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Posts Tagged ‘Portland Trail Blazers’

Morning shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs (yawn) set more marks | Running with Bulls proves hazardous | Pacers need to snap out of it | Jazz’s Exum waits, watches, learns

No. 1: Spurs (yawn) set more marks — San Antonio has been so good for so long – 19 consecutive seasons of 50 victories (or the equivalent in 1998-99’s 37-13 post-lockout finish), five NBA titles – that it hardly seems possible for the Spurs to top themselves. But they did that Saturday, beating Toronto to set a franchise mark for victories in a season and extend their perfect mark this season at the AT&T Center. Interesting that on such a memorable night, it wasn’t Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili leading the way but rather Kawhi Leonard (career-high 33 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (31 points, 15 rebounds). As usual, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News was there to chronicle it:

The Spurs’ 64 wins – next to 12 losses – set a franchise record, snapping a tie with the 63-win squad from 2005-06.

The 39-0 mark at home continued the best single-season streak in NBA history. The Spurs’ 48th consecutive regular-season win at the AT&T Center continued a streak rendered the longest active home streak in the league after Golden State lost a night before to Boston.

None of this information made coach Gregg Popovich’s postgame speech.

“There’s not much we’re allowed to care about,” guard Danny Green said. “We made the playoffs. We care about that. Being healthy and winning games in the playoffs – those are the things we care about.”

With the playoffs two weeks out, Popovich wasn’t much impressed by the Spurs’ seven-point win over a Toronto team resting All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

He didn’t think his defenders did a good job of staying in front of the Raptors’ wing players. He thought his team’s offensive execution was satisfactory for only about a half.

Popovich said he wanted to get meaningful minutes for most of his starters, and accomplished that.

“We got that done,” Popovich said, “but we didn’t play great.”

Even so, the Spurs can go a ways in the playoffs with Aldridge and Leonard producing nights like Saturday.

It marked the first time the Spurs had two players reach 30 points since a Dec. 28, 2012 win over Houston, when Tony Parker and Tim Duncan hit that threshold.

Against the Raptors, no player other than Aldridge or Leonard reached double figures.

Yet the Spurs still doled out 28 assists, led by Leonard’s seven, proof that the ball still moved.

If Popovich seemed typically curmudgeon-like in his postgame comments, it wasn’t any big departure from his in-game demeanor. Consider his reaction when guard Patty Mills, on a 1-for-6 night from 3-point range, finally hit his lone long ball in the fourth quarter:

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Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade at another career crossroads | Crowder’s absence costing Celtics | Portland avoids “sickening” loss | Frye shows value, quietly and from distance

No. 1: Wade at another career crossroads — You can find plenty of advance coverage on this site to whet your appetite for Saturday night’s Big Game. But there’s another big game that starts an hour earlier pitting two rivals from the other conference – Cleveland at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – and the Miami Herald’s Ethan Skolnick provides a window into that one with his column on Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and his team’s need for a Wade resurgence during this March Madness portion of their schedule:

“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”

He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.

“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”

He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Erik Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”

As in him attacking earlier in possessions.

However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.

No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.

It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.

It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.

Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.

Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.

“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”

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 No. 2: Crowder’s absence costing Celtics — It’s not likely to earn Celtics forward Jae Crowder many votes on NBA Most Valuable Player ballots, but Boston’s 0-3 slump since the Marquette product suffered a high ankle sprain last week has highlighted Crowder’s individual value within his team’s ensemble approach. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com examined that after the Celtics’ loss to Eastern Conference rival Toronto:

The Celtics, who held a comfy lead on the third seed two weeks ago, have slipped all the way to No. 6 in the East, a half-game behind both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat and a game back of the Atlanta Hawks. What Stevens said two weeks ago is actually true now: Boston is four games away from ninth place.

With only 13 games left in the regular season, it remains highly unlikely that the Celtics could fall much further, but given the injuries they’re battling and the poor brand of basketball they are playing, it’s understandable why some might be leery.

“We have to change something up,” Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Toronto. “We got ourselves back into [Friday’s] game, so we showed signs of playing like we know how, but a good team like the Raptors you can’t just play one good quarter.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics are in the midst of a brutally tough stretch, exacerbated by the fact that they lost Jae Crowder to a high ankle sprain last Friday, and one of the players expected to help fill his shoes, Jonas Jerebko, missed the past two games with a left foot injury

Despite visiting a Raptors team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and was coming off an overtime win in Indiana on Thursday, the Celtics let Toronto build a big first-half lead, then didn’t have enough energy themselves to sustain a second-half rally.

The Celtics miss Crowder more than most expected, in part because Boston’s depth at the swingman spot is so thin. What’s more, with Crowder starting the first 66 games of the season, it was not obvious just how much of a drop-off there would be without him.

And while Crowder might be Boston’s best two-way player, the team really seems to miss his swagger and intensity. Boston simply looks tentative, and that may be why there’s an uneasiness in playing with a makeshift rotation in which players called upon to fill larger roles have struggled to rise to the challenge.

Second-year guard Marcus Smart initially elevated to Crowder’s starting small forward role, but with Smart stuck in a bit of a shooting slump, Stevens elected to shake things up a bit on Friday by moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup.

The Raptors — and Luis Scola in particular — shot so well at the start of the game that Boston’s starters were minus-13 in six minutes of floor time. The Celtics, tied for the fourth-best defensive rating in the league while allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions, saw their first unit allow an offensive rating of 210 over the first six minutes of the first quarter.

