Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Raptors’

Playoff Scenarios: What’s at stake on final night of season

HANG TIME BIG CITY — 81 games down, one to go. After Wednesday, the NBA regular season will be over, but even with the end around the corner, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, we’ve got Wednesday night, the results of which will determine the playoff matchups. So what’s the scenario? Let’s take a look at all the different ways this could play out …

  • For a few playoff teams, Wednesday’s games will have no impact on their postseason standing. In the Western Conference, the top four teams are locked in: the Golden State Warriors (1), San Antonio Spurs (2), Oklahoma City Thunder (3) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) are set. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland (1), Toronto (2), Indiana (7) and Detroit (8) are assured of their spots. So the Cavs will host the Pistons, while the Raptors will host the Pacers.
  • The 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference couldn’t be much closer. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat both enter Wednesday night with 48-33 records, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are both 47-34. Miami owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta and Charlotte, Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and Charlotte, and Boston owns the tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami. If Miami wins or Atlanta loses, the Heat win the Southeast Division. If Atlanta wins and Miami loses, the Hawks win the Southeast Division. Got all that?
  • Miami could finish anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 6 spot. No matter what else happens, if the Heat beat the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks will be the No. 4 seed.
  • After that, it gets pretty complicated. If the Heat and Hornets lose and the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), the Hawks will be the 3 seed. The Heat and Celtics would then have the same record, with Boston holding the tie-breaker, meaning the Celtics would get the 4 seed, and the Heat would finish 5th, leaving the Hornets 6th. If the Heat win or the Hawks lose, the Hawks finish 4. If Miami loses and the Hawks and the Hornets win, the Hawks would finish 3, while Boston would be 4, Charlotte in 5, and the Heat would finish in the 6 spot.
  • The highest the Celtics can finish is the No. 4 seed, if they beat Miami and Atlanta beats Washington. If Boston loses and Charlotte wins, the Celtics will finish 6.
  • The best the Charlotte Hornets can achieve is a No. 5 seed. If the Hornets beat the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and Miami wins, the Hornets will finish No. 5 and the Celtics will finish No. 6. The Hornets also clinch the 5 spot if the Hornets, Hawks and Celtics all win. If the Hornets lose to the Magic, they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. Same if the Hornets and Celtics win and the Hawks lose.
  • In the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are all still jockeying for the 5, 6 and 7 positions. The Blazers enter Wednesday’s games 43-38, while the Grizzlies and Mavericks are 42-39.
  • Dallas can finish No. 5 if it wins and Portland loses. Dallas will finish No. 6 if it wins and Portland wins, or if Dallas and Memphis both lose.
  • Memphis has one game left, and it’s a big one: at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Warriors trying to go to 73-9, breaking the 72-10 regular season mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If Memphis wins and Dallas loses, the Grizzlies will finish in the No. 6 spot. If the Grizz lose, or if they win and Dallas wins, Memphis lands in 7th.
  • For the final Western Conference playoff spot, Houston and Utah are both still alive, although the Rockets hold the tiebreaker edge thanks to their 2-1 record against the Jazz this season. The Rockets host the Sacramento Kings (8 p.m., ET, NBA League Pass), and if the Rockets win, they’re in. For Utah, the Jazz have to not only hope for a Rockets loss, but also find themselves needing to win what will be an emotionally-charged game in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game as the Lakers host the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Iverson, Yao, Shaq lead 2016 Hall of Fame class

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins | Report: Conley’s season likely over | Carroll gearing up for return | Kobe reflects on rescinded Paul trade | Scott: Young ‘not here with us, mentally’

No. 1: Kerr says Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins — Don’t misunderstand Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, here. Yes, he would love to see his Warriors break the NBA single-season wins mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (which Kerr was a key role player on). But in a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Kerr clarified that he isn’t pushing the team for the record, but instead playing out the season in hopes of getting it while also trying to keep the squad healthy as the playoffs approach:

Steve Kerr, the one-time Chicago Bulls sharpshooter turned Golden State Warriors coach whose past and present are racing to the regular-season finish this week, is pushing back against the idea that he’s pushing his current team toward what could be a record 73-win campaign.

