whether Walton might be invited to coach the Western Conference All-Stars, assuming Golden State has the conference’s best record through games of Sunday, Jan. 31.

“We are reviewing our rules around the West coach situation to determine what is appropriate,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said late Friday.

All-Star coaches, by NBA rules, are drawn from the team with its conference’s best record as of the official cutoff date, which is Jan. 31 this season. The exception is when a coach and his staff earned that honor the previous season, in which case the coaches of the second-place team handle All-Star duties. Kerr and the Golden State staff, including Walton, oversaw the West squad at the 2015 All-Star Game in New York.

Some had wondered, however, if Walton – because he had not served as “head coach” last February – might be eligible this time for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto. He was, after all, reported to be eligible for NBA Coach of the Year consideration even though his official head coaching record remains 0-0. The Warriors’ 39-4 mark technically goes on Kerr’s coaching record.

If Walton doesn’t coach the West All-Stars, the likely candidate is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Either because of the “Riley rule” – the NBA spared coaches from working the All-Star Game in consecutive seasons in the 1980s when Lakers coach Pat Riley annually had his team atop the standings at the cutoff date – or because the Spurs overtake the Warriors, Popovich would be in line to go with his staff for the fourth time. He previously coach the West All-Stars in 2005, 2011 and 2013.

The Spurs (37-6) can’t be caught by the West’s third-best team, Oklahoma City (33-12). After Friday’s OKC victory at Dallas, both teams have four games by the Jan. 31 cutoff – even if San Antonio loses all four and OKC wins all four, the Spurs still would have the better record.

In another interesting twist, if the Cleveland Cavaliers remain in first place on Jan. 31, new head coach Tyronn Lue will be invited to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars, the NBA also confirmed.

Lue, the Cleveland associate promoted to head coach Friday with the Cavaliers’ decision to fire David Blatt, would be accompanied by the rest of Cavs staff. Blatt not included, presumably.

Then again, there is some precedent for NBA figures no longer in the league to participate on All-Star Weekend. Guard Craig Hodges was invited to defend his title in the 3-Point Shootout in 1993 after the Chicago Bulls had waived him following the 1991-92 season. Back in 1977, forward Larry McNeil competed in the NBA’s first Slam Dunk contest at the All-Star Game in Milwaukee between being waived by the Nets in December and signed by Golden State in late February.

And of course, Magic Johnson famously played in and was named MVP of the 1992 All-Star Game after abruptly retiring when he announced in November 1991 that he had contracted the HIV virus.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
No panic in Warriors after another loss| Kevin Durant loves the media | Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space | The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up

No. 1:  No panic in Warriors after another loss — It’s happened so rarely this season that the shock of it all could be a little much to take for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve walked off the court after a loss just four times all season, but lost their second straight road game Saturday night in Detroit. But there is no panic now that the Warriors have come back to earth, a bit, from their unbelievable start to the season. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The Warriors’ post-practice session Sunday started with Draymond Green playfully mocking Luke Walton’s work ethic and ended with Stephen Curry proudly wearing a Carolina Panthers cap while singing the team’s theme song.

If the Warriors are panicking about their declining play during the past 11 games, including an 18-point spanking by Detroit on Saturday, they sure weren’t conveying it before flying to Cleveland for an NBA Finals rematch.

“There’s no need to panic, turn on each other or point a finger. We all sucked,” Green said. “… You want to keep the environment loose. You don’t want to tense up and feel like it’s the end of the world and play like that. Yeah, we have to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to play with that fire and intensity, but you don’t want to play like you’re in a panic.”

The Warriors (37-4) will have a good barometer for their keep-it-loose approach during the next five games. They play road games at Cleveland and Chicago before hosting Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas — teams that went into Sunday’s games a combined 131-68 (.775).

To have success during the challenging stretch, the Warriors know they’re going to have to play better than they have in the past 11 games.

“It matters to us, every game that we don’t play well. We’re trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “At 37-4, I’m happy that it bothers us. … It shows that it’s a long season, but we’re on a mission to do something big this year. The game (Saturday) night was not in line with our identity and who we are as a team.”

The Warriors went 28-2 in their first 30 games, beating opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve gone 9-2 in their past 11 games, beating opponents by an average of 4.8 points per game.

***

No. 2: Kevin Durant loves the media —  He has a strange way of showing it, but Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant does not hate the media. In fact, Durant said he has nothing but love for the folks covering him and his team on a regular basis. Sure, he’s had some heated exchanges with reporters recently and has criticized the media for not holding his Thunder in the same regard as other elite teams around the league, for “nit-picking” the way he and Russell Westbrook operate, for disrespecting Kobe Bryant and various other perceived transgressions. But in the end it’s, all love. Erik Horne of the Oklahoman has more:

“I also have something else to say, if you guys don’t mind. I was talking to Matty earlier and I’ve seen over the last couple days – couple of years, actually – that I hate the media. I actually do love you guys. If I hated someone I wouldn’t talk to them. I wouldn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t laugh and joke with them. I wouldn’t talk with them about anything other than what you guys ask me. When I disagree, that doesn’t mean that I hate you guys, so … my whole deal is to spark a conversation and hopefully we can talk about the topic, or whatever it is at hand we can talk about, and we all can grow from it. That’s my whole deal.

“I know I’m not necessarily talking to all you guys – all you guys with all these mics here. My whole thing is when I disagree that doesn’t mean I hate you, that just means … what you guys really wanted is someone who’s open and honest with you and who’s opinionated and that’s who I am. I haven’t changed, I’m the same person. I just grew as a man. Hopefully you just appreciate it and know that I don’t hate you. That’s a harsh word and my mom never brought me up to be a hater of anyone. I always believe that if I’m open and honest and opinionated that I can grow as a person and hopefully you can learn that’s what I’m about, and hopefully you all can get better. The main goal is to help the fans know the game a little bit more than they know today, so that’s my goal and hopefully that’s your goal instead of getting headlines and clicks. That’s my take on it, that’s the last time I’ll talk about it, but I had something I had to get off my chest. I appreciate it.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clarifies his recent comments about the media

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No. 3: Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space — It stands to reason that weeks after Christmas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are something of a different monster than the one we saw that day against the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving, who made his debut just a week before that game, is in a different place now. He says the Cavs are in a better space. And he’s ready for tonight’s rematch of the rematch between The Finals combatants (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has the details:

In the first meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, an NBA Finals rematch, point guard Kyrie Irving was playing in his third game, trying to get back in rhythm after a rehab-filled off-season.