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No. 3:  Portland avoids “sickening” loss — Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers understandably were upset about Kendrick Perkins‘ dangerous clotheslining foul on guard Damian Lillard early in the fourth quarter Friday, a play that got Perkins ejected and put Lillard down hard in New Orleans. But Lillard himself and his teammates were grateful afterward to escape with a victory that, had the Pelicans completed their comeback, might have left the Blazers feeling like they’d left the French Quarter having had way too much to drink and eat. Mike Richman of The Oregonian was there:

As Damian Lillard walked back out on to the court with 1:23 left in the game he glanced up at the scoreboard and started to feel an uneasiness deep in his gut.

“I remember walking out of a timeout and thinking, ‘Man if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I’m going to be sick about this,'” Lillard said. “After I had that thought, I decided we wasn’t going to lose this game.”

The Blazers flirted with a devastating collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, blowing a 20-point lead and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, before pulling out a crucial, 117-112, win at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t just that the Blazers almost coughed up a huge lead. The Pelicans played the entire second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis and the Blazers were in danger of losing three straight games to open a four-game trip. With all that in the background, dropping this game would have rightfully made Lillard ill

“It was truly a test,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio and then coming out tonight we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in.”

Portland’s offense struggled in the fourth quarter and New Orleans first took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jrue Holiday, putting the Pelicans up 105-102 with just over three minutes remaining.

Then after the Blazers knocked down three free throws to go back up one, former Blazer Tim Frazier hit a pull-up jumper to give New Orleans a 107-106 edge with 2:13 left.

“They started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence,” Lillard said. “I think we were down by two with under a minute and it was like, ‘It’s really gut check time'”

After the teams traded empty possessions, the Blazers took a timeout with just under 90 seconds left. Lillard told himself in the huddle he wouldn’t let the Blazers lose and then the star point guard made good on his declaration.

***

No. 4: Frye shows value, quietly and from distance — Might as well lick your index finger and hold it up to the sky to know which way the wind is blowing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who change directions and shift moods as if with the weather. But in the wake of their victory over Orlando, veteran forward Channing Frye – Cleveland’s notable trade-deadline acquisition – looked to have found a helpful role, whether it lasts or not. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled Frye’s satisfying performance (14 points) against his former team in the Magic Kingdom and its meaning for Cleveland:

The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-for-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-for-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It’s the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team’s other personnel.

“I know he feels good about that,” said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn’t keep up the ruse either. “This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part to our team now.”

Frye’s reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don’t totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.

Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, [Victor] Oladipo‘s performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.

It’s equally a mystery as to whether Fyre’s growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.

But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 — and started looking to trade him just a year into it — had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.

“When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn’t work out like that,” Frye said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis, despite suffering significant blowouts (2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more), has managed to stay afloat in the grueling West. How? Our John Schuhmann breaks down numbers that reveal the Grizzlies’ resiliency in close games. … ICYMI: Scott Howard-Cooper from right here at NBA.com, in advance of the big Warriors-Spurs game, analyzed Golden State’s end game and how getting whole might conflict with the pursuit of 73 victories. … Carmelo Anthony says he has no idea yet what will happen this summer with his New York Knicks and, naturally, that generates headlines for a tabloid. … If you’re going to feel sorry for Melo in his current Knicks plight, save a little sympathy for Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young, who has endured more than his share of losing in nine NBA seasons. … John Wall is turning over the ball too often and the Wizards point guard knows it. … Lakers coach Byron Scott would love to see Brandon Bass stick with the team next season for his veteran influence and timely contributions, but the ball most definitely will be in Bass’ court. … Russell Westbrook, in one fell swoop, has done something that surpasses both Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. … Trey Schwab spent six years working with the Minnesota Timberwolves and, before that, grew tight with former NBA coaches Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman during their time together in the CBA. Those NBA roots are enough to merit inclusion here of a story, long on NCAA tournament flavor, about Schwab’s special relationship with Indiana University coach Tom Crean. Get well, Trey. … And finally, this shout-out to the NBA’s senior “Professor” …

Numbers notes: Close games have kept Grizzlies afloat


VIDEO: Antetokounmpo’s 15 points and 11 assists lead the Bucks over Memphis on Thursday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies are having a weird season. Right now, they’re just trying to survive with Marc Gasol out for the season and a plethora of other injuries. Seven other Grizzlies missed Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee and only three guys — JaMychal Green, Ryan Hollins and Jarell Martin — have played all 10 games in March. Hollins was signed in January and Martin had played in four games prior to this month.

On Monday, with eight guys out, the Grizzlies lost by 49 points in Houston. It was the second time this season that they’ve lost by at least that many points, having lost 119-69 at Golden State in their fourth game of the season.

The Grizzlies are 2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more and have been outscored by 112 points this season, the ninth best mark in the Western Conference. Yet, they’re 39-30 and in fifth place, despite a four-game losing streak.

Only the Warriors (24-1) and Spurs (15-6) have been better in games that were within five points in the last five minutes than the Grizzlies, who are 25-12 in those games. Memphis has both a top-five offense and a top-five defense in clutch situations.

The Western Conference point differential standings would have the Spurs as the top seed in the West and the Jazz as the five seed, with the Grizzlies in the Lottery. In the East, the Pistons would be in and the Bulls would be out.

With all their injuries, the Grizzlies are seemingly sinking in the real standings, and they have the toughest remaining schedule among teams currently seeded 5-9 in the West. But they still have a four-game lead for fifth place, because the teams behind them haven’t posed much of a threat to move up. The sixth-place Blazers have lost six of their last eight games, struggling against a tough schedule. The seventh-place Rockets are 9-12 since late January and the eighth-place Mavs have lost six of their last seven.

Defensive discrepancy in and out of Utah

The ninth-place Jazz have won four straight after a 3-10 stretch and are just a game behind the Rockets and Mavs. But the Jazz play their next five games on the road, where they haven’t defended nearly as well they have at home. In fact, no team has a bigger home-road differential in defensive efficiency than Utah.