“We’re not really pushing for this,” Kerr, whose Warriors (69-8) must win four of their final five games to best the 72-10 mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls squad on which he played a pivotal part, told USA TODAY Sports after practice Monday. “All we’ve said is, ‘Yeah, it’d be nice to get. We’d like to get it.’

“But if I were pushing for it, I probably wouldn’t be resting (backup point guard) Shaun Livingston and (center Andrew) Bogut, and I’d be playing our starters more. We’re just playing it out. I don’t understand if people are going to say that we’re pushing for this. I don’t think that’s the right word to use. We’d like to get it, but we’re still resting people and trying to get us set up for the playoffs.”

And if they happen to break the Bulls’ mark, Kerr will be as elated as anyone. No matter what Luc Longley has to say about it.

“He had a great line,” said a smiling Kerr, whose Warriors host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday before facing the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies twice apiece in the final four games. “He said ‘You know, you haven’t thought this through obviously.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Your coaching legacy is already established. You won a championship, so people are going to know down the road that you were a good coach. But as a player, you were mediocre at best. So if you break this record and you don’t have that record as a player, nobody’s ever going to remember you as a player, so what are you thinking?’ And I said, ‘Are you talking about you or me, Luc?’ He said, ‘both.’”

This week, in fact, former Bulls star Scottie Pippen said the 1995-96 team would sweep the Warriors in a playoff series. Pippen even detailed his own part in the hypothetical clash, saying he would hold Stephen Curry below 20 points a game with his length, athleticism and physicality. To that charge, Kerr decided not to push back.

“(What Pippen said) doesn’t bother me,” said Kerr, who had three titles with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. “Every player out there who is connected to that team is going to be asked that question, and my response is always the same. The rules are so different, and the game is so different. We take 30 threes a game, or more, but the defensive rules are totally different in terms of illegal defense.

“With the old illegal defense rules, we would’ve had a hard time guarding the post. But now we can flood the strong side in a pseudo-zone. Back then you could hand-check, now you can’t hand-check. It’s hard to make a comparison if you’re really looking at it objectively, so I don’t even bother.”


VIDEO: Curry, Kerr talk after Thursday’s practice

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Analytics Art: Lowry, Wiggins and Dirk among week’s worst shooters


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry is a nominee for Kia Player of the Month for March

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

As the calendar flips to April and practical jokers execute their best (read: worst) pranks, the NBA landscape heads to the home stretch before playoffs roll around. For the most part, seeding has already been set. But for the tighter races in the Eastern Conference and toward the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, now is not the time for players to slump.

And yet, two players on this iteration of the week’s coldest shooters are suiting up for teams either guaranteed to reach the postseason or fighting for a spot to get there. The team at PointAfter, part of the Graphiq network, will break down three of the week’s worst shooters using interactive data visualizations.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games from March 25-31.

 

Guard: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors 

Kyle Lowry is posting the best season of his career.

Toronto’s bulldog point guard is shooting a career-best 38.6 percent from 3-point territory this season to go with a career-high 21.5 points per game. His numbers over the last week, however, have been far from the norm.

The 30-year-old veteran played four games over the past seven days, shooting a combined 23.1 percent from the field. Let’s just say that making less than one in four shots is not good. Add in the fact that Lowry went 7-of-30 from beyond the arc (including a ghastly 0-of-8 showing against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday), and this was, without question, the worst shooting week of Lowry’s season.

Raptors fans better hope the team’s best player snaps back to form soon, or there’s a good chance Toronto will get bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.

 

Wing: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Though former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins scores points in bulk, he still needs to improve some holes in his game before he can be considered an All-Star-caliber player. Despite his size (6-foot-8), the 21 year old averages only 3.6 rebounds (a full rebound below his rookie average) and has a rebounding percentage of just six percent.

He also dishes out two assists per contest, so his volume scoring is really the one true saving grace at this point of his career. Of course, he’s shooting just 29.2 percent from beyond the arc this season and sputtered through a lackluster week.

Aside from a 32-point outburst against the Phoenix Suns on Monday — in which Wiggins did most of his damage at the free-throw line, going 17-of-21 — Wiggins shot 31.4 percent from the field. His performances throughout the month of March were otherwise stellar, though, so consider the latest hiccup just the normal ups and downs of a young player.