Heading into Monday night, another crack at the league’s best team that celebrated inside Quicken Loans Arena about seven months ago, Irving feels different, inching closer to his old form.

“A lot better,” Irving said following Sunday’s practice, the first workout since returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. “Definitely trying to prove it out there every single time I go out there and play. Just trying to continue to be better every single game for my teammates.”

Since that Christmas Day showdown, an 89-83 loss, Irving has hypnotized defenses with his slick ball handling, made a pair of clutch three-pointers in the closing minutes and had a few scoring outbursts. He has given Cleveland an offensive boost, averaging 103.8 points in his 12 games.

“Coming back it was a tough adjustment at first, missing a few shots here and there, being on the minute restriction, just had some things to get used to,” Irving said. “And as I continue to progress and the more games I play, the better I am getting.

“I just didn’t want to come in and break anyone’s rhythm. We had a great thing going, and me just being an added piece, just wanted to come in and make it seem seamless and do whatever it takes to win. I mean, it was a tough transition coming back, I’m not going to lie, but I think it’s getting easier and easier every single game.”

Irving is averaging 17.0 points on 42 percent from the field, including 26 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

His numbers are down and his play has been dotted with inconsistency. But Cavs head coach David Blatt is focusing on the positives.

“Kyrie has been doing well,” Blatt said Sunday. “I said on a few occasions after some of his bigger games that still we had to understand and show patience. And he has gone more or less up and down a little bit and it’s totally understandable. He missed a long time, came off a serious injury. But he’s worked hard and he’s played well since he’s come back. Some games better than others. And it’s just part of the process and we understand it. And that will continue for a little while.”

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No. 4: The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up — Winning feels great, and the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing it as well as anyone lately — even after their 10-game win streak was snapped Saturday — as they head into tonight’s matchup against Houston (10:30 p.m. on TNT). But the schedule is about get a lot tougher and Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows what’s coming. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explains:

Starting with Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

“I don’t look ahead but to the next game, obviously,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. “[But] defensively we’re a better team. And that’s all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I’m never that concerned about us. I think most nights we’re going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that’s where we’re a better team.”

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it’s more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven’t faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

“No, we’re not trying to send any messages,” said Rivers, whose team didn’t practice Sunday. “We’re just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

“We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we’re going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you had plans Saturday night and missed out on the raucous celebration at The Palace of Auburn Hills, relive the moment the Detroit Pistons retired Ben Wallace‘s No. 3 … Washington Wizards swingman Jarrell Eddie has found his dream job … You won’t have to think long and hard about who has been voted the NBA’s dirtiest player (here’s a hint, it rhymes with sell him a nova) … Even after all of these years, Kobe Bryant is still reaching milestones in the Lakers’ record books

Blogtable: Most impressive thing about Warriors’ start is ______?

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: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOWarriors focused as ever to dominate

> The Warriors continue to roll, and are already halfway to 72 wins. Watching this team night after night, what impresses you the most?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The connectivity they have at both ends of the floor. When a team has an individual player as great as Steph Curry, the other guys on the floor with him often find themselves isolated, standing around watching. It happened a lot when Michael Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls. But with the Warriors, you never get the sense that Curry is just out there pounding the ball to create an opening for himself. Everything he gets seems to be on the move, whether it’s in transition or off their sets. But it seems like he’s always moving WITH his teammates; his action comes off of some other action. Same at the defensive end. There’s always someone moving, whether it’s a pre-rotation or something else. It’s five-man basketball. Beautiful to watch.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Equal parts optimism/confidence and versatility. It’s impossible in my opinion to separate those qualities because they build on each other. Golden State has been built to handle just about any situation and its players and coaches know it. No Steve Kerr? No problem. Harrison Barnes goes down? They got this. Chris Bosh hangs on the perimeter? Fine, Andrew Bogut will match up with Luol Deng and Justise Winslow. Having success with nearly every adjustment fuels their view that they can do it tomorrow and straight through June. The Warriors are unflappable.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The sheer joy, enthusiasm and relentless sense of purpose that they bring to the gym every night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: How they have been so locked in this early in the season. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: The Warriors could have had a champagne hangover, they could have been fazed by the absence of coach Steve Kerr, they could have been tripped up by injuries, and yet they roll on. They have incredible focus, to the point of not merely accepting the big moments but searching them out.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors are ready to play every night. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of 82 games, most teams will take a night off, so to speak, in terms of energy or mental preparation or whatever. Not the Warriors, who take pride in putting themselves in position to win, no matter how good or bad the opponent. I haven’t seen this from a team since the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the cohesion on both ends of the floor. Stephen Curry obviously has the ability to do things alone on offense, but he rarely does. The Warriors lead the league in assist rate and in the second year of Steve Kerr‘s offensive system, the offense is sharper than it was last season. There’s freelancing within the system, but guys are mostly on the same page when it happens. And while the champs have taken a small step backward defensively, they’re generally on a string on that end of the floor as well.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The energy they bring to the floor every night is flat out remarkable. To win 67 games last season, ride that wave to The Finals and handle their business there how they did, you’d expect the Warriors be a little fatigued by now. But they always seem to find the wind needed to run you off the floor. Night after night they always seem to find that extra gear, from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green down the roster to Brandon Rush, James Michael McAdoo and Ian Clark, when they are called upon to contribute. I’ve covered a team that won 61 games and made the conference finals and the next season, you could see the wear and tear, both physically and emotionally, on that group. The Warriors, however, seem as fresh now as they did in training camp before the 2014-15 season. Simply remarkable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They play for each other at both ends of the floor. There is a spirit to their teamwork that is inspiring. The Spurs are efficient, while the Warriors appear to feed off each other emotionally. They reveal their hearts.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Their versatility. In the past when we’ve seen great teams, they seem to do whatever it is that they do, and that is what defines them. But the Warriors aren’t just one thing. Want to play big? They can play big. Trying to go small? They can go small. The Warriors can mix and match their deep collective of starters and bench players to meet any sort of challenge presented to them, without losing any potency, and to me that makes them such a remarkable group.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The call for Cal to save the Nets | LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers | Warriors stealing glances at all-time record | Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder

No. 1: The call for Cal to save the Nets — For what seems like the umpteenth time, there is a NBA coaching opening with John Calipari‘s name written all over it. With Lionel Hollins out as coach in Brooklyn (and Billy King reassigned within the organization), Calipari’s name has surfaced immediately as a possible replacement, even though he has routinely denied in any interest in leaving Kentucky. That won’t stop the rumblings about Cal being the right name for the job, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The Brooklyn Nets will undoubtedly make the celebrity hire here because the team’s Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, simply wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why John Calipari goes right to the top of any and all searches when you have a desperate billionaire who is looking to make a big splash calling the shots. Do the names James Dolan and Phil Jackson ring a bell?

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who thinks he’s John Wooden because he once coached his daughter’s fifth-grade team to a championship, was ready to offer Calipari everything last summer before Coach Cal decided to return to Kentucky and wait for something better/more lucrative to come along.

Now it’s Prokhorov’s turn. Prokhorov woke up Sunday, looked at his terrible club and with his deep accent essentially mumbled: “I must break you.”

Billy King, the general manager, was reassigned while head coach Lionel Hollins was canned.

You don’t blow up your organization six weeks before the trading deadline unless you have a plan in place, right? Only Prokhorov, Nets CEO Brett Yormark and Dmitry Razumov, the owner’s right-hand man behind the Iron Curtain, know for sure.

Calipari is the primary target, according to several sources close to the Nets and Calipari. It will take a lot to get him, which means power and money, perhaps even a small piece of ownership. Remember, Cal’s not the desperate one here.

Calipari has been down this road before with the Nets and knows he’ll have to hire a smart general manager to handle the day-to-day business. The job requires heaving lifting. The Nets are in a complete rebuild without many assets.

The disastrous trade with the Celtics will haunt this franchise for a decade. Boston owns the Nets’ first-round pick in 2016 and 2018 and has the option to swap first-round picks in 2017. The Nets will have to start rebuilding through free agency and if we know one thing about Calipari it’s that he can recruit his designer suit off.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski digs into exactly what it might cost to get Calipari to Brooklyn, which surely will not come cheap if he’s right:

For the $123.2 million in luxury tax that Prokhorov has paid out, he’ll be toasted on the verandas and yachts of rival owners who’ve bathed in his wayward excesses. They pocketed his millions, pilfered his picks and beat the Nets senseless.

Prokhorov has drained his franchise’s natural resources – unloading seven first-round and 11 second-round picks in the five-plus years of deposed general manager Billy King’s regime. The Nets have no present, no future, no identity. They’re too impatient to hire an accomplished NBA GM and slowly, surely work themselves out of this ditch.

As much as anything, that’s why Nets CEO Brett Yormark is determined to repackage John Calipari as a franchise savior. The Nets couldn’t get star players to sell tickets and TV ratings, so he wants to try a star college coach. Again.

Yormark is pushing Prokhorov to reach back to the Nets’ Jersey roots, dust off a failed ’90s experiment and sell it as something sparkling and new. Twenty years ago, the Nets stunned everyone with a five-year, $15 million contract for the UMass coach. For Calipari to consider the Nets – and, yes, the Sacramento Kings, too – league sources tell Yahoo Sports that the teams have been informed of his asking price: 10 years, $120 million.

When Calipari spoke with minority ownership in Sacramento last spring, he told them that it would take an offer of $11 million-plus a year to get his attention, league sources said. Calipari turned down a 10-year, $80 million-plus offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, because he wouldn’t leave Kentucky with only an incremental raise on what is now an $8 million to $9 million annual package on campus.

Cleveland’s offer has become a baseline for Calipari’s contractual demands: He wants the 10 years and now the $12 million a year that Phil Jackson makes to run the Knicks.

Calipari’s sell will be this: As his old Kentucky stars – DeMarcus Cousins (2018), John Wall (2019) – become free agents, he’ll have the Nets positioned to sign them. His former players have largely kept excellent relationships with him, but there are those close to them who say that most of his ex-stars remain reluctant to committing to 82 games a year of Cal’s abrasive style. It wore out players fast in the 1990s in New Jersey, and Calipari would need to bring a different disposition to the NBA and prove that he’s willing to treat NBA players like men, not teenagers.

Around Calipari, there are some who prefer him to take the Kings job, because there’s more of an infrastructure in place. Brooklyn has been left in shambles, with immense limitations on reshaping the roster. Nevertheless, New York is New York, and Calipari has never stopped thinking about redeeming himself in the pros. His enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September makes it even easier to justify the years of NBA losing that will likely prelude a turnaround, because he no longer needs to keep shining that résumé for Springfield.

For Calipari, the perfect scenario will be engaging the Kings and Nets in a bidding war. In that instance, Prokhorov could be hard to beat. So now, there promises to be two parallel searches for the Brooklyn Nets’ next GM and coach: one that includes traditional candidates; and one that is the dance with Calipari. There were cringes within the Nets over the PR ramifications, but ownership plans to use King as a consultant on the search process.

Between now and the end of the college basketball season, Calipari will issue his typical denials on a return to the NBA, but talks will be ongoing and the leveraging intense. Calipari has always wanted back in the NBA, and the Nets give him a chance for everything he wants: the money, the power, the geography.

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No. 2: LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers — LeBron James took a ball to the face during his pregame warm up routine before Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. He got the last laugh, though, finishing with a season-high tying 37 points and saving his best for the finish in the Cavaliers’ win. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

Perhaps the signs were there during pregame warmups, as an errant pass plunked James in the face, leading to chuckles on social media.

The Cavaliers just didn’t look like themselves, far from the East’s best.