20160318_defrtg_home-road

Even since they got Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back from injuries, the Jazz have struggled to get stops away from home. They’ve allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions over the 11 road games since Favors returned in late January.

After trading Enes Kanter and promoting Gobert to starting center, the Jazz were the league’s best defensive team, by a wide margin, after the All-Star break last season. They’ve been a good defensive team this year, but haven’t been able to replicate last year’s late-season success.

Utah’s five-game trip begins Saturday in Chicago and includes two games against top-10 offenses, including a critical game in Houston next Wednesday.

The Jazz, though, do have a much easier remaining schedule than the Mavs, who look like the pick to miss the playoffs.

20160318_west_sos

Backing their way in

The Grizzlies’ season-long mark of minus-112 wouldn’t be close to being the worst plus-minus for a playoff team. Last year’s Nets (minus-236) claimed eighth place in the East by winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Indiana, who had a positive plus-minus (plus-23) for the season.

The Nets’ mark was the worst raw point differential for a playoff team since the 1991-92 Miami Heat (minus-345). That Heat team (38-44) is one of two since the 1970-71 season that won 10 more games than their point differential said they should. They made the playoffs with a point differential of a 28-54 team.

The 1985-86 Clippers also had a 10-game differential between their actual wins (32) and “expected” wins (22), a mark that could be eclipsed by this year’s Grizzlies with another loss by 40-plus. And with four more games against the Spurs and Warriors, that’s a real possibility.

Morning shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs deny lack of composure in loss | Bogut blasts his ‘dirty’ label | Bosh surprises Heat, sits on bench vs. Nuggets | Anthony: Knicks ‘gotta do something’ this summer

No. 1: Cavs deny lack of composure in loss to Jazz — The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Salt Lake City on a roll, having won three straight on the road as they closed out a four-game West coast road swing. With news that the Jazz would be without leading scorer Gordon Hayward (plantar fasciitis) on Monday, the Cavs were seen as even bigger favorites to win. Yet Cleveland couldn’t contain Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors as Utah won 94-85 in a chippy game at times. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com says although things got physical in Salt Lake City last night, the Cavs do not feel they lost their composure at any point:

A quick glance at the Cavs’ 94-85 loss to the Utah Jazz, and it would seem some composure issues surfaced.

To wit:

  • The Cavs were whistled for three technical fouls, including two on Channing Frye. The third was on, you guessed it, J.R. Smith.
  • Frye headbutted and took a quasi-swing at Utah’s Trey Lyles with 3:57 left in the game and the Cavs trailing by 11. Lyles probably deserved it – he elbowed Frye in the groin and, like Frye, was also tossed from the game.
  • Frye refused to address reporters afterwards.
  • LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were bickering at each other during a timeout with 10:07 left in the third quarter. Some defensive miscues allowed the Jazz to go up by nine, and Irving missed a 3-pointer. He was 3-of-12 shooting at that point.
  • The James-Irving session carried on for several seconds, and both sides had their say.
  • Irving, who shot 7-of-23 for the game, went back onto the court here for about 30 minutes of extra shooting.

When it was all over, as in, the game, the Cavs’ three-game winning streak, this four-game trip out West, and Irving’s apparent therapy session, there were mostly shrugs from the Cavs.

“I don’t look at it as a step back,” said James, who led the Cavs with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “I’ve always said we’ve still got room to improve, and this is another example of it. I don’t think it’s a step backwards.”

Of Frye’s aggression toward Lyles, James said “I loved it.” This was perhaps more interesting because Lyles, a rookie, is represented by agent Rich Paul, James’ agent. James typically doesn’t speak ill of the family.

“It’s nothing personal against Trey, it’s the game and (Frye) being able to stick up for himself,” James said. “But I love that side.”

Last season, Irving scored 34 points but registered zero assists in Cleveland’s game at Utah. That kind of box score infuriated James. On Monday, Irving tallied three assists.

“We want him to be aggressive, for sure,” James said. “We want him to read and react, and however he’s feeling, we want him to be aggressive and take his shot when he has it. I know he had a lot of great looks tonight. I know he doesn’t like his performance and he’ll be better.”

Irving said the dust-up with James was really a defensive “miscommunication between me and Mozzy (Timofey Mozgov).”

“That’s it,” Irving said. “Me and ‘Bron were talking about it.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ loss in Utah

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Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins, Kings at odds againCavs all business in L.A. | Gap between Thunder and elite growsRaptors want Lowry handling ball more at crunch time | Iggy-less Warriors face test

No. 1: Cousins, Kings at odds as season winds down — Tensions between All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and the team and front office with the Sacramento Kings have been a constant topic of discussion during Cousins’ six-season tenure there. As has been the case with Cousins throughout his time in Sacramento, he continues to deliver solid numbers on a pure stats basis — and last night was no different as he had a game-high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in a home loss to the Utah Jazz. Afterward, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, Cousins didn’t hide his frustration with the team and his coach, George Karl, saying he was the one who suspended him last week:

There’s no hiding DeMarcus Cousins’ frustration.

The season that was supposed to be different from his first five, the season in which he had a real chance to make the playoffs, is unraveling just like the others.

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Morning shootaround – March 12


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to StephDavis copes with tough season for New Orleans | Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh | Raptors have a duo in the front court, too

No. 1: Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to Steph Let’s be fair to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He said he voted for Damian Lillard to make the All-Star team (Lillard didn’t). But when Kerr said, off-hand, that Lillard reminded him of Steph Curry after Lillard torched the Warriors last month in a Blazers’ win, it didn’t sit well with Lillard. The teams played again Friday night but Lillard had his say prior to the game and spoke with Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:

It was intended to be a compliment.

But it was perceived as a slight.

