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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Duncan’

Morning shootaround — May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks | Warriors’ focus on Lillard pays off | Raptors clean slate with Game 7 win | Is it time for fearless Thunder to fear Leonard?

No. 1: Lue, Cavs anxious to get started against Hawks — A long layoff works in different ways for different teams. The San Antonio Spurs used their extended time off before their Western Conference semifinal opener against Oklahoma City to perfection (and blew out the Thunder). Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue hopes his team can do the same. That’s why he’s so anxious to get started against the Atlanta Hawks tonight (7 p.m. ET, TNT), as Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

The Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t played a game since completing the sweep against the Detroit Pistons one week ago. The East’s top team has been waiting patiently, first for the opponent, and then for the opening game of the next round.

“Very anxious,” head coach Tyronn Lue said following Sunday morning’s practice. “A lot of messin’ around, not messin’ around, but you could tell we’ve been off for eight days and guys ready to start playing and getting ready and getting focused for the game. It’s time and we’re ready to play.”

The wait is almost over, with the Cavaliers set to begin their second-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

“This is a long layoff,” veteran Richard Jefferson said. “You look at San Antonio after a long layoff and they came out and played well so you have to use this rest, but at the same point in time you have to try to stay sharp mentally and physically you have to stay sharp — not just eat, hang out and chill. You have to stay locked in this whole time.”

Lue admitted that he didn’t start formulating his plan for the Hawks until the series ended on Thursday night when Atlanta topped Boston in Game 6. Instead, the Cavs focused on themselves, looking at what they had to do to get better.

“Game 1 is a new series and it doesn’t matter what you shot, how well you played, what adjustments you made in the first series,” Jefferson said. “The second series is different against a better team.”

During off days, the Cavs did conditioning work and players stayed in the gym late, getting extra shots. To stay loose following practice, they played other sports — throwing the football around or grabbing mitts to toss the baseball back and forth.

But this time of year, there’s always the question of rest vs. rust, especially after the rhythm Cleveland found against Detroit in Round One.

“Obviously, you can’t get cute and overthink it,” Lue said. “We have our principles, we know what we want to do going into a game and then if things don’t work and you have to adjust. But we know what we want to do right now and we’re ready.”

(more…)

Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

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: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Should Kanter be Fifth Man, not Sixth Man, for OKC?

He’s one of the most productive players in his first round series and in the entire NBA playoffs, if you project him over 48 minutes. But there’s no guarantee Enes Kanter will get more than his usual supply of 21 minutes in the next game against the Dallas Mavericks, or for the rest of the playoffs.

On the surface, that’s sheer lunacy. Kanter is averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes against the Mavericks leading into Game 5. He’s doing more damage against Dallas than Kevin Durant. A big man blessed with a dancer’s footwork and a diamond cutter’s touch, Kanter can score and is a decent rebounder yet is still being punished for his defense which, real or imagined, is shoddy and plants doubt in the head of coach Billy Donovan.

And so the question is this: Is he really that bad a defender that it’s necessary to prevent Durant and Russell Westbrook from having a very solid third wheel for half a game?

In Game 4, while Kanter was doing a number on Dallas once again — he finished by making 12 of 13 shots, one by falling on the floor — Donovan reflexively tried to remove him from the game. It took the intervention of Westbrook, who told the coach to chill out, that kept Kanter on the floor.

“I was going back and forth, whether to keep him on the floor,” Donovan admitted. “But Enes was playing so well.”

Westbrook: “He’s been doing a great job all season and it goes unnoticed.”

If that’s true, then you only have Donovan’s substitution pattern to blame. Kanter averaged only 21.0 minutes during the season, yet averaged 12.7 and 8.1 rebounds anyway. Donovan starts Steven Adams, who’s tougher and sets meaner picks and yes, a notch above Kanter defensively. Crazy thing, though: Kanter’s minutes go unchanged even when Oklahoma City plays teams that lack an opposing big man who can score. And so, the question begs to be asked again: Is Kanter really so bad defensively that he can’t even defend centers who don’t touch the ball?