There were a few different chances to stretch the lead and turn the outcome into a laugher, just as they had done during the first two stops of the current six-game road trip.

But the plucky 76ers kept fighting.

In the NBA, though, fight and determination only take a team so far. Oftentimes having a four-time MVP, a player capable of single-handedly taking control, can erase an otherwise frustrating night.

That’s what James did, putting on a show for the near-sellout crowd in Philadelphia.

With the Cavs’ clinging to a two-point lead, 81-79, Cavs head coach David Blatt put his star back in the game.

James, who has traded the new-school “dab” celebration and his familiar “Silencer” for the mid-90’s “Raise the Roof,” lifted his team to victory before heading to Texas for a tough three-game stretch.

A 22-foot jumper ignited a 14-0 run, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to a game-high 16 points past the midway point of the final period. James scored 12 of the 14 points during that stretch and did it in a variety of ways. There were pull-up jumpers, three-points bombs and circus layups.

James finished with 37 points, tying his season-high total, on 15-of-22 from the field. He also added nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. As James was scorching, the rest of his teammates were struggling, showing frustration on a cold shooting night.

James could sense it and took it upon himself to change it.

“I was able to get enough of a break to get a little energy,” James said after the game. “I understand when I go back into the game I have to make plays. They needed me to put the ball in the hole tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.”

***

No. 3: Warriors stealing glances at all-time record — The Golden State Warriors can’t help themselves. Even with the San Antonio Spurs hot on their trail and plenty of potential roadblocks between them and history, they refuse to be intimidated by the thought of chasing a 73-win season. They remain on pace to top the 72-win mark set by Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. With a win over the Miami Heat tonight they’d be halfway there, writes Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group:

With so many team and individual milestones to keep track of, it was easy to overlook that the Warriors’ 35th victory of the season put them halfway to 70 wins after just 37 games.

Another victory against the Miami Heat on Monday night at Oracle Arena will put them halfway to 72, the NBA regular-season record established by Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

So is it OK to start talking about chasing the record yet? After all, the Warriors need to go “only” 38-7 the rest of the way to finish 73-9 and break the mark.

After Game 37 a year ago, the Warriors were 31-6, and they went 36-9 from there. That’s not far off from 38-7, so if nothing else, they are making it more plausible with each victory.

The Warriors will begrudgingly talk about the record if asked. But they still don’t really like thinking about it and won’t for a while.

“People ask us after games what it feels like to be whatever our record is at that point, and you get reminded where we are,” Stephen Curry said after the Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. “But when we’re out there on the floor, we’re not playing like if we lose, we’ll be off the pace. There’s no pressure when we’re out there, so that’s a good feeling.”

The pressure is certain to mount if the Warriors continue to stay ahead of the Bulls’ pace, but that will be difficult in itself. Michael Jordan and Co. were 34-3 after 37 games and would win seven in a row from there to go 41-3 before their fourth loss. They did not lose in the entire month of January that season, going 14-0.

The Warriors would rather not know the specifics.

“We understand what the big goal is, but in the moment, we just try to play well and do what we do, and hopefully that means we’ll get wins,” said Curry. “You hope to bottle up those emotions as you go through the season, because you can’t fast-forward to April and think about if we’re going to be within striking distance of the record or whatever.

“We want to be healthy and we want to be playing well, and if we have an opportunity at the end of the season to go get it, we should go get it, because that’s a huge record most people thought could never be broken. So we’ll talk about that when we get closer. But for now, let’s stay in the moment and play free, play our game and have fun doing it.”

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No. 4: Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder — A day after declaring his intentions for the franchise and the city of Portland, Damian Lillard backed up his words with decisive and explosive actions to lead the Trail Blazers past Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a vintage performance from one of the league’s most dynamic players. It also reinforced Lillard’s message, his vow to carry the team and city on his back, if need be, as they scratch and claw their way back to respectability. It was “Lillard Time” when it mattered most against the Thunder, writes Mike Richman of the Oregonian:

You have seen “Lillard Time” before. But not quite like this.

Damian Lillard scored 17 of his 31 points in the final 3:07 of the game, connecting on five three-pointers to power the Trail Blazers to a 115-110 comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night at the Moda Center.

“That was quite a performance by Dame in those two minutes,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We were battling the whole game and he came up big. I mean, he hit five threes in two minutes. You don’t see that very often.”

While Lillard was spectacular, dropping long-range step backs with defenders right in his face and adding a familiar tap of his wrist in the process, the Blazers pulled out the win on the defensive end.

Lillard hit back-to-back threes to cut a seven-point Thunder lead to 107-104 with 2:11 left. After Thunder big man Steven Adams split two free throws, Allen Crabbe got in on the long range assault, hitting a three-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to one.

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook pushed the lead back to three with two free throws, only to have Lillard tie the game at 110-all with a deep three-pointer right over the outstretched arm of Westbrook.

The Blazers defense backed up Lillard’s firepower. Al-Farouq Aminu came away with a key steal, tipping a pass from Thunder big man Serge Ibaka that led to a transition opportunity for the Blazers. Lillard, who had already made four three-pointers in the quarter, didn’t wait long to get another shot up, quickly hoisting a three-pointer from the right wing to put Portland up 113-110 with just over a minute remaining.

“It’s like that sometimes. When you see the ball go in a few times and then the team is defending you the way we defended and you just keep getting it back,” Lillard said. “You get a stop and you keep getting the ball back. I just wanted to ride it out and I was able to do it tonight.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall is doing his best to strike a balance while grinding through an injury-riddled season for the Washington Wizards … Spurs veteran David West had a special rooting interest in the Army All-American bowl over the weekend in San Antonio … Tired Jazz whip brutal Lakers, who worked without Kobe Bryant for the seventh time this seasonLuke Walton has fond memories of playing in Sacramento, dating all the way back to his high school days … The Detroit Pistons are eyeballing a top four spot in the Eastern Conference standings and all that comes with itZach Randolph and the Grizzlies keep it grimy and rolling at home

Curry likely to return to action Friday against Trail Blazers

Earlier Thursday, it was pretty clear Stephen Curry wasn’t going to be sidelined for any significant length of time by his bruised left shin. Later in the day, the duration of Curry’s absence got snugged up to, well, no further time at all.