After Damian Lillard torched the Golden State Warriors for a career-high 51 points and the Trail Blazers beat the unbeatable by 32 points, Steve Kerr was asked about Lillard’s remarkable individual performance.

“He looked like Steph Curry out there,” the Warriors’ coach said, following the Blazers’ 137-105 victory in the first game after the All-Star break.

Nine days later, after Lillard scored 33 points in a 111-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers, an Indiana-area reporter asked the Blazers’ All-Star point guard if he was trying to impersonate Curry when he punished the Pacers for 20 first-quarter points.

“I don’t impersonate anybody, man,” Lillard replied to the question, clearly annoyed. “I was being Damian Lillard.”

Lillard has been one of the NBA’s best players since the All-Star break, averaging 33.5 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds over 11 games. He’s scored at least 50 points twice, at least 40 points three times and at least 30 points eight times. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field, including 42 percent from three-point range, and the Blazers (34-31) have amassed a 7-4 record, surprisingly remaining in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

But along the way, instead of celebrating the individuality of Lillard, some have branded him Curry Light. They see an athletic point guard with a propensity for hitting deep three-pointers, making clutch fourth quarter shots and showcasing slick handles. They see a player with a small-school background and ties to Oakland. And they can’t help but see the reigning MVP.

Well, that can’t help but make Lillard feel disrespected.

“I respect Steph Curry,” Lillard said Thursday. “Because what he’s doing is amazing. But I’m my own man. So don’t come to me and say I’m impersonating him. You telling me I’m impersonating somebody by doing well at my job is disrespectful.”

***

No. 2: Davis copes with tough season in New Orleans Raise your hand if you thought Anthony Davis would have this kind of season in New Orleans. He started slowly and didn’t get the fan vote to start the All-Star Game. Also, the Pelicans struggled despite being healthier than in the past. Finally, it doesn’t appear they’re headed to the playoffs. Davis is wrapping up a decent season personally, and recently had a sit-down with Justin Verrier of ESPN:

That’s the scary part: When you have the 11th-best season ever, how far does up go? The Pelicans clocked in at third in Zach Lowe’s preseason League Pass rankings with a simple explanation: “Anthony Davis is limitless.”

It hasn’t exactly been a ski lift to his summit since, with the Pelicans’ injury woes and adaptation to just his second NBA head coach pushing Davis one step back before any leap toward the league’s top pound-for-pound player. But with nights like Wednesday, or the 59 points and 20 rebounds he piled on the Pistons two weeks ago, that ascension doesn’t feel so far away anymore.

In the meantime, Davis has welcomed some of the spoils of his newfound stardom. He’s fast becoming the guy you’ll see over and over again during commercial breaks of national NBA games. He’s diving headfirst into first-person media. He will also make a guest spot in the latest “Barbershop” movie, set in his hometown of Chicago, poking fun at the eyebrow that seems to be his meal ticket in that realm.

“Yeah, just embracing it,” he said. “The opportunity doesn’t come around a lot for guys. When I get the opportunities I try to embrace them and have fun with it. It’s all gonna go by so fast. Everybody tells me, ‘Your career goes by fast. Just like that — snap of a finger.’ So any time I get a chance to do anything, whether it’s a movie, commercial, appearance, whatever, I try to have fun and enjoy as much as possible.”

Unlike his lofty basketball pursuits, about which he has rarely if ever demurred, Davis is a bit more conservative when it comes to these sorts of roles.

“Nah. I mean … of course, people know who I am. But I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity,” he said. “I don’t look at myself like that. Of course when you go out and people ask you for your autographs or pictures, it kind of puts in perspective how, I’ll say how big of a name you are. But I don’t go anywhere like, ‘I want front-row seats.’ That’s not me. … I don’t really look at myself like that.

“[The movie] came to me. Or, my agency. But that’s because it was in Chicago, it has ties with Chicago and all that, so I think that was a big factor. But, even still. Being in a movie is pretty fun. I guess I don’t really see myself in that light. I guess because I’m so laid back and chill. If I was more outgoing or … Hollywood, I guess. I don’t know. [Laughs.] That’s not me. I’m just real chill.”

After all, he is 23.

***

No. 3: Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh There’s no need to rush anything, given the circumstances and history. So nobody’s putting any sort of urgency in Miami as it pertains to Chris Bosh. His health is still a concern and a mystery to those outside of the organization as he continues to weigh whether to return this season, and if so, when. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, other than saying Bosh is in the team’s thoughts, remains relatively mum. Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

In his most extensive comments on Bosh since the Heat’s leading scorer has been out, Spoelstra said that the 13-year veteran will work out with the team when it returns from its current three-game road trip.

“We love Chris, and he’s in a great place right now,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s morning workout at the United Center in Chicago before Friday’s game against the Bulls. “He’s working out right now in Miami. When we get back, we’ll be able to do some workouts with him. But more than anything else, he’s in a good place mentally. We don’t have a timetable or anything like that. We’re just happy he’s healthy.”

Spoelstra’s comments came a day after Bosh released a statement through his public relations firm that said he does not have deep vein thrombosis — or blood clots in his leg. In the statement, Bosh also said he is working with the Heat to explore precautionary treatment options and “taking every necessary step” to make sure he remains free of the condition moving forward. Bosh’s statement did not disclose his specific condition.

“I have been working out, training with the team, watching film of the games, walking through plays and have attended home games despite not being visible to the public,” Bosh said in the statement released Thursday. “I remain positive that I will be able to return this season.” Bosh, 31, was in the midst of his best season in six years with the Heat when he was held out of the All-Star Game last month for what the team initially indicated was a calf strain. Multiple league sources confirmed Bosh’s condition was more serious than the strain, but team officials have declined to provide specific details.

