While you weren’t looking, Golden State got really good

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They are 15-7, on a five-game winning streak all on the road with a signature win now in Miami. Their shooters and offense starting to find a groove while they dominate the glass. They are a team to watch in the Pacific because they are just going to get better.

The Lakers wish we were that writing about them.

But while everyone has watched the Lakers bumble and stumble, while Blake Griffin finishing Chris Paul’s lobs dazzled people, the Golden State Warriors have become a good team. A legitimate playoff team in the West.

A team that should get better as they go forward because their defensive anchor of a center, Andrew Bogut, has yet to play any meaningful minutes, plus key players have actually not been playing as up to levels we know they can reach.

Golden State has become a team to watch under Mark Jackson. This is no fluke. And people in the Bay Area are getting excited.

Part of the sudden improvement is simply health — they have Stephen Curry back and playing like his old self. He is giving them career highs in points (20) and assists (6.5 per game). There is no more trying to share the backcourt with Monta Ellis — who also needed the ball in his hands — he’s got a pure shooter in Klay Thompson back there with him. And what is dangerous is both of them are shooting below their expected levels so far this year — Curry at 43 percent, Thompson at 41.3 percent. When they find the groove the Warriors get better. Behind them they have a quality veteran in Jarrett Jack who can let the Warriors go very small and quick if they want. Jack can make plays.

David Lee is having a strong season inside and has clicked as a front line with Carl Landry — the Warriors lineups with those two on the floor together are their best. And Rookie Festus Ezeli is giving Golden State solid minutes off the bench.

The Warriors have been solid at both ends, with both the 11th best offense and defense in the league (according to the NBA.com stats). The Warriors offense in the seven games they have played this month is 6.1 points per 100 possessions better than in November.

And when they get a healthy Bogut back their defense should improve more — remember that the Bogut we saw in Milwaukee before his injuries was as good defensively as any center in the league.

Jackson has this team having fun on the court again (he even let the guys have a night out in Miami to celebrate after the Heat win, a move not every coach makes). I and others had questions about him as a coach when the Warriors hired him, and the book on him is far from written, but myself and others could be eating some lovely crow pie. Alamode.

It may be time to flip off of whatever channel the Lakers and Clippers are on, because there is another good team in California. And one that can be even more fun to watch.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.