Since Curry’s sore shin is a pain issue rather than an injury-potentially-leading-to-complications issue, his ability to tolerate the discomfort seemed to be carrying the day. At Golden State’s workout in El Segundo, Calif., between its road games against the Lakers and the Trail Blazers, beat writer Diamond Leung of bayareanewsgroup.com was on hand when Warriors interim coach Luke Walton addressed Curry’s availability for Friday’s game at Portland. Let’s just say, don’t expect any C.J. McCollum-like pine time due to clerical error, medical prognosis or anything else for the league’s reigning MVP:

“If the trainers and him say he’s good to play, then we’ll play him,” [Walton] said Thursday.

Overhearing the topic of Walton’s interview, Curry interjected, “I want to play!”

Harrison Barnes is expected to come off the bench again after having recently recovered from a sprained ankle.

Festus Ezeli (rest from sore toe) and James Michael McAdoo (sprained left toe) practiced.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .


VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 2


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Walton was right for Warriors job | Does robbery make Knicks tougher sell? | Porzingis taking safer route as rookie | Is Jabari Parker taking a step back?

No. 1: Walton was right for Warriors’ job — When Steve Kerr developed complications from back surgery and had to take an indefinite leave of absence, folks rightly wondered if the Warriors had a decent replacement. Remember, Alvin Gentry bolted months earlier for the Pelicans job and the Warriors didn’t hire an experienced replacement to lend an ear to Kerr. Luke Walton, who didn’t bring much seasoning, took over and the Warriors haven’t looked back. With Kerr bracing for a return, possibly this weekend, Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group writes what we all now know: Walton was a good choice …

With Walton guiding them as the interim head coach, the defending NBA champion Warriors have gone on a dream ride and steamrolled the competition on their way to the best start in league history at 30-2. As Walton appears to be winding down his stint, his success should not have come as a complete surprise.

Kerr, who could soon return from his leave of absence after a spinal fluid leak sidelined him, trusted the 35-year-old caretaker of the team to strike a familiar tone that balances competitiveness with calm.

“When he delivers a message, he’s comfortable,” Kerr said. “He’s really made for it. Nothing rattles him.”

Walton did have his sense of security shaken off the court during the Warriors’ undefeated November. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle that his wife, Bre, drives was allegedly stolen from their home and crashed. Even for the 20-year-old man arrested on felony charges of first-degree residential burglary and unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle, Walton offered compassion.

“I feel bad for the kid,” said Walton, who grew up in an area of San Diego where the front door was rarely locked. “I mean, seriously, you’ve got a 20-year-old kid. What’s going on in his life that that’s what it’s coming to at the age of 20 years old?

When Walton was 20, he was a 6-foot-8, curly-haired redshirt freshman point forward at the University of Arizona. He was just starting a playing career molded by the Hall of Fame voices that are still in his head today as a coach on a meteoric rise.

Walton’s free-spirited father, Hall of Fame player Bill Walton, considered Arizona coach Lute Olson to be the modern-day version of UCLA’s John Wooden, whose sayings (“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”) were scrawled onto Luke’s lunch bags as a child.

“He was a master at the fundamentals of the game and paying attention to the smallest details in practice, and I — probably from him — am a huge believer in those things,” Luke Walton said of Olson.

“Whether it’s footwork or it’s the way we’re defending a screen-and-roll, the positioning of our screens, those type of things I’m naturally always looking for from the sideline.”

Walton led all frontcourt players in the country in assists as a junior in the Wildcats’ up-tempo offense. He flourished as a cerebral and outspoken player who could read defenses and direct his teammates to the right places on the floor. He could command a huddle, according to point guard Jason Gardner, who with Walton served as senior captains.

***

No. 2: Does robbery make Knicks a tougher sell? — When Cleanthony Early was robbed at gunpoint outside a Queens’ club in the wee morning hours a few days ago, it shed more light on the potential dangers of athletes being in nightclubs because their wealth and celebrity can make them targets. Because this happened in New York, where everything is magnified, it wasn’t a surprise when a New York writer wondered aloud if the Big Apple could be off-limits to some free agents who don’t like big city living. Frank Isola of the Daily News took it a step further and weighed whether the Early robbery was a red flag for those free agents:

In the span of eight months, Chris Copeland was stabbed outside a Manhattan nightclub; another NBA player, Thabo Sefolosha, had his leg broken by a New York policeman; Derrick Williams was allegedly robbed by two women he invited into his apartment, and our newest victim, Cleanthony Early, was robbed and shot outside a strip club in Queens.

This all occurred within a 10-mile radius of the NBA league office and Madison Square Garden, two institutions damaged the most by a string of crimes in which the victims are mostly guilty of poor judgment.

That was certainly true of Early, a 24-year-old second-year role player who was fortunate not to lose his life in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday in Queens. His career, however, could be in jeopardy.

Early becomes the latest example of the old adage that nothing good happens after midnight. The same can be said of his Knicks teammate, Williams, who was allegedly robbed of nearly $700,000 in jewelry by two women 10 days earlier.

Early’s case is much more horrifying and evil. It was around 4 a.m. Wednesday when Early was robbed at gunpoint and shot in his right knee for good measure.

Really, what more can the NBA do than just hope its players will avoid trouble and exercise good old common sense. Some of the league’s bigger stars are accompanied by security guards when they venture into public places, including nightclubs.

But security detail and curfews won’t prevent NBA players from entering clubs and enjoying the spoils of being rich, young and famous. Besides being famous, Williams and Early are no different than some hot shot young attorney or hedge fund guys with plenty of disposable income. The motto is simple: have money, will party.

“We all are targets at the end of the day,” Carmelo said on Wednesday. “Regardless of how much love people will show you and whether you feel comfortable being in this place or that place, it will always be that one person who thinks differently, who feels you shouldn’t be in the position that you’re in, that you shouldn’t be as blessed as you are.

“So it will always be the 99 people who are bigging you up and then the one person over here who is trying to take you down.”

