NBA season preview: Golden State Warriors

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Last Season: The Warriors hope that last season was one where the decisions the franchise made put the team in position to compete for years to come — starting now. First year head coach Mark Jackson didn’t have much to work with, and Stephen Curry’s ankle problems that allowed him to play only 26 games didn’t help matters. By making the big trade that sent Monta Ellis out of town in exchange for Andrew Bogut, along with some smaller moves and some decent draft picks, Golden State is poised to show some major improvement if things go as planned.

Key Departures: Monta Ellis was the big one, traded to Milwaukee for injured big man Andrew Bogut. Dorell Wright is also gone, which only is important to mention because he started 61 games for the Warriors last season. Wright’s productivity was down from the previous year, however, and after the team selected Harrison Barnes in the draft, the club  realized his services would no longer be needed.

Key Additions: Bogut will be the biggest difference-maker for the Warriors, especially defensively. Rookie Festus Ezeli should also provide help on the defensive front, and Barnes will have a chance to make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. Jarrett Jack will provide some veteran stability at point guard off the bench, after putting up career numbers last season on a dreadful Hornets team in New Orleans. The Warriors also added Carl Landry, who should be another more than serviceable option off the bench.

Three keys to the Warriors season:

1) One word: Health. It’s the first thing that comes out of every Warriors fan’s mouth when they talk about their team’s outlook for the upcoming season: “Hey, if we can stay healthy …” But can they? Andrew Bogut doesn’t exactly have a reputation as an iron man, and neither does the team’s young starting point guard, Stephen Curry. Bogut was targeting training camp for his return but he isn’t back yet, and while Curry has looked great early in the preseason, the team is still waiting as long as possible before finalizing a contract extension for him by the Oct. 31 deadline.

2) Defensive improvement in a major way: Mark Jackson wants to coach a team that plays some defense. Whether or not he can get a defensive system in place that his entire team will buy into is another story. Bogut in the middle is a good start, but there’s virtually no one behind him on the bench that can provide what he can while he sits. Maybe that’s Ezeli’s role to fill, and maybe the team can get 10-12 solid minutes a game from him there.

The Warriors are going to put up plenty of points with Curry and Klay Thompson lighting it up from the outside, but whether or not they can commit to defense and improve significantly from the 106 points per 100 possessions they gave up a season ago (only three teams were worse) will go a long way in determining just how much the team will improve in the standings.

3) How good of a coach is Mark Jackson? We have no idea, honestly. A lockout-shortened season and one where the team suffered injury to one of its best players, then made a franchise-altering trade is no way to treat your first-year head coach, not to mention one with absolutely zero prior head coaching experience at any level. If the team stays healthy, we’ll find out fairly quickly if Jackson’s systems and leadership style are indeed elite, and if he can put his stamp on this Warriors team by leading them to or very near the postseason, he’ll have proven that he belongs.

What Warriors fans should fear: See 1), above. The health concerns are so real with this team that it’s worth hitting home a second time.

Prediction: This Warriors team is going to be very tough to deal with offensively, and a third place finish in the division behind the Lakers and Clippers seems like good place to start. The starting five is legit, with David Lee and Richard Jefferson in the mix alongside Curry, Bogut, and Thompson. There’s a ton of depth in the Western Conference, but if everything comes together the way the team is hoping, a run at one of the conference’s final playoff spots is certainly within reach.

Watch Hassan Whiteside beat the Pistons at the buzzer with tip-in (VIDEO)

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The Miami Heat took until the final moments on Tuesday night to beat the Detroit Pistons, but it was worth it. With just a handful of games left to play, the Heat need to stave off the Chicago Bulls for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Thanks to a tip at the buzzer by Hassan Whiteside, they’re one step closer to achieving that goal.

The play came with just seconds left in the fourth quarter. James Johnson missed a shot with six seconds to go, and the Heat grabbed the rebound. Goran Dragic then tried his hand, but he couldn’t get it to go, either.

That’s when Whiteside came back with a tip at the buzzer that ended the game.

Via Twitter:

Miami now sits at 36-38, a game above the Bulls for the No. 8 seed.

Whiteside, meanwhile, is never going to wash that hand again:

Kobe Bryant says LeBron James has earned the right to take a rest (VIDEO)

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Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was a pretty consistent player in the NBA. Save for his final injury-laden seasons and the lockout year of 2011-12, Bryant played in no fewer than 65 regular season games in a single season.

Coaches also had no reason or want to ask Bryant — a notorious worker — to sit out in order to rest. That wasn’t really on the menu, and Bryant knew that.

Speaking to ESPN’s First Take, Bryant said no coach really asked him to ever take a rest, “I’ve never been approached by a coach and asked to rest.”

Bryant remarked that he took queues from Michael Jordan during tough stretches of the season — back-to-backs or four games in five night scenarios — where he could switch his game up, floating from perimeter to post, in order to save energy during those matchups.

Bryant also said during the same interview that he understands the complexity of the modern game, and that players like LeBron James deserve to take a rest if they’ve earned it.

“LeBron has done so much for the game. He’s earned the opportunity to take a rest,” said Bryant.

The debate on this subject will continue, it seems.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.