 

Forward/Center: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

What future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki has been doing as a 37 year old this season is nothing short of remarkable. According to Basketball Reference, the 7-foot German would become the third player in NBA history to average at least 18 points and six rebounds with a true shooting percentage of 55 percent or better after turning 37. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it twice, and Karl Malone did so once.

Of course, when you consider that Dirk has shot 305 3-pointers this season, and the other guys shot eight 3s combined in their three such seasons, Nowitzki’s campaign has to be deemed the most impressive.

But even Nowitzki is human, and it showed over the past week. After sitting out the March 25 loss against the Golden State Warriors, Nowitzki shot 6-of-15 against the Kings, 4-of-17 against the Nuggets and 5-of-23 against the Knicks in three games.

Somehow, the Mavs managed to escape with a 2-1 record despite Nowitzki’s shooting slump to keep their playoff hopes alive.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters in the NBA this week


VIDEO: Utah’s Rodney Hood scores 30 points in first half vs. Lakers

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Teams are fighting for their playoff lives as the calendar turns to April. This week, two Western Conference sharpshooters helped their clubs keep pace in the frantic race happening on the postseason bubble. Meanwhile, a veteran experiencing a bit of a down season up north showed he could still make a difference with his shooting stroke.

PointAfter breaks down the three hottest shooters of the week with interactive visualizations.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between March 25-31.  

Guard: J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were briefly out of the Western Conference playoff picture after losing 10 of their first 13 March contests. Their smallest player propped them back up into a tie for seventh place this week by helping them claim two victories to end the month.

J.J. Barea logged a double-double (18 points, 11 assists) in a nine-point road win over Denver on Monday, then poured in 26 points off the bench in a 91-89 triumph over the Knicks, the most scored by a Dallas reserve this season.

The 31 year old has made at least half his shots in Dallas’ last four games, and he finished March shooting 49 percent from downtown. Barea rediscovering his shooting touch after three mediocre seasons from beyond the arc has helped him post a career-best 15.1 PER this year. He could be an unlikely hero for the Mavericks in their quest for the postseason.

 

Wing: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

For this generation of NBA players, the ultimate compliment when you’re playing the Lakers is having Kobe Bryant ask to guard you. Rodney Hood experienced that on Monday night after he dropped 30 points in the first half of Utah’s clash against Los Angeles. Bryant hardly let Hood touch the ball in the second half, and the second-year wing didn’t score a point in the second half.

No matter — the damage was already done. The game ended up as Bryant’s worst loss of his career, a 48-point shellacking that Hood sparked by making 8-of-9 3-pointers in the first half. He was easily the most dangerous scorer on the court, whether you measure by efficiency or raw point total. No other player scored more than 17 points or came close to matching Hood’s astronomical 115.4 true shooting percentage.

Hood also acquitted himself well in Utah’s overtime loss to Golden State, notching 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting. But it was his utter domination of the Lakers that he’ll remember when he looks back on his “sophomore” season in the league.

 

Forward/Center: Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors

Patrick Patterson has taken a back seat in Toronto’s offense this year, and for good reason. He’s posted career lows in usage rate (12.3 percent), field goal percentage (42 percent) and scoring rate (11 points per 40 minutes). However, he can still provide the occasional boost off the bench for the Raptors.

The stretch-four was 7-of-13 from deep this week, including a 16-point outburst in 20 minutes against New Orleans on Saturday that saw him sink all three of his treys.

Patterson impacts Toronto on offense more than most realize. He shoots 39 percent from deep in the Raptors’ franchise-record 50 victories compared to 33 percent in their losses, and the team’s offensive rating increases by 7.5 points when he’s on the court.

With the six-year veteran launching more 3s than ever before this year (3.8 per game) and providing savvy defensive play, he’s still positively affecting the Raptors despite his reduced role.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Blogtable: The best backup point guard in the NBA is …?