This is the second time in as many years that Bosh’s season has been interrupted by a health scare. Last season, Bosh missed Miami’s final 30 games to treat a blood clot that had traveled from his calf to his lung and led to his dealing with severe pain and being hospitalized for several days.

Heat forward Luol Deng said he’s hopeful Bosh will be able to rejoin the team on the court this season. Bosh leads the team with an average of 19.1 points a game, and his 81 made 3-pointers this season are already the most he’s had in any season of his career.

“Chris has been working out; he’s been following guys and talking about what we can do better as a team,” Deng said Friday. “He’s all-in even though he’s not playing right now and not traveling with the team. For us, it just shows us who he is. Even though he would love to be playing and be part of what’s going on right now, he’s doing all he can to let us know he’s still invested.”

According to league sources, Bosh still has medical hurdles to clear before he’s allowed rejoin teammates on the court for any extensive basketball work. Team executives also declined comment Friday when asked about Bosh’s treatment status.

It also remains unclear whether Bosh’s personal medical advisers are in total agreement with the Heat’s and NBA’s medical team regarding all aspects of his health status and clearance required to play. For now, Spoelstra said both Bosh and his teammates are encouraged by his progress in recent weeks. The Heat (37-27) are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 regular-season games left and have won eight of 11 games since losing Bosh at the All-Star break.

“He’s been able to do individual workouts with the coaching staff, but it’s not about that or a timetable right now,” Spoelstra reiterated. “We’re just happy he’s around and he’s healthy. His spirits are good. We love him, and I love his spirit in being around the team.”

***

No. 4: Raptors have a front court duo, too The success of the Raptors is dictated mainly by a pair of backcourt guards who made the All-Star team and cause hell for the other team. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are having solid seasons, but the difference in the Raptors, and maybe the factor that could carry them over the top, is Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas and how well the big men are working together and complementing each other. Here’s Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:

Head coach Dwane Casey would also tell you that his team would not be in this position without the top centre combination in Raptors history, starter Jonas Valanciunas and defensive stopper Bismack Biyombo.

Valanciunas, the fifth pick of the 2011 draft, is playing the best basketball of his career. His scoring and efficiency are up and so is his rebounding and all-around defence. He has scored at least 10 points in a personal-best 16 consecutive contests.

Biyombo has been the ying to the Lithuanian’s yang, emerging as one of the best defensive players in the league after signing a bargain-basement deal with the Raptors last summer.

Biyombo was selected only two picks after Valanciunas in 2011, but strangely, the Charlotte Hornets elected to part ways with the 23-year-old, thinking his progress had plateaued.

To Toronto’s pleasant surprise, that line of thinking was way off. While Biyombo has gotten better offensively, most notably, in his ability to catch the ball, shoot free throws and go up faster, he has made the most strides at the other end.

“He’s much more than I expected,” Casey admitted after a Raptors practice on Friday.

“I didn’t know that he would have that much impact on our defence. He’s a huge addition for our team, gives us an air of toughness, physicality … I can’t think of how many games he’s won for us with his defence. His energy, his spirit,” Casey said.

By all accounts, the scrimmages between the team’s top two pivots have been great theatre and both believe they are benefiting from competing against each other in practice and by watching each other play during games.

“Yeah, you see someone doing something good, you want to learn and be better,” Valanciunas said. “He’s motivating me every day to work hard and go in the right direction.”

That goes both ways.

“It has been great because we’ve got to push each other,” Biyombo told the Toronto Sun.

“At the end of the day, JV and I both knows that if us as bigs, we can play different, at a high level, the team is going to be special and it’s going to be a team that challenges a lot of people.

“It’s an excitement, a challenge, but at the same time, it’s a learning process for both of us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A tough season for Philly’s Jahlil Okafor is officially over after the first-round pick was shut down to rapid a torn meniscus. Okafor’s surgery was deemed “minor” by the Sixers … Marc Gasol might be recovered enough to play for Spain in the Rio Games, or maybe not. It’s still iffy … Would the NBA dare even think about expansion? NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave his thoughts … Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen is OK with those Kawhi Leonard comparisons … Phil Jackson is still big on Carmelo Anthony and so can folks please stop with those trade rumors? … Remember when the injury-plagued Grizzlies were forced to play a journeyman guard named Eddie Gill for 48 minutes? Didn’t think so.

Blogtable: Are Hornets or Blazers a more dangerous playoff sleeper team?

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: Are Thunder a great team? | Deciphering LeBron’s cryptic messages? |
More dangerous sleeper playoff team — Hornets or Blazers?



