David Lee, Stephen Curry

The Extra Pass: Warriors stumbling into the All-Star break

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The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at what has gone wrong with the Golden State Warriors lately.

There has been no bigger darling of the first half of the NBA season than the Golden State Warriors. Pegged as a fringe playoff team heading into the campaign, the Warriors have surprised nearly everyone with inspired play on both sides of the ball and a firm place in the standings as one of the West’s better teams.

That success, however, has not been there recently. The Warriors have lost 5 straight games and 6 of their last 10, leading to a fall in the standings from 4th to 6th in the ultra competitive West. And if you listen to Andrew Bogut tell it, the Warriors seem to have too high an opinion of themselves as a team:

And we’re not there–we’re not who we think we are. I think we thought we were maybe a little better than we were.

Bogut has a history of not pulling any punches when critiquing his team (or himself) and his comments reflect the idea that while the Warriors have played well to this point in the year, they’re now struggling to adapt to the idea that they have to bring it every night. Complacency — especially amongst top teams — can be common in the NBA and it seems the Warriors, if you listen to Bogut, have caught that bug.

It’s one thing to talk about a mindset, however, and quite another to look at where the team is failing on the court; where they’re not executing. For the Warriors, it’s mostly been their defense that has been letting them down.

One of their keys to success this year has been a commitment to defending better. Head coach