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


BLOGTABLE: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEODennis Schroder stars in Hawks’ win vs. Lakers

> Who is the best backup point guard in the NBA today?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Isn’t The Professor always the answer? All right; if I have to pick someone besides 71-year-old Andre Miller, I’ll go with Shaun Livingston — who I don’t believe has missed a single shot this season. Maybe it just seems that way.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I were going by sheer numbers, I’d tip toward Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. On a per-36-minute basis, the Hawks’ feisty backup to Jeff Teague is averaging nearly 20 points and eight assists. But one of the traits I value most in a backup PG is stability, which is why I choose Sacramento’s Darren Collison. He has the experience and temperament to master that role, leading the Kings’ reserves without unduly seeking out his own stats or disrupting the pecking order. At 16.5 points and 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, his numbers are strong enough — including a career-best 48.0 field-goal percentage and 39.8 percent on 3-pointers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: G’day, Mate. I’m riding with Patty Mills. As coach Gregg Popovich micro-manages the minutes of his Big Three, Mills is playing more than 20 minutes per game behind Tony Parker. Mills keeps the pace up, penetrates and has a knack for hitting big 3s. He was instrumental in the 2014 championship run and even more important two years later in a graying lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Shaun Livingston. He makes shots (though without great range) and smart plays, is dependable and has the size that not only can create mismatches but is also a nice contrast to Stephen Curry. Dennis Schröder is in the conversation as well. And Darren Collison, since he has returned to a backup role after starting last season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI love the spunk that Jeremy Lin is giving the Hornets, but my pick is Dennis Schröder of the Hawks, who has raised every facet of his game (11.5 points and 5 assists in 20 minutes per). Tough and fearless, Schroder has often played better this season than Jeff Teague, who slumped badly early on. I just wish the German would go all-out with his hair as he does on the court. Go full blond. Be daring.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I love the way Cory Joseph is being used in Toronto in relief of Kyle Lowry, as well as when he and Lowry work together. Coach Dwane Casey found something in that point guard rotation. But the best game changer at the position off the bench this season has been Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He can play at any speed and shreds defenses when he’s attacking the basket and finishing over much bigger players. Something has to give eventually with he and Jeff Teague both wanting the keys to the car in Atlanta. But for now, Schroder will have to settle for being the best back-up point guard in the NBA.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaun Livingston because of his efficiency, experience and game-changing length. But the real proof is in the results: The Warriors have been as close to perfect as any team we’ve seen in two decades, and if Livingston wasn’t providing the highest level of leadership off the bench then we would definitely notice.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogA couple of names came to mind, guys who are currently backups but, given the chance, should or could be able to lead NBA teams: Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Michael Carter-Williams. But to me the best back-up in the NBA is Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He ain’t perfect — Schröder can be inconsistent, his jumper needs improving, and he sometimes struggles with understanding when to attack and when to pull back. But when he’s on, Schröder keeps an All-Star in Jeff Teague on the bench during crunch time. And there aren’t a lot of back-ups who can say that.

Blogtable: Another early playoff exit for Toronto?

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: Another early exit for Raptors? | NBA’s best backup point guard is …? |
Impact of Griffin’s return?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss the Raptors as the playoffs near

> Toronto’s push for the top seed in the East seems to have run out of steam. Should Raptors fans be worried about another early exit this postseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Define “early.” If you mean before the conference finals, heck yes, they should be worried. The Raptors are respected, to be sure, but I don’t think any of the potential Top 3 seeds in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte) would be terrified by not having home court against Toronto in a semifinal series. The Raptors are a combined 9-3 against that quartet going into Wednesday’s game with the Hawks (7:30 ET, NBA TV), but they were 4-0 in the regular season against the Washington Wizards in 2014-15, and we know where that got them. But: at least Paul Pierce is safely in the Western Conference now, and can’t torment Toronto for a third straight postseason. And: the Raptors have two lockdown units, featuring Bismack Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph  with either Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan as the fifth wheel. They rank third (with Lowry) and fourth (with DeRozan) in the league in defensive rating among five-man rotations that have logged 200 or more minutes this season. But can that group get a big bucket against a top-shelf defense that takes either Lowry or DeRozan away?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Worried is too strong a word, in addition to being a complete waste of time that accomplishes nothing. The bottom on the Eastern Conference isn’t exactly a minefield of first-round terror, so while there is pressure on Toronto not to exit early again (as it did against Brooklyn and Washington the past two postseasons), there also ought to be confidence and optimism. The Raptors’ baby steps have gotten them to this point, where they can take a significant stride by winning a playoff series for only the second time in the franchise’s two decades. Nothing, however, is guaranteed — even against Indiana or Detroit — and until the Raptors do it, they’ll be doubted. So rather than worry, Toronto fans should hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There’s every reason to think the Raptors have what it takes to get out of the first round this year. But until it actually happens, there’s every reason to worry. Nobody has more to prove in the first round this season than Toronto and the core of the lineup going forward.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No more than any other fan group with high hopes should be worried about an early exit. If the Raptors win three in a row or four out of five, we’ll be back to “Should the Cavaliers be worried about the Raptors?” Toronto has a lot of reason to remain encouraged. Let’s see how the Raptors are doing in another five or seven games, see who they’re playing in the first round, and maybe then start to sweat. But not now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the first round, the Raptors are likely to see either Detroit or Indiana, two teams with severe performance mood swings. So, Toronto is likely safe this year. I’d be more worried about the semifinals. Both the Hawks and Heat are hotter teams at the moment and the Raptors would have their hands full against either, even with home court advantage. If the Raptors don’t put up a fight this spring, it’ll be a failure if only because of the quick exits the last two years. Would coach Dwane Casey survive another such disaster?