VIDEONicolas Batum and Kemba Walker are driving Charlotte’s playoff push

> The more dangerous sleeper team this postseason: Charlotte or Portland?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Portland. When you have two players who can each get 30 in a playoff game (Damian Lillard has done it three times already; C.J. McCollum did it last spring against Memphis), you have a chance against just about everyone. And the Blazers’ role players (Ed Davis, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, etc.) all stay in their lanes and make themselves available. Lillard, especially, is just about unguardable when he gets space to operate, and McCollum is deadly at the midrange game.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Portland. Damian Lillard is the most lethal player on either the Hornets or the Trail Blazers, and what he’s been doing to multiple opponents since the All-Star break particularly would be migraine-inducing were he to do it two or three times early in the best-of-seven series. Charlotte might have a better chance of winning more games in the first round or even advancing to the conference semifinals because of the quality of competition in the East, but that actually argues against any “sleeper” status. To earn that, you’ve got to bump off or at least frighten top competition — the Blazers likely will get a chance to do that right away while the Hornets might not survive long enough to do so.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Hornets because of their location in the Eastern Conference and they play better defense. Any team in the lower portion (6-8) of the West bracket is going to be very overmatched in a first-round series against Golden State, San Antonio or Oklahoma City. Anybody in the top half of the East could be vulnerable to a Charlotte team that is low in turnovers (ranked No. 2) and high in Kemba Walker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Under the theory, for the sake of conversation, that both get there: Portland. That’s not an easy thing to say right now, with the Hornets going good and the Blazers slightly limping, and I am often praising the work of Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, but it’s easy to see the Hornets having a lot of trouble making shots. That’s the case anyway, but four to seven games against an opponent that could have a top-10 defense (Cleveland, Boston) or a defense better than average (Toronto) could be too much. Plus, Portland would be in the postseason playing with house money as a team very few people expected to be there in the first place. That’s not to say they would play like a team just happy to make the postseason. The team that has played loose in the regular season, though, could carry the same personality into late-April. Double plus: One of the two teams you want us to choose between has Damian Lillard, one doesn’t.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Charlotte, even without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets are deeper and less predictable than the Blazers and Kemba Walker is going nuts at the moment and is almost on par with Damian Lillard. Plus the Blazers will likely see the Warriors or Spurs in the first round, while the Hornets will have an easier opponent by comparison. And get this: Imagine how much better the Hornets would be with a healthy Kidd-Gilchrist and had they kept Bismack Biyombo, who is a shot-blocking terror in Toronto.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Charlotte. The Hornets have a 3-7 record against the top four teams in the East and the Blazers have a 3-6 record against the top four teams in the West. But the Hornets have a better point differential (with much better defense) in those games, the Blazers may struggle if one of their two stars gets taken out of the offense in a playoff series, and teams 2-4 in the East are much more beatable than teams 2-4 in the West.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As entertaining as they have been here recently, I have a hard time seeing the Trail Blazers upsetting the Spurs in the first round (based on the standings right now). Damian Lillard would have to go off for 50 a couple of times in that series to make the Spurs sweat a little bit. But the Hornets and Celtics would be a much more dangerous series for the higher-seeded Celtics. Kemba Walker is having one of the best and most underrated seasons of any point guard in the league. And his supporting cast continues to impress in different ways while also flying under the radar. The Hornets could be a real problem for whoever they match up against in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe top four teams in the West are not going to lose in the first round. Nobody is knocking off the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder or Clippers (so long as they’re healthy, of course). That’s why I’m giving the edge to the Hornets: If there’s going to be an opening-round upset, it’s happening in the East.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogPortland is dangerous, with a backcourt staffed by two capable scorers, and a collection of above-average players who know their role. As we’ve seen, they can beat any team in the NBA, although it may be hard to summon that kind of sharpshooting night after night in a seven-game series. Which is why I think Charlotte is the more dangerous postseason team, if only because they’re in the Eastern Conference and should have a more advantageous matchup than Portland. The Hornets have solid players in the backcourt, wings and in the post, and should be able to find/create mismatches all over the court.

Blazers look to continue to follow lead of Lillard, McCollum


VIDEO: Taking a closer look at Damian Lillard’s recent hot streak

NEW YORK CITY — They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but Broadway had nothing on the Portland Trail Blazers’ visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden last week. The Blazers made certain everything was illuminated pregame by setting up a battery of bright lights in the center of the room facing the lockers, which shined into the faces of the players as they prepped to play the Knicks. The lights were supposed to make sure the Portland players were wide-awake and energized for tip-off.

Whatever Portland is doing right now, it is clearly working. The Trail Blazers are 14-4 in their last 18 games, a run that has vaulted them from a team mostly overlooked in the heavyweight Western Conference to a 33-30 squad with a firm grip on a seventh seed. Portland will look to continue its winning play tonight at Detroit (6 ET, NBA TV), the Blazers’ last stop on a six-game road trip.

While Portland’s players and coaches are quick to credit improved play and recognition on the defensive end as a catalyst for this run, it’s tough to overlook the Blazers’ backcourt, which features the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards have combined to average 46.7 points and 11.2 assists through Portland’s first 63 games, and have a lot in common: they’re both in their mid-twenties; both were four-year players at smaller colleges (Lillard at Weber State, McCollum at Lehigh); both were lottery picks by the Blazers.

“They’re both very mature guys,” says Portland coach Terry Stotts. “Not even talking in a basketball context, they’re both very mature. I think partly that’s who they are, but neither one of them had it easy — they had to work to get to this point. Not to say that other players don’t, but they had a different route. I think that helps with their maturity and their mental approach to their game and the team game.”

While Lillard made an impact right away, winning Rookie of the Year in 2013, McCollum’s arrival has occurred at a more measured pace. His first two seasons were hampered by injuries, and when he was healthy, it was hard to get playing time behind veterans such as Wesley Matthews. But with Matthews departed, as well as vets such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, McCollum has stepped into the leadership void and thrived, averaging 20.9 points in 61 starts this season.

“I always knew at some point I’d be an impact player at this level,” McCollum says, “I just didn’t know when. It was more about being healthy and having the right opportunity. Once it came I looked forward to it and I relished the opportunity to perform at a high level, and help my team each and every night. So I always knew there was going to be a time I was going to be able to do this, I just didn’t know when.”

McCollum credits some of his success this season to playing within the same system his entire career: “I know our offense, our schemes defensively, how we like to guard pick and rolls, our off ball screens, things like that. And just having a better understanding of our offense and having run the point, being able to direct guys and put guys in positions, and also to play the two and understand each and everybody’s role. I think as you play in this system under one coach for long periods of time, you begin to understand what they’re looking for.”

By now, it’s pretty clear what you’re going to get from Damian Lillard — over his first three seasons, the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 20.2 points to go with 6.1 assists, and has been named an All-Star twice. Through his first 47 games this season, Lillard averaged 24.3 points, including back-to-back 30-point games before the All-Star break.