***

No. 3: Porzingis takes the safe route as a rookie — Of course, New York can be a very safe place if you take precaution. That’s what a certain Knicks rookie has chosen. Maybe it’s because he’s 7-foot-3 and easy to spot, and because he’s already a celebrity, and because he makes millions. But Kristaps Porzingis, only 20, has not only stayed away from certain hot spots in New York, he has “security” in the form of his parents. Here’s Mark Berman of the New York Post with more:

If any Knick is a good bet to stay out of trouble, it is Porzingis, who often has said he is in New York City only for the games.

Porzingis, who claims to not drink, is living in a cocoon in White Plains with his parents from Latvia and his two brothers.

“It’s always good to have support around as young as I am and New York with a lot of attention,’’ Porzingis said at the United Center on Friday. “My family’s around to make sure I’m doing the right thing and staying out of trouble and focused on basketball. For me, it’s great to have family around.’’

The Knicks are reeling from two ugly incidents in a space of 11 days that prompted GM Steve Mills to give a talk to the players before they flew to Chicago for New Year’s Eve. The Knicks face the Bulls on Friday night.

Knicks forward Derrick Williams allegedly got robbed of $750,000 worth of jewelry two weeks ago by two women he met at a club and took back to his apartment in the wee hours.

On Wednesday at about 4:15 a.m., Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was robbed and shot in the right knee after leaving a Queens strip joint and being held up by at least six bandits.

“It’s sad that things like that happen,’’ said Porzingis, the first Knick to tweet a sympathetic message to Early on Wednesday morning. “It shows how careful you have to be in those situations.’’

Although the drinking age in Latvia is 18, Porzingis says he does not drink at all. And as far as going out to a nightclub, Porzingis said, “I’m 20 years old.’’

***

No. 4: Is Jabari Parker taking a step backward? — He was widely considered by scouts to be the most NBA-ready player taken in the draft a few years ago. Then Jabari Parker got hurt less than two months into his rookie season and missed almost a year following knee surgery. He has made a triumphant return this season and shows flashes of being the player the Bucks projected when he left Duke. But he hasn’t put it all together just yet. Does Parker deserve the benefit of time, or does his sporadic struggles mean he’s in for an inconsistent season? Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel takes a look:

The 6-foot-8 forward firmly believes he will break out of it soon.

“I know what skills I have,” Parker said. “I’m just playing my role. It’s there. It’s always been there.”

Parker was 2 of 11 from the field and scored five points in the Bucks’ 131-123 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night and was 2 of 7 with six points in a 103-93 loss at Dallas to begin the Bucks’ four-game trip Monday night.

He played just 18 minutes in each game.

In the past six games he has connected on just 22 of 60 shots (36.7%), and that includes an 8 of 10 performance against the Philadelphia 76ers last week.

Parker tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last December and missed the final 57 games of his rookie season after undergoing surgery. He worked hard throughout the summer and returned to action Nov. 4 against Philadelphia, in the fifth game of the season.

He has showed explosiveness at the rim and finished some spectacular dunks, but he has struggled with his medium-range jumper while shooting 45.7% from the field. Parker is averaging 10.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 27 games, including 23 starts.

“He has had some very good games,” Prunty said. “He’s been very helpful and he’s important to what we do. Obviously there are games where he’s going through a learning curve.

“I think people tend to look at offensive statistics, but we’re always trying to grow on both sides of the ball. So defensively and offensively he’s made great strides. We like where he is. But like all our players, we’re trying to get better every single day.”

Donovan said Parker — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft — would not necessarily remain a power forward as he continues his NBA journey.

“Seeing him in high school, I don’t think people realize this,” Donovan said. “He played the center spot; he played the point guard spot.

But he admitted the last few weeks have been rough, not only for him but the team, as it has dropped nine games below the .500 level. He said it’s a matter of confidence with his jump shot right now.

“We’re losing; everyone is always disappointed,” he said. “I have to stay positive, do what I can control, just play hard.

“I still believe in my team, regardless of anything. I still believe in us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stats really don’t tell how good a season LeBron James is having … Marcus Morris of the Pistons, twin brother of recently suspended Markieff Morris, gives his thoughts about the SunsRudy Gobert is angling for a recovery and return for Utah … The Nuggets could use a breather for some of their workhorse players Dwyane Wade is going strong to the rim again.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr getting closer to return | Report: Nash, Sarver to buy Spanish soccer team | Early opens up about robbery, shooting | Time for Kings, Cousins to shape up

No. 1: Kerr getting closer to return to Warriors’ bench — Last year couldn’t have gone much better for the Golden State Warriors. Not only did they close out the 2015 portion of this season with an NBA-best 30-2 mark, but they finished with the second-most wins in a calendar year in NBA history, too. Last night, they handled the Houston Rockets on the road in a game that may very well have been interim coach Luke Walton‘s finale as the lead man. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more on coach Steve Kerr potentially returning to the bench this weekend:

Head coach Steve Kerr, who has been on a leave of absence while recovering from two offseason back surgeries and a spinal fluid leak, traveled with the team for its back-to-back set in Dallas and Houston — something he hadn’t done since the Warriors played at the Clippers on Nov. 19.

During the 17-day home span before the Texas two-step, Kerr was more involved in practices and game-planning. He even addressed the team after Monday’s sloppy first half against Sacramento.

Most signs are pointing toward Kerr’s return to the bench in the near future, maybe even Saturday for a home game against Denver.

Walton said Kerr wanted to make the trip to see how his body and mind would respond to the travel and because he was going stir crazy when the team was on the road.

“He seems good,” Walton said. “He’s in good spirits. He’s furious at me for getting him another loss (Wednesday) night, but other than that, he seems like he’s handling it pretty well.

“If it is (my last game), it was a lot of fun. I’ll be thrilled to have Steve back coaching us again, but I haven’t spent any time thinking about this possibly being my last game as head coach.”

The Warriors responded to their 114-91 loss in Dallas on Wednesday by getting contributions from nine of their 10 healthy players. Stephen Curry (lower leg) and Festus Ezeli (toe) missed their second consecutive games, and Leandro Barbosa(shoulder), Harrison Barnes (ankle) and Kevon Looney (hip) were left in the Bay Area to continue their recoveries.