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Raptors fans should be worried right up until the moment their team finishes that fourth win in their first-round series this season. And I would say the same for any fan base that has endured back-to-back first round exits with their team as the higher seed. I like the Raptors’ chances much better this season. But like most, I need to see them advance before pondering what’s to come for this bunch. And for the record: I have no problem with a fan base worrying themselves into a state of panic until their team breaks through.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThey’re going to worry, because Indiana is one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and Detroit is loaded with firepower. But the Raptors are fully deserving of their No. 2 seed: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey have invested three years in building something together, and they’re not going to fall short this time. Their commitment to one another transcends the matchups. They’ve earned the right to reach the semifinals — and maybe the conference finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ve always believed in setting reasonable goals. The Raptors haven’t made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs since 2002. Yes, they’ve been terrific this season, but I don’t know that anyone should be expecting a trip to the NBA Finals so quickly. To me, advancing to the Eastern Conference semis is a reasonable (and do-able) goal for the Raptors. And if they go further? That’s the cherry on top. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Raptors fans have anything to worry about, at least when it comes to escaping round one.

Morning shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr won’t keep Warriors from chasing 73 | Young Jazz get big win on road | LeBron discusses his behavior with coach, GM | Casey won’t risk players’ health for No. 1 seed

No. 1: Kerr won’t stop Warriors from chasing 73 — As the Golden State Warriors have rolled through the 2015-16 season, their success has been compared against that of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who set the NBA single-season record for wins. That Chicago crew amassed 72 wins and Golden State is more than on pace to break that mark. Yet questions remained about whether or not coach Steve Kerr (a reserve on that 1995-96 Bulls team) would led the Warriors pursue the mark … or rest his players for another Finals push. Wonder no more, writes Tim Kawakami of The Mercury News, as both Kerr and star Stephen Curry backed the team’s push for history:

The Warriors are going for 73 regular-season victories — to top the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10 — on their way to an attempt at repeat championships.

Because: Why not?

After weeks of hints and evasions, coach Steve Kerr and star Stephen Curry all but made the official announcement in the hours before Wednesday night’s 114-98 victory over the Clippers at Oracle Arena.

That performance raised the Warriors’ overall record to 64-7, their home record to 33-0 (no team has ever gone undefeated at home for a full regular season) and put an exclamation point on their grand stretch-run plans.

It’s all out there, and the Warriors are no longer going to pretend they don’t know it or want it.

“Now we’re right there,” Kerr said before the game. “That’s pretty enticing.

“It’s really the players’ record. I know they want to get it. So we’ll act accordingly.”

The Warriors’ immediate priority is to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, and the Warriors still have to keep winning games to fend off San Antonio.

And most of all, obviously, the Warriors want to maximize their chances to win back-to-back titles.

A more cautious team — a less historic team — might find a game or two of rest Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green over the next handful of games.

There are risks to going after a record that guarantees them nothing for the playoffs.

So stipulated.

But if they’re all feeling good over these next few weeks, the motivation is clear: The Warriors need nine more victories with 11 to play, and it’s right there for them.

The larger point is that this epic season has been fueled by pure competitive fire, and now that the Warriors are on the brink of history, why would they throttle it down now that it’s tangible?