Lillard was not named a Western Conference All-Star this season, and while Lillard brushes off talk of a snub being a motivating factor, the numbers suggest otherwise: Since the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 33.6 points in nine contests, including two games of at least 50 points (51 against Golden State, 50 against Toronto). Overall, Lillard has scored at least 30 in 10 of his last 12 games.

“From day one, he’s been a remarkably consistent player,” Stotts says of Lillard. “The only difference I would say is that he — and it’s not necessarily just during this stretch — is he’s accepted the mantle of leadership and being the best player and taking that responsibility. He’s continued to get better in that role. Obviously that stretch of 30-point games is pretty remarkable, but I can’t say he’s doing it differently that he’s done it before.”

“One thing I feel like other people are learning is that I’m always up for the challenge,” Lillard says. “Anything that’s put in front of me, I might not be great at it, I might not do the greatest job to begin with, but I’m going to come around. If I don’t do well at it, I’m going to say I didn’t do well at it, and I’ll be able to say I worked on it. So… just embracing challenges. I’ll stand up to whatever, and I think that’s what’s happened this season.”

For the Blazers to maintain their recent success, and perhaps even make some noise in the postseason, McCollum and Lillard will have to continue to lead the way. While they’re clearly in the conversation when it comes to the NBA’s best backcourts — the Splash Brothers in Golden State have a pretty good argument — McCollum notes they haven’t really had time to appreciate just how good they’ve been this season.

“I know we’re very competitive guys,” McCollum says, “and we’ve been playing well together, 50-60 games into the season, and now we’re establishing ourselves around the league. But we’re just doing what we always knew we were capable of doing. Now it’s just about getting better each day and you don’t take any steps back. Have we looked at it? Not really, because we’re still in season, we’re still trying to complete some of our goals. We’ll evaluate that more after the season.”

Though the Blazers have clearly unlocked a higher level of play over the last few weeks, Lillard believes now the task is to try and sustain this level of play the rest of the way. Houston and Utah are just a few losses behind Portland, meaning many of the young Blazers find themselves in their first playoff race. Lillard, the team’s veteran leader at all of 25 years old, says the Blazers “can’t even look that far ahead.” Instead, Lillard believes the Blazers simply need to continue to perform under the bright lights.

“The season is what, six, seven, eight months?” Lillard asks. “We’ve done it for a month and a half. I think the next step is to be able to sustain it for a longer period of time. At the start of the season we were 4-2 — we had four games we got after it, we did it for a short amount of time. Then we had a seven-game losing streak. Then we picked it up for one game. Then we had drop-offs. Now I think we figured out how to do it for a longer span of time. The next step is to learn how to permanently be this team. As of now, this is who we are.”

Remaining schedule breakdown


VIDEO: Damian Lillard a nominee for Kia February Player of the Month

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Portland Trail Blazers are the hottest team outside of Oakland or San Antonio. The Blazers are 21-8 since Christmas and have won 13 of their last 15 games with the league’s fifth-ranked offense and seventh-ranked defense during that stretch.

The Blazers’ run has been impressive, and that they’re even in the mix for a playoff spot is a surprise to almost everyone around the league. They’re currently in seventh place in the Western Conference, three games in the loss column ahead of the ninth-place Jazz, against whom they hold the tiebreaker with three wins in their four head-to-head meetings.

But it’s fair to say that the Blazers have taken advantage of a soft schedule over the last five-plus weeks…

  • Only six of the 15 opponents they’ve played are currently over .500.
  • Only four of the 15 games were on the road.
  • The stretch included only one back-to-back (in Chicago and Indiana this past weekend), but five of the Blazers’ 15 opponents were playing the second night of a back-to-back.
  • Only four of the games were against top-10 defenses, but eight were against bottom-10 defenses.

With the run they’re on and with Utah having lost six of its last eight games, the Blazers’ playoff ticket appears pretty safe. But if the Blazers are going to make their third straight trip to the postseason, they’re going to have to navigate a much tougher schedule over the final six weeks of the season than they have over the last five.

When you take opponent strength, home/road, and back-to-backs into account, only one team — Oklahoma City — has a tougher remaining schedule than the Blazers, who will spend most of March on the road. The trip that started Saturday in Chicago continues this week, and not only are 10 of the Blazers’ next 13 games away from Moda Center, nine of the 13 are against teams with winning records and eight are against top-10 offenses.

Things get a little easier over the final three weeks of the season, when the Blazers will play seven of their final nine games at home and five of those nine against teams with losing records. If they’re still in playoff position on March 25, they’re in great shape.

Here’s a breakdown of the remaining schedules for all 15 teams in the Western Conference…

20160301_west_sched

A few more Western Conference notes from the remaining schedule…

  • The Warriors haven’t lost a regular season game at home in more than 13 months, and will play 17 of their final 24 games at Oracle Arena. No other team has more than 15 remaining home games.
  • Nine of the Clippers‘ remaining 11 games against top-10 offenses are in a 12-game stretch starting Wednesday. Their schedule gets much easier after March 24, when only four of their final 11 games are against teams that currently have winning records (and one of those is against the Gasol-less Grizzlies).
  • The Grizzlies are the only team that doesn’t have any more games against opponents that are playing the second night of a back-to-back. Every other team has at least two of those games remaining. Memphis has three more soft games this week, but their schedule gets much, much tougher starting next Monday. Seventeen of their final 20 games are against teams over .500 or on the road.
  • The Spurs lead the league in defensive efficiency by a wide margin and have allowed 7.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, the fifth best mark of the last 39 years. But the San Antonio defense will be challenged over the next six weeks more than it has in any other stretch of the season. Only four of the Spurs’ final 23 games are against bottom-10 offenses, while 12 are against to-10 offenses. That includes six games against the teams that rank No. 1 (Golden State) and No. 2 (Oklahoma City) in offensive efficiency.

The bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is even more crowded than it is in the West. Only four games separate the fourth-place Miami Heat from the 10-place Washington Wizards.

The Charlotte Hornets are in the middle of that seven-team pack with a record of 30-28. They’ve been one of the league’s five most improved teams despite injuries to Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as well as what has been the league’s fifth toughest schedule (toughest amongst those East teams in spots 4-10).

Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t coming back and Jefferson has yet to make much of an impact upon returning from a 23-game absence, but the Hornets’ schedule is about to provide some relief. Charlotte has the league’s easiest remaining schedule, with 15 of their final 24 games against teams under .500 and eight of those 15 against the six teams who rank in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Hornets need to start building a cushion right now, though. Eight of their next nine games are at home (where they’re 19-9) and the other is against the Philadelphia 76ers. Things start to get tougher on March 11, when they begin a stretch of eight games in 12 days. They’ll also play nine of their final 12 games away from Time Warner Cable Arena.

20160301_east_sched

More Eastern Conference notes…

  • The Celtics have the fewest remaining games (21) among teams in playoff contention, but do have a five-games-in-seven-days stretch starting on March 15. The good news is the last two opponents on that stretch (Philadelphia and Orlando) aren’t nearly as tough as the first three (Indiana, Oklahoma City and Toronto).
  • The Cavs have the first three days of March off, but then play five games in seven days to start the rest of their schedule. They have two more five-games-in-seven-days stretches (March 13-19 and March 31 – April 6) after that.
  • The Pistons have a league-low four remaining games against bottom-10 defenses. Three of those games are part of their longest homestand of the season, nine games between March 16 and April 1.
  • The Pacers play 10 more games against teams over .500 and seven of those 10 come in an eight-game stretch from March 4-19. That stretch, though, includes four straight days off from March 8-11. Only three of their final 13 games are against winning teams.
  • The Heat have a league-high 13 remaining games against bottom-10 offenses, including six straight to start March.
  • The Raptors have a busy, 16-game March. They’re off on Monday and Tuesday this week, but only have two more stretches of two straight days off before the end of the season (March 21-22 and April 3-4). Their seven-game homestand to start March is an every-other-day affair.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors go ‘Splash Bros.’ on Heat | James feeling ’10 times’ better than in ’14-15 | Bickerstaff: ‘Not worried’ about playoff race | Hollins sounds off on Nets’ front office

No. 1: Warriors go to ‘Splash Brothers’ well to upend Heat — When the Golden State Warriors drafted Klay Thompson in the first round of the 2012 Draft, pairing him with Stephen Curry led to the dawn of the ‘Splash Brothers’ era just a season later. That duo powered Golden State into the postseason and a first-round series victory. Yet the Warriors have grown much from those days — and have a championship to prove it — but last night in Miami in a nip-and-tuck game with the Heat, they went back to those ‘Splash Bros.’ days, writes Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com:

The Splash Brothers dynamic no longer defines the Golden State Warriors, but every now and then, it revisits to save the Warriors. That was more or less what happened in a fairly artless 118-112 Golden State victory over a Miami Heat team that outplayed its visitor for much of the game.

As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward: “That’s Steph and Klay. That’s what they do. When they both do it on the same night, that’s when we’re really tough to beat. And it shows you how good Miami was that we needed every point to win the game.”

In the middle of the Miami big three’s epoch, Warriors digital marketing coordinator Brian Witt coined a nickname to describe a suddenly frisky squad out West. The “Splash Brothers,” established the Warriors’ brand right as the team began its ascent. Catchily, succinctly, it conveyed the unusual idea of a backcourt that specialized in 3-pointers. It’s how the public came to understand Golden State as something of an entertaining gimmick, before it became clear this iteration of gimmickry would end teams’ seasons.

Quickly, the Warriors grew beyond their nickname, with Green emerging as a star, and other additions proving essential. The Warriors are no longer the “Splash Brothers,” but the organization’s belief in this backcourt was a part of its foundation. And maintaining that foundation was, at one point, heretical. In 2014, much of the Las Vegas summer league was abuzz over how stupid the Warriors were for balking at a possible Thompson for Kevin Love trade.

Jerry West, who serves on Golden State’s executive board, loved Thompson’s game, and believed in the vision of this 3-bombing backcourt. He cited Golden State’s meager 2013-2014 passing numbers as a reason Thompson might be unleashed in a new offense. Kerr, who took the coaching job that season, also preferred continuity, knowing that, at the very least, the defense would be elite.

After this particular victory where he scored 33 points, Thompson said of the dynamic, “We can both get hot. It was a tough game tonight and when you have scoring lulls and stuff like that. Steph has incredible takeover ability. I try to play at his level but obviously not as electrifying as him, but I think we can both get hot at the right time if need be.”

The Warriors certainly don’t win without the MVP. En route to 42 points, Curry sank two deep, contested 3s within the last 1:10 of play. The final flourish was enough to overshadow how he also drained a 40-foot first quarter buzzer beater with as free and easy a stroke as you’d see on a foul line jumper. Those 40-footers are part of the warm-up routine. It’s not crazy to expect more of them in the future.

For now, the present is what absorbs these Warriors, especially at a time when every news conference contains a question about “73 wins.” “Process” is the focus, “one day at a time,” is the clichéd phrase of choice. Whether Golden State reaches that benchmark or not, they’ve undeniably built something special, a vision to behold in the wake of Miami’s run as four-year title favorite. It all started with “Splash,” before building into something no one could fathom.


VIDEO: Warriors.com recaps the team’s win in Miami

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