The Warriors (30-2) haven’t lost consecutive regular-season games since April 5 at San Antonio and April 7 at New Orleans, and they seemed determined not to let it happen again.

 

“I can’t wait to have Steve back. When he’s back in the gym, we’re on extra edge, because it’s like, ‘Oh shoot, we don’t want to disappoint Coach,’” Klay Thompson said. “When he does come back — whenever that is — I hope he gets a huge ovation, because he’s the one who puts this all together.…

“Shoot, this won’t be Luke’s last game as a head coach. He’s got a great future in this league. His record exemplifies that, and he’s a lot of fun to play for. He keeps it light around here, but we also respect his knowledge. There’s a reason we’re 30-2.”


VIDEO: Golden State handles Houston on the road

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry’s absence could be brief | Butler: Hoiberg ‘holding me accountable’ | Kobe relishes final Boston trip

No. 1: Curry’s injury absence may be brief — The Golden State Warriors are 29-1 this season with reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry in the lineup … and 0-1 without him. Last night, the Warriors suffered a 114-91 throttling on the road in Dallas as J.J. Barea carved up the Golden State defense time and again. The good news for Golden State fans, though, according to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, is that Curry isn’t going to miss much more time:

The Warriors seemingly got good news Wednesday when the results of the MRI exam on StephenCurry’s lower left leg showed only a bruise, possibly costing him just one game.

Interim head coach Luke Walton, who is saddled with filling the gaping hole left by the league’s MVP — as seen in the Warriors’ 114-91 loss to Dallas on Wednesday — said the only real relief would have been a medical report declaring Curry healthy and available to play right away.

“We told the guys that we need everyone else to step up, but not with an individual attitude: ‘I’m going to go get these points for us.’ It’s got to be: ‘We are going to do this, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to look for our shots, we’re going to attack, and we’re going to create for our teammates,’” Walton said. “It’s got to be a team effort to fill that type of void.…

“It’s always interesting to see how guys will rise to that challenge and still get after it and compete. I think we have guys who will try to do that.”

Curry headed to the team bus after the game, wearing a Chewbacca backpack and electing not to talk to reporters about his injury.

The MVP is considered day-to-day, with the Warriors even leaving open the chance of him playing at Houston on Thursday. Walton said being without Curry for a brief time won’t change the way the Warriors approach games.

Shaun Livingston started Wednesday, and Andre Iguodala also logged point-guard minutes, but the Warriors like to monitor the minutes of the players in their 30s with injury histories. So Ian Clark, who scored a personal-high 21 points Wednesday, could receive extended playing time until Curry returns.

“Knowing Steph, he’ll want to get back on the court as soon as possible,” Walton said. “Having the record that we do is definitely a luxury, as far as it not being necessary for him to come back too soon.…

“But he’s one of those guys who wants to be out there. He wants to be with his team, and he wants to be competing. A lot of that will be decided between the medical staff and Steph.”


VIDEO: Dallas drops Golden State in Texas

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Top plays from Christmas Day games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better | James wants clarity from Cavaliers | Rockets leave coal for Spurs | Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting

No. 1: Warriors beat Cavs, believe they can play even better You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even the most rabid Warriors fan, who truly thinks the Warriors have underperformed this season. After all, after last night’s 89-83 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the highly anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Warriors moved to a ridiculous 28-1 on the season, which included a 24-game winning streak. That is, it’s hard to find criticism unless you talk to the actual Warriors players themselves, as our Scott Howard-Cooper did, where you find that the Warriors believe despite all the W’s, they aren’t playing all that great and still have room to grow

“Look,” center Andrew Bogut said, “we haven’t played great the last 10 games. That’s something that we’ve addressed in this locker room.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well,” power forward Draymond Green said. “Even tonight. We did some good things, but I still don’t think we’ve played well.”

“I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “Before that, our defense was struggling.”

Help is on the way, if only the Warriors can hold it together another couple weeks and avoid the all-out panic that will come if they slump all the way to, say, 75-win pace and only break the single-season record by three games as opposed to the current tracking to 79 victories. Good news is on the horizon for a change.

Coach Steve Kerr, out since the early days of training camp while recovering from the effects of two back surgeries in the offseason, is nearing a return. He stepped in for an ill Walton to run practice Tuesday, the interim to the interim, watched the Cleveland game from the coaches’ office in Oracle and plans to accompany the team on the Dallas-Houston back-to-back that begins Wednesday while Walton continues to lead. While the Warriors continue to avoid targeting a return date, the increased activity raises the possibility Kerr could be back as soon as Jan. 2 against the Nuggets in Oakland.

Forward Harrison Barnes, out the last 12 games with a sprained left ankle, was in some of the scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday participated in three-on-three drills with the team. Being listed as doubtful for Friday showed there was at least the thought he could play against the Cavaliers, so Monday against the Kings at Oracle or the two games in Texas are all possibilities.

The next week or two, depending on the actual return dates and how long Barnes will need to work back into game shape, could become an eventful time in the season of a defending champion, and that just doesn’t happen very often in early-January. Golden State will be whole again, assuming no one else gets hurt in the meantime, with Barnes an important piece as the starting small forward and also one of the triggers to the successful small-ball lineup when he moves to power forward.

It would have been impossible on opening night to imagine the Warriors would stand at 28-1 under any circumstances, let alone 28-1 with a coach younger than several players around the league and stepping in with two previous seasons as an assistant, with a concussion costing Bogut six games and Barnes’ absence. Now imagine the Warriors at 28-1 and thinking they will start to play better in the future.

“Maybe a little bit,” Bogut said.

Maybe more than a little bit.

“There’s part of it that [makes me mad] and there’s part of it that makes me very, very happy,” Green said. “I think we’ve got a lot of improving to do, and we will.”

Mad because the Warriors are not happy with how they have played lately. The happy: “Because what are we? Twenty-eight and one? You’re 28-1 and you’re not near playing well, that’s exciting. We know we know how to get to that point and we know we’ll reach that point. And when we do, I think that’s trouble because if we’re 28-1 and we’re not playing well, imagine where we are. That’s why it excites me.