“It’s probably a different answer for each person,” Curry said after the team’s shootaround Wednesday, “but this is probably a good checkpoint.

“Going 10-2 for us is kind of on pace for what we’ve been doing all season.”

“Yeah, this whole idea of setting a record does make things a little trickier,” Kerr said. “It’s the players who are setting a record. It’s not the organization. It’s the players who are doing it.

“So they will absolutely have some say in matters down the stretch in terms of how we approach everything.”

“For us, we don’t want to limp into the playoffs,” Curry said. “We want to continue to play better and fine-tune on both sides of the ball, our execution.

“We want to continue to establish winning habits and a winning mentality as you go into the playoffs.

“Whatever it takes to motivate us at this point, whether it’s just continue what we’ve been doing, searching for that 73, No. 1 seed, whatever it is.”

Also, Curry added: “Sitting out and watching is just boring. I don’t like watching games if you have the opportunity to play in them.”


VIDEO: Golden State tramples the Los Angeles Clippers for win No. 64

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 232) Featuring Jerry Stackhouse

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — While the Cleveland Cavaliers spend their days trying to figure out who they are, and perhaps better yet who LeBron James wants them to be, the Toronto Raptors are quietly giving chase for that No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Their grind has been steady and a bit under the radar, since the basketball world’s focus has been locked on the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs for months now. But the Raptors seem bent on crashing the party. All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are trying to make sure of it.

They have someone with loads of experience at their disposal in Toronto assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse, an 18-year veteran who has seen and done it all, having spent most of his life immersed in the game.

If anyone can aid Lowry and DeRozan in their quest to join the league’s elite, it’s a no-nonsense veteran like Stackhouse, who never shied away from a challenge during his playing career.

Stackhouse joins us on Episode 232 of The Hang Time Podcast to talk Raptors, his life and times in basketball and so much more.

On a more somber note we say goodbye to friend of the show and hip-hop legend Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, who passed away Tuesday from complications of diabetes. Phife, a lyrical genius and noted hoops head, joined us on the bus during the Hang Time Road Trip 2 in October in Oakland. His work with A Tribe Called Quest is timeless and he will missed by many.

We also want to send our prayers up for our colleague and friend Craig Sager of TNT, who is once again battling acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer. #SagerStrong

Check out all that and more on Episode 232 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Jerry Stackhouse.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

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VIDEO: Our main man Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest joined us on the bus on The Hang Time Road Trip 2 in Oakland

Morning shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook keeps rolling along | No timetable yet on Griffin’s return | Howard says Rockets can win 2016 title | Raptors closing in on team history

No. 1: Westbrook racks up another triple-double — Entering this season, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. After collecting his third straight triple-double last night in a win against the Houston Rockets (21 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists), Westbrook has 15 this season alone. That would give anyone reason to brag, but Westbrook remains as humble and driven as ever, something his teammates never fail to notice. Royce Young of ESPN.com has more on Westbrook’s triple-double run and its affect on OKC:

He doesn’t like talking much about himself or the things he has done, making it a point to redirect the conversation toward his teammates or about the big picture of winning the game. It’s what most professional athletes are programmed to do, redistributing praise and letting one’s play speak for itself.

But Westbrook just seems downright uncomfortable any time he gets asked about historical context or some supersized statline. That’s unfortunate, because he’s doing things at a rate that keeps the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter timeline at a steady flow.

For instance: He just put up his 15th triple-double — 21 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 111-107 win over the Houston Rockets — that put him in the company of one Michael Jordan for the second most in a season in the last 30 years. Magic Johnson had 17 in 1988-89, and with 11 games left, it almost seems probable Westbrook will jump that number with the way he’s stacking them up (six in his last nine games). That’s pretty crazy, right?

Westbrook somehow seems to stat-pad in the most selfless way possible, effectively by consuming as much of the game as he possibly can when he’s on the floor. He doesn’t go after the numbers; the numbers just come to him.

“Yeah, that’s good, man,” Kevin Durant said of Westbrook’s 15 triple-doubles. (An aside: Durant said in a decidedly ho-hum kind of way, which says a lot about how routine Westbrook has made these nights). “One thing about Russell is he doesn’t really play for that stuff. That’s not really important to us. For him, of course it’s cool to have that many triple-doubles, but it’s about winning at the end of the day.”

And here’s the thing: That’s what the Thunder do when he gets them. With Tuesday’s effort, Westbrook and the Thunder made it 15-for-15 — 15 triple-doubles, 15 wins. If the Thunder want to reach the level of the Golden State Warriors, the answer to getting there apparently is pretty simple: Westbrook just has to get a triple-double every game — or at least 73 of them, maybe.

“Nah, man,” Westbrook said, laughing. “Just play, man. Just play my game. The game will tell you what to do. Like I said all season, if it’s scoring, then I’ll score, if it’s rebounding, that’s what it is, passing, whatever it is. The game will tell you what to do, and that’s what I try to do.”

It seems as if there’s something to that, though; 15-0 is hard to ignore. Just statistical happenstance, or is something working in those games?

“I’m not sure, man,” Westbrook said. “I think just trying to find the right way to play. All those games are big games for us, because we came out with a win.”

The narrative with Westbrook once upon a time was that he shot too much, but it was never out of a ball-hogging selfishness. It was more about survival instinct and a lack of overall trust. But with more well-rounded offensive weapons playing around him now — such as Enes Kanter, namely — he has turned into the league’s best creator.

He has entirely bought in — which is the most important part. There were fears about his coachability under a new regime, moving away from Scott Brooks’ more liberal “Let Russ Be Russ” philosophy into coach Billy Donovan‘s slightly more democratic approach. All Westbrook talks about is winning, and as he has matured appears to understand and believe in the process it takes to do that. For example: The Thunder are 19-1 this season when he shoots 15 or fewer times. They’re 30-12 when he records 10 or more assists. Like the triple-doubles to wins and losses, they’re possibly just arbitrary stats that connect some dots — or maybe the combination to unlock the full potential of the Thunder.

To see Westbrook grow into the kind of player who has gone from one of the most polarizing and debated players in the league to one who now has 12 games of 15 or more assists has been a remarkable evolution. To see a player who has put up 15 triple-doubles with still 11 games to go — well, even Westbrook is shocked by that.

“Never, man. Never,” he said when asked if he ever expected that. “I’m just blessed to be able to play the game I love and have an opportunity to play with such great guys. My teammates do a great job of helping me out and I just go out and try and compete at a high level every night.”


VIDEO: Westbrook talks with Inside the NBA after his monster game

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Cavaliers put rest before No. 1 seed


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will prioritize rest over the No.1 seed

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The maintenance plan in San Antonio is a staple of Gregg Popovich‘s program, no matter where the Spurs are in the standings this time of year.

But in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are just a game ahead of the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference playoff chase? Apparently so. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue made that clear to reporters today as he discussed the way he will approach the final days of the regular season in preparation for, what he anticipates to be a second consecutive deep playoff run for his team.

“We definitely want the No. 1 seed if we can get it, but I think we have to rest our guys also,” Lue said, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported after the team’s shootaround Monday morning. “I think health going into the playoffs is more important than the seeding. If we’re fortunate enough to get the No. 1 seed, it will be great for us. But if not, then we just got to play through it.

“I think all championship teams have to win on the road anyway. So, [the No. 1 seed is] important to us, but also being healthy going into the playoffs is more important.”

The Raptors own the tiebreaker of the Cavaliers, having won the season series 2-1.

The Golden State Warriors, locked in a race for the top spot in the Western Conference standings against the Spurs, might face a similar dilemma, depending on how things transpire in the coming days.

The Warriors have a three-game lead over the Spurs with two games remaining against Popovich’s crew. They are chasing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record 72-win regular season mark as well as trying to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Warriors are also 32-0 at home this season with nine of their remaining 13 games at Oracle Arena. They need to go 11-2 to break the Bulls’ record.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr addressed the topic before his team lost to the Spurs in San Antonio Saturday night, saying that he is already finding ways to keep his team fresh by resting his guys during games and adjusting his practice schedule and routine to make sure his team remains fresh for a defense of their title.

Lue played on championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers, so he surely understands the need to rest his stars — LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — in an effort to keep them fresh for a long postseason run.

But if it costs the Cavaliers the No. 1 seed, it will no doubt raise a few eyebrows.