Donovan’s reasoning is that the two-headed center of Kanter and Adams works best for Oklahoma City, and Adams’ blue collar work is valuable for a finesse team. There’s also the feeling that Kanter doesn’t rotate well and therefore doesn’t offer “help” defense, especially on the pick and roll. Perhaps.

But it’ll be curious to see how Kanter is used should the Thunder eliminate the Mavericks as expected and face the Spurs in the next round.

He had success against the Spurs during the season, averaging 15.8 points and 14.8 rebounds in 27.9 minutes. He’d be matched against Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan, who are older yet very crafty. Duncan has been an afterthought for much of the season and particularly in the Spurs’ sweep of Memphis, but is Timmy showing his age, or merely laying low until the Spurs need him, which will be the case against Oklahoma City? Last season Duncan was tremendous in San Antonio’s seven-game series with the Clippers, and the Spurs can expect a similarly strong challenge from the Thunder.

Kanter finished third in the voting for the Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award and Westbrook thought the wrong guy won.

“All due respects to Jamal Crawford, but I don’t believe it should’ve been close for sixth man with Enes, a guy who shoots 68, 69 percent form the field. He’s been doing it all season.”

Well, that’s a question Westbrook should ask of his coach: If Kanter can do this all season as a sixth man, shouldn’t he start or at least get starter’s minutes? Shouldn’t he fill the role of the “missing” third wheel in OKC, especially in the fourth quarter, when he’s often on the bench?

Spurs won’t take Grizzlies lightly

VIDEO: Gregg Popovich speaking on playoff preparation.

SAN ANTONIO — They know the Grizzlies come struggling into the playoffs with nine losses in their last 10 regular season games. They know that with key cogs Marc Gasol and Mike Conley missing, among so many others, that Memphis will trot out a lineup of journeyman and NBA D-League refugees for Game 1 on Sunday night.

But the Spurs also know far better than to take any playoff opponent. As if coach Gregg Popovich would let them. They are expecting a team ready to put up a fight.

“Same thing they always bring,” said Spurs captain Tim Duncan. “Very scrappy, very physical. They’ve got a lot of guys that are going to try to turn up the intensity and make plays with their energy, their steals, their physicality. They’re going to bring it in that respect, and they’ve got a lot of vets out there who have been in the playoffs enough, and they know what it takes to get over that hump.”

Guard Danny Green agrees that no matter the struggles the Grizzlies have had dealing with a spate of injuries coming down the stretch, there will be no taking anything for granted by the team that won a franchise record 67 games.

“Right now, the only two teams we are focused on is us and the Memphis Grizzlies,” Green said. “We don’t want to skip any steps or look ahead.”

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors locked in on history | Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors | Kobe Bryant reflects on his final days | Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway

No. 1: Warriors locked in on history All that’s left is 48 minutes. A mere 48 minutes and the Golden State Warriors will have produced the finest regular season in NBA history, surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls they tied for the best win total ever with Sunday’s win San Antonio. As our very own Fran Blinebury wrote after the Warriors snapped the Spurs’ bid to record the first perfect home record in a season, this history-making season has washed over the league in waves:

History comes in waves, like the relentless sets of breakers that Golden State used to wash over the NBA in a record-setting 24-0 start to the season that planted the flag in the ground and seemed to lift the Warriors up above mere greatness and pushed them on this journey.

All those games and all those nights in all those cities when they took the floor feeling and knowing and playing like they were truly superior to the guys in the other uniforms and never let themselves forget that.

All those other nights when maybe they weren’t at their physical or mental peak and had to somehow find a way to get it done. Like just 24 hour earlier in Memphis when it took digging down deep in the final seconds to pull out a victory over an outmanned bunch of Grizzlies to keep the quest alive.

If these same two teams meet again in six weeks in the Western Conference finals, this game will mean nothing then. But that doesn’t make it mean nothing today.

“Obviously, we’re in the moment, enjoying the ride and the goal is to win a championship,” said Curry after scoring 37 points. “That’s what we’re playing for. But we put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s kind of hard to step outside the locker room and understand the spotlight that comes with it or just the hoopla because we come out every night trying to win. But when you think about it, I guess, perspective, only two teams have done what we’ve done so far and hopefully Wednesday we can finish that off. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite the offer, even the wish from coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors regulars might choose to rest up for the fast approaching playoffs, there was never a question that any of them would sit with their feet up.

“I tried to do it with the way I played and obviously the decision on resting or not was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said. “I’m not nursing any injuries, I don’t think putting myself in a position to be a step slow come the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?”

Kerr, of course, is the link, having played for 20 years ago for the 72-10 Bulls.

History comes in memories.

“I thought as a player it seemed like a bigger deal because the players talk about it, think about it,” Kerr said. “We never talked about it as a staff here this year. It’s really a players’ reward, a players’ honor, a players’ record. They’re the ones that go out and play. It probably meant more to me back then personally. But to see the look on these guys faces knowing that they have a chance to break the record and at least they tied it, they’re pretty excited and that’s what’s great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy.”

***

No. 2: Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors The chance for history ended at the hands of the one team the San Antonio Spurs have not been able to solve this season. Their quest for the first undefeated home record in NBA history was blown away by a blitz from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. But the Spurs will not let this latest loss to the Warriors, their third in four tries this season, linger. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com provides some context for the Spurs:

The Warriors stopped cold San Antonio’s home winning streak at 39 games, while reaching historic win No. 72, marking the third time in four meetings — and second time in four nights — Golden State knocked off the Spurs. Still, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was satisfied with the team’s effort. He is confident that San Antonio’s experience mixed with a sharpened playoff focus, and a fresh game plan in late May could lift the Spurs over the Warriors when the stakes are highest in a potential Western Conference finals.

“We played a hell of a team, and I thought our aggressiveness, our attention to detail, was much better than [Thursday night’s loss at Golden State],” Popovich said. “They did a lot of good things out there. I’m really happy with how we performed.”

So instead of lamenting a loss they can’t get back, the Spurs choose now to focus on closing out strong in preparation for the playoffs.

“It’s a whole different ball game in the playoffs,” David West said when asked whether the Warriors now hold a psychological advantage, having defeated the Spurs three times in the regular season. “Hopefully, it will be another two months, or whatever it is, a month and a half, until we see them again. Our job is just to keep improving and prepare ourselves now for a tough first-round matchup against whomever; just keep developing who we are.”

The outing at the AT&T Center on Sunday played out much differently than Thursday’s 112-101 trouncing at Oracle Arena, yet San Antonio still managed to come up short despite making significant progress against the Warriors defensively.

“I think in Golden State for sure we were not sharp enough,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Today we made a few mistakes. I think we played a good game. We were not good offensively. I’m not concerned. I was concerned after the Golden State game [on the road] because it was not us. I think a game like today can easily happen. We hadn’t lost one game at home the whole season. It can happen that you lose one against a team that is one of the best teams ever. We can’t start banging our heads against the wall and [saying], ‘Oh, we are terrible.’ It can happen.”

San Antonio slowed down the pace significantly in Sunday’s contest, giving Golden State its slowest paced game since defeating the Warriors 87-79 on March 17, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. The Spurs also limited Golden State to an ice-cold shooting percentage of 35.1, while dominating the visitors in offensive rebounding 13-3. San Antonio’s 13 offensive rebounds in the first half go down as the most the club had snatched in a single half all season, not to mention the most the Warriors have allowed in any half over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. San Antonio’s supremacy on the offensive glass helped the Spurs outscore the Warriors 11-0 on second-chance points.

The problem is while administering suffocating defense and crashing the offensive glass, the Spurs managed to shoot even frostier (28.6 percent) than the Warriors. Then, as Golden State caught fire in the third quarter, going on a 12-0 run with Stephen Curry racking up 16 points for his 30th quarter of 15 points or more this season, San Antonio remained cold (34.3 percent shooting).

What’s more is the offensive rebounding subsided, too, with the Spurs grabbing just five more offensive boards in the entire second half.

“Our perimeter had a tough time making shots, that’s for sure,” Popovich said. “That was the problem offensively all night, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. Steph got away from us for a while, but a part of it was some bad shots. We lost our poise for about a three-minute period, and we were in constant transition, and he got away from us. That was the difference in the ball game. But I’m really proud of the guys what they did tonight.”

***

No. 3: Kobe Bryant reflects on his finals days  The finish line is in sight for Kobe Bryant. Tonight’s final game in Oklahoma City (8 ET, NBA League Pass) followed by Wednesday’s finale against Utah at Staples Center and that’s it, a 20 years of a Hall of Fame career comes to an end. In what has been a sobering and reflective season for one of the game’s all-time greats, there is finally a sense of relief and acceptance of his fate. Kobe didn’t go out chasing that sixth title, the way he had hoped. But as Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical points out, Kobe is going out on his own terms:

Against all odds, Kobe Bryant goes home for goodbye on two feet, goes home for goodbye on the best terms he could’ve ever dictated.

“It feels so good,” Bryant told The Vertical. “For the last three years, I haven’t been able to do it. Achilles. Knee. Shoulder. Serious injuries. My preparation was right. I worked and worked for my body to be able to get through this.”

“Coming into the season, I had the concern: Could I make it all year?” Bryant told The Vertical. “I had the fear. But I embraced that fear, and then I let it go. I realized: I can’t control it. I prepare. I do all the work. If that happens, it happens. And I stopped thinking about it.”

All around, the boom mics hung over us. His documentary crew comes everywhere now, chronicling every interaction, every interview. For a moment, Bryant was still thinking about life on a contender. He is nodding his head, insisting this is true: “Listen, I believe this: On a better team, I could play a lot better. Physically, I know I could do so much more. I found that rhythm, that balance. But after three major injuries, to get to the end [healthy], this means the world to me.”

There are two stories to end this NBA regular season: The Warriors’ historic march to 73 victories, and Bryant’s historic uneven, unnerving final season. They’ll remember Bryant as one of the NBA’s great champions, remember a relentless pursuit of perfection. Oh, he’d love to be chasing 73 victories, but mostly he wishes he was pursuing that sixth NBA title.

Somewhere along the way, Bryant had to let go. There wouldn’t be winning this season. There would be bouquets. He’s never minded everyone watching him, everyone feting his greatness. So started the legacy tour, so started a long, slow trot around the bases. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant let himself think for a moment about that Golden State-San Antonio game on Sunday night, about the parallel universe of winning ball that’s left his life.

Had the Lakers still been a contender – had everything not crumbled around him – Bryant swears this would all be so different, so much more suited to his persona.

“The ovations wouldn’t be here,” Bryant told The Vertical. “We’d be amidst cutthroat competition. In this season, I’ve been able to come up for air, take the blinders off, look around, soak it all in – and say thank you. Had we been competing for a championship, there’s no way I’d allow all this to happen. We’d have one goal in mind and that would be winning the championship.

“In the end, this wasn’t hard to accept. I can accept reality and move on.”

***

No. 4: Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway Give Bryan Colangelo credit, he didn’t waste any time in his effort to change the narrative in Philadelphia. His rebranding of the situation with the Sixers began the moment he was introduced as the team’s new president of basketball operations Sunday. And if there is one thing Colangelo has learned in all of his years around the game, it’s that change at the fundamental level has to come immediately. David Murphy of Philly.com explains:

For all of the talk of the Sixers finally bringing in some real basketball men, the truth is that people like the Colangelos are, first and foremost, salesmen. They are billionaire whisperers, adept at convincing really rich people to entrust them with their capital. In 1999, Jerry published a book titled, How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports.

The elder Colangelo clearly succeeded at selling Harris and his partners on the need for a leader with a skill set that just happened to line up with the one his son offered. Bryan’s biggest theme during Sunday’s press conference was the need for the Sixers to build relationships throughout the league, one of many tacit references to Hinkie’s greatest perceived weakness.

Yet the logic starts to fall apart when you think about the fact that Ed Stefanski and Billy King were respected, personable executives who nevertheless were forced to overpay to keep their own players (Andre Iguodala) and to sign new ones (Elton Brand). Fact is, the Sixers are not an NBA destination, just like the Raptors weren’t when Colangelo was there (and when Chris Bosh left for the Heat).

Again, though, it comes down to messaging. As GM of the Suns, Colangelo “lured” Steve Nash away from Dallas in 2004, which sounds great, except “luring” really meant paying him $20 million more than any other team, including the Mavericks, who declined Nash’s request that they match the deal. When Colangelo attempted to bring Nash to Toronto in 2012, Nash leveraged Toronto’s three-year, $36 million offer into a three-year deal with the Lakers.

But, hey, it’s a relationship business, right?

Ironically, the failed pursuit of Nash is one of the reasons Colangelo has seen his legacy improve over the past few years as the Raptors have blossomed. Once he lost Nash, Colangelo traded a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry, who is now an anchor on one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Nash, meanwhile, was an unmitigated disaster with the Lakers.

That’s not to say the Sixers’ new president will destroy whatever foundation Hinkie has laid over the past three seasons. Both Colangelo and Harris repeatedly insisted that the change in leadership would not result in a change in vision.

“This is not about a departure from a process,” Colangelo said.

What was it really about? Let’s answer in a form Hinkie might appreciate. As Plato once said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler did not fly to New Orleans with his teammates after Sunday’s game, but is expected to join them for tonight’s game against the Pelicans … The heated rivalry between the Warriors and Spurs extends beyond the court and also includes the Warriors’ broadcast team and the Spurs fans … Thunder coach Billy Donovan is employing a similar philosophy to what Steve Kerr has done with the Warriors in allowing the players to decide if they want to rest or grind through the end of the regular season … With the playoffs just days away, it’s time for Tyronn Lue to figure some things out about the Cavaliers and his rotation

Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

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 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

***

No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

***

No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

***

Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…

Blogtable: What did we learn from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEORelive the best moments from last weekend’s Warriors-Spurs game

> Biggest takeaway from Warriors-Spurs Round 2?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Not much, though both teams were outstanding defensively. The Spurs can feel good that they were able to slow the Warriors down for a night, but until they do it against the “Lineup of Death”, there can be no real peace of mind. It will be interesting, though, to see what Golden State’s coverages on LaMarcus Aldridge are going forward.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The seven-game series we get between these teams this spring, assuming the basketball gods smile on us, won’t necessarily be a pyrotechnics show, all showy and shiny offense. And it still will be good, with plenty of moves and counter-moves, adjustments to adjustments, raw human emotion and all the expected drama. But the Spurs looked determined to have someone other than Stephen Curry beat them, an approach most Golden State opponents either haven’t fully embraced or managed to deploy. Over 100 points or under, this still is what we want, “The Finals” before The Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Much has to be held in reserve considering that Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli did not play for the Warriors. However, writing off the outcome as a “good loss” for the Warriors because they simply didn’t shoot the ball well is a bit naive. The Spurs defense — the way they guarded Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, kept men in their faces, had bigs come out to guard the perimeter — had a lot to do with that poor shooting. In the end, it was simply the latest move in a grand chess match that will only be great fun to watch in the Western Conference finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That Warriors-Spurs in the real Round 3 — the Western Conference finals — would be a great chess match of coaches. We pretty much knew that anyway, along with the fact that it would be a great series in a lot of other ways, but Saturday night in San Antonio was a good reminder of possibilities for lineup maneuvers. I don’t think this regular-season game provided many real takeaways, though, at least beyond the news flash that Stephen Curry is human. Two championship-caliber teams? A terrific San Antonio defense? The Warriors feeling run down? We already knew all that too.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: We know nothing, really, because Andre Iguodala didn’t play. That said, if Tony Parker and Patty Mills can use their quickness to disrupt Steph Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge can effectively be a consistent go-to scorer, then two of the Spurs’ biggest worries are solved. It’s all a chess game right now until they meet in the West finals if we’re all so lucky.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Spurs’ plan of countering the Warriors with size bore some fruit. San Antonio played through Boris Diaw and LaMarcus Aldridge in the post early and often, slowed down the pace, and racked up 24 second chance points, while also keeping the Warriors from getting out of the break, by beating them up on the boards. Andrew Bogut‘s absence played a part (the Spurs grabbed just one offensive rebound in 17.3 minutes with Bogut on the floor in January), but we saw why the Spurs went the other way last summer while the rest of the league moved toward trying to imitate the champs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Western Conference finals between the Warriors and Spurs is going to be every bit as intriguing as I suspected it would before their first game of this regular season. Two of the best and most complete teams we’ve seen in recent years battling it out for every single inch, that is the way I like it come playoff time. The past, present and future of the league on display in this one series. And we get to see it in a best-of-seven series with a trip to The Finals on the line … my big takeaway from Spurs-Warriors Round 2 is I can’t wait for Rounds 3 and 4 and the rubber match in the Western Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: How hard is it to beat the Warriors? They were finishing a back-to-back, on the road, against an opponent seeking revenge after a 30-point loss, Stephen Curry couldn’t make a shot — and it was still a tight game. The takeaway is that the best any contender can hope for is to give itself a chance by slowing the pace, because Golden State is not going to be routed in a seven-game series. (Also, isn’t it hard to imagine the Spurs winning any series in which they bench Tim Duncan? No matter how much sense it makes tactically, isn’t he their soul?)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog That the Warriors not only have a margin of error, it’s perhaps slimmer than we realized. I know the Warriors were without 3 of their rotation players, but they’ve been without guys the last few weeks and managed to mostly just roll along. The Spurs felt like they somehow managed to slow the pace while still controlling the tempo, and of course Curry never really got going. Either way, I want to see a fully healthy Golden State team in this match-up before arriving at any conclusions.

Morning shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ | Lakers’ youngsters will finally get to play through mistakes | Gentry comes to defense of beat up Davis | Mavericks say they owe it to Dirk to make playoffs

No. 1: Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ — The speculation won’t stop anytime soon. That’s just the way it is when a superstar like Kevin Durant is approaching free agency. So reading between the lines is the only thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans can do until July. They can take solace, though, in the fact that Durant continues to show love to the city he calls “home” right now. Royce Young of ESPN delivers the latest bread crumbs for those trying to figure out Durant’s thinking on Oklahoma City and what it means to him:

When the Oklahoma City Thunder visited New York a couple months ago, Kevin Durant was asked specifically what he thought about the city. When Durant was in Boston last week, again, he was asked about the city. The premise is easy to understand: Big market, big team, big future free agent. You can piece that puzzle together.

But on Sunday, standing on a red carpet next to his mom outside the front doors of his restaurant in Bricktown, just a few blocks from the arena he currently plays in, Durant stopped to answer a few questions.

One of which being: You get asked about all these other cities, but what about this one?

“It’s home,” he said. “It’s home.”

Like any other answer he’s given over the last few months, that’s no more a breadcrumb leading to answering what he’s going to do come July 1, but it is a reaffirmation of Durant’s affection for the place he’s called home the last seven years.

“I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well. And we want to do our justice by giving back and giving to the less fortunate. That’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom taught me, how my grandmother taught me, is to give back. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to be a blessing on someone else.”

As is the case whenever the Thunder do anything, virtually the entire organization was present for the event, including Russell WestbrookSerge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams.

“Since I’ve been doing this job we’ve walked into the same building every single day,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said of Durant, who he drafted at the age of 18. “I can honestly tell you there’s never a day that goes by that I take for granted that I work in an organization that has Kevin Durant representing it. His evolution as a person has been as steady, consistent and impressive as his evolution as a player. And that’s quite the statement.”

(more…)

Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs gearing up for Warriors | Okafor’s surgery delayed | Barnes, Henson get chippy at end of game | Biyombo delivers for Raptors

No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:

It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.

No chance.

Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.

“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.

They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.

“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”

Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.

“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”

“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.

“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”

Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.

“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.

“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround – March 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs clinch SouthwestWarriors win without Iguodala | Kyrie ready to “step up” | Grizz lose Conley, Andersen

No. 1: Spurs clinch Southwest — At this point we shouldn’t be surprised: The Spurs just win games. Some of the tertiary players might change, but the principals remain the same: Pop, Timmy, Tony, Manu. And last night in San Antonio, the Spurs did it again, coming from behind to beat Oklahoma City and clinch another Southwest Division title. As our Fran Blinebury writes, the Spurs just keep winning…

In a game when Danny Green took 10 shots and missed nine of them, it was the only one that mattered.

When Russell Westbrook gambled to come up with a steal, LaMarcus Aldridge found Green standing in the right corner, just the right place at just the right time.

There was only one thing to do and Green did it.

“He’s a pro and we made it very clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him. So screw it, let ’em fly. And he did.”

The Spurs won 93-85 on Saturday night in part because Green’s shot broke the last tie and broke the Thunder, but on the whole because the Spurs keep learning more and more about exactly who they can become.

Five months ago in the season opener at Oklahoma City, Aldridge, the new free-agent addition, might as well have been a lost puppy chasing his tail.

“I didn’t know my role, I was trying to find shots,” Aldridge said. “I think I took (12) shots that game. So it was very uncomfortable. I thought tonight was night and day [different] for sure.”

On the other hand, the Spurs are night and day the same, week after week, month after month, season after season.

They don’t get rocked, they roll. They don’t get shaken, only stirred.

This is how you keep doing what they do, pushing, grinding, forging an identity as the most solid, the most consistent, the best professional franchise in sports over the past two decades.

The win pushed the Spurs to a perfect 32-0 at the AT&T Center this season and they have now won 41 consecutive regular-season home games dating back exactly a year to March 12, 2015. They had already wrapped up a 55-win season for the 19th time in club history, trailing only the Lakers franchise (20) on the all-time NBA list. By beating the Thunder, they clinched another Southwest Division title and officially clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The advanced learning process continues, of course, because for all they have accomplished, the Spurs are still somehow looking up at Golden State in the standings.

It’s not the sheer numbers or the volume of pages they continue to fill up in the history books that keeps impressing. It’s the way they keep right on doing it as they evolve.

Here was a night when Tony Parker (0-for-4) went without a field goal for the first time in eight years, when Manu Ginobili (0-for-3) only scratched with a pair of free throws and Tim Duncan made just two shots after the first quarter. And yet the Spurs pulled it out and pulled away down the stretch.

***

No. 2: Warriors win without Iguodala — Hours after the Golden State Warriors found out they’ll be without star sixth man Andre Iguodala for at least a few weeks, the Warriors got put to the test by the lowly Phoenix Suns. No Iguodala? No problem, writes Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Warriors rallied behind Stephen Curry to remain perfect at home and push their record to league-best 59-6…

Curry finished with a game-high 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, after having to sit out most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Steve Kerr considered bringing Curry back with two or three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but he decided to wait until the start of the fourth — after the Warriors had watched an 11-point, first-half lead turn into a nine-point deficit.

“Obviously it worked well, but man, we got outplayed for three quarters,” Kerr said. “ … It was a great fourth quarter, but for those first three, they really took it to us.”

Phoenix (17-49) got 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Brandon Knight, 26 points and 13 rebounds from Alex Len and 18 points and 11 assists from rookie Devin Booker. All of this from a team that has gone 3-14 since interim head coach Earl Watson replaced the fired Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

The Warriors, even after finding out they’ll miss Andre Iguodala for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, committed only eight turnovers and were simply more talented than their competition.

Mareese Speights had 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench, Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Green put up 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

The first quarter included four ties and nine lead changes, including free throws by Leandro Barbosa that ignited the Warriors’ 13-5 run in the period’s final 2:55. Curry scored five of his 13 first-quarter points in the closing 34 seconds to give the Warriors a 31-24 edge heading into the second.

Curry went to the bench with four fouls at the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, and the Warriors’ lead evaporated into a 92-82 deficit on a Knight three-pointer with 1:35 to play. The Warriors’ point guard returned at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Warriors had tied it 95-95 2:11 later.

Speights scored six points during the 9-0 run and added a three-point play that put the Warriors ahead 100-98 with 8:53 to play.

During Speights’ postgame interview in the locker room, Andrew Bogut brought him a towel to wipe his brow.

“That’s on me, man,” Bogut said. “You played good today.”

***

No. 3: Kyrie ready to “step up” — As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to try and find the perfect mix heading into the postseason, Kobe Bryant says someone on their team needs to create some “inner conflict.” And as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe, Kyrie Irving, says he thinks he can be that person for the Cavs…

After Kobe Bryant played the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final time on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legend provided a parting take about the state of the Cavs.

“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”

Cleveland’s point guard, who idolized Bryant when he was growing up, thinks he can indeed be the straw that stirs the Cavs’ drink.

“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told ESPN.com before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.

“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron. So, I would agree with that. It’s definitely in my personality. It’s taken me a few years to kind of grow into that and kind of earn my teammates’ respect and also hold myself accountable when I’m out there.”

Irving is in his fifth season and turns 24 this month. James is a 13-year veteran and 31 years old. They are in vastly different stages of their careers, yet teaming together for the common goal of winning a championship. It’s accelerated Irving’s aging process.

“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”

The Cavs’ coach has seen the dynamic play out between his stars and still pegs it as more of a mentor-mentee relationship than peer-to-peer.

“It gives him a chance to learn from someone who has won two championships, been to the Finals six times,” Lue said. “He’s been arguably the best player in the league for seven, eight years in a row. Having that type of guy around you every single day to help mold you to what you’re trying to do and that’s winning. Kyrie has taken to it greatly. I think he likes having LeBron around and teaching him different things that we need to do to become champions.”

***

No. 4: Grizz lose Conley, Andersen — The Memphis Grizzlies of recent years have adopted a “grit and grind” identity, meaning they play hard and never give up. That philosophy is being put the test right now, as injuries had whittled their rotation down to as few as 8 players in recent days. And now, with a fight to hang onto their playoff spot ahead of them, the Grizz look to be without Mike Conley and Chris Andersen for a while, writes Ronald Tillery in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Grizzlies were granted two injury exceptions by the NBA and used them Saturday to sign guard Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.

Stepheson, 28, mostly recently played on a 10-day deal for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 31 games with the Iowa Energy this season, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate.

McCallum, 23, appeared in 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 assists. The 6-3 guard was the 36th overall pick during the 2013 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.

The Spurs waived McCallum Feb. 29 to create room for the signing of Andre Miller. McCallum would be eligible for the playoffs because his release happened before March 1.

The Griz now have three players with 10-day contracts after signing D-League point guard Briante Weber on Friday. Weber started and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The additional transactions come as the Griz announced that point guard Mike Conley will miss another three to four weeks with a sore Achilles.

Conley and center Chris Andersen sat out the past three games. Andersen suffered a partially separated shoulder March 6 in a home game against Phoenix. He remains out and will continue to be re-evaluated.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade sat out last night to recover from a bruised thigh … The Knicks lost on Friday night, but they liked the aggressiveness down the stretch from Kristaps Porzingis … The Warriors were named Best Analytics Organization at the Sloan Sports Athletics Conference … Here’s Phil Jackson‘s favorite Kobe story


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