***

No. 2: James wants clarity from Cavaliers Meanwhile, the Warriors’ vanquished Christmas Day foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers, drop to 19-8. That’s still good enough for the lead in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavs getting more players back from injury and healthy, including Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, the Cavs have more options available than ever before. And after the loss to the Warriors, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon writes, LeBron James would like to see the Cavs discover a rhythm going forward

After the Cavs lost 89-83 to the defending champion Warriors on Golden State’s home court, where it’s now won 32 in a row during the regular season, dating back to last year, James repeatedly mentioned the lack of continuity the Cavs had on the court and suggested that at least some of it had to do with David Blatt‘s rotation.

“It’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm,” James said.

The lineups and the newness need some context, and what James said about them was nothing like the cool attitude he directed toward Blatt at times last season.

In fact, James didn’t name his coach specifically on Friday, but the bottom line was James called for Blatt and his staff to gain perhaps a clearer sense of who they want to play, and when, now that the entire team is healthy.

“For us to have a full unit, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to play some games where we know what we want to do, what lineups we want to play out there,” James said.

“It’s an adjustment period, it’s not just going to happen – you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens,” he continued. “It’s going to be an adjustment period, but we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine toward February and March.”

This was just the second game this season that the Cavs had all 15 players available, due to season-long injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert.

That’s not Blatt’s fault, but, it was the head coach who placed James, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson on the court to start the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season they’d all been on the court at the same time.

When Irving and Kevin Love subbed in for James and Smith with 10:06 left in the quarter, the Cavs still had a lineup that had never played together. Those are just two examples.

Richard Jefferson did not play at all against the Warriors. Mo Williams logged 4:39, and James Jones, a favorite of James, played just 1:34.

James led the Cavs with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds, but shot 10-of-26 and was a brutal 4-of-9 from the foul line. He took the blame for that, saying “I wasn’t very good, inefficient, and it trickled down to everybody else.”

The Cavs’ 83 points, 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range were season lows. Irving (13 points) shot 4-of-15 and Love (10 points, 18 rebounds) was 5-of-16. Cleveland assisted on just 12-of-30 baskets.

“For the first time, for a long period of time we had some different lineups out there,” James explained, talking about the woes on offense. “And against a championship team like this, it’s kind of hard to do that on the fly. We’re not making no excuses, we still got to be a lot better, still got to move the ball, got to share the ball, get it moving from side to side, but offensively we were all out of rhythm.

“You credit to their defense, for sure, and then the lack of detail.”

***

No. 3: Rockets leave coal for Spurs While the Warriors have romped through the NBA this season, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly put in work as well, and entered yesterday’s Christmas game against the Houston Rockets with a sparkling 25-5 record. Their opponent, the Houston Rockets, have struggled to find an identity, firing a coach (Kevin McHale) and getting inconsistent play from their superstars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. But on a big stage yesterday, the Rockets turned to their defense to grind out an 88-84 win over the Spurs, and as our Fran Blinebury writes, Houston got a present from their veteran reserve guard, Jason Terry

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn’t just Terry’s nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they’re really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don’t get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

“The Jet” puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

“That’s what I’ve prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment,” Terry said. “In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective.”

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry’s task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden’s pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it’s good to know that you’ve got that arrow in your quiver, but it can’t be enough to think he’ll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry’s spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after J.B. Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That’s now likely to change.

“I just feel like we need him on the floor,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he’s one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he’ll do the right thing, but I trust that he’ll perform and then I trust that he’ll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

“You can’t speak enough about him. He’s a class guy. He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’ll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every since I’ve known him he’s been that way.”

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No. 4: Kobe surprised at huge lead in early All-Star voting The first 2016 All-Star voting results are in, and while there are still several more rounds to go, at least for now, Kobe Bryant has a huge lead over everyone else in the NBA, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Considering Kobe’s global appeal and previously announced retirement plans, it shouldn’t come a complete surprise that fans want to see him on the NBA’s big stage one final time. But as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the numbers apparently shocked at least one person: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant has 719,235 votes — well ahead of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry (510,202), the next-highest vote-getter, and more than twice as many as Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (357,937).

After the Lakers’ 94-84, Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant said he was more than a little surprised he had such a wide lead.

“Listen, I was making a little coffee run this morning, got some gas and decided to just go on Instagram and peruse,” he said, “and [I] saw the damn votes, and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”

He added, “It’s exciting. What can I say? Just thankful.”

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, would be Bryant’s last, as he has announced his plans to retire after this season, his 20th in the NBA. His 17 All-Star selections are second all-time behind former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 19. Bryant, 37, is the leading scorer in NBA All-Star history (280 points).

This year marks the first time that the 6-foot-6 Bryant is being listed as a member of the frontcourt in All-Star voting. In previous years, he has been listed as a guard. The second-highest vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (349,473).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game that Bryant deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

“A lot of people disagree with me on that. That’s fine. I have my opinion. I think Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I don’t care if he’s a starter of if they figure out a 13th spot for him. [With] what he’s done in his career, he should be on the All-Star team, and I don’t see any debate in that. You can have one, but I’m not hearing it.”

But what if someone else were left off, such as one of Rivers’ players?

“It would be awful, but Kobe should be on the All-Star team,” Rivers said. “I think they should have a special exception and put 13 guys on if that’s the case if he wasn’t in one of the top 12 as far as voting or whatever. But I just believe he should be on it. Magic [Johnson] was on, Michael [Jordan] was on with the Wizards. I think certain guys earn that right, and unfortunately for other guys who can’t make it, they have to earn that right too.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Chicago Bulls may have turned a corner with their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday … Steph Curry doesn’t think he’s “hurting” basketball, regardless of what his former coach Mark Jackson says … Chris Bosh punctuated Miami’s win over New Orleans yesterday by talking trash to Anthony Davis down the stretchEvan Fournier has broken out of his slump in Orlando … You can ask him questions, but doesn’t have to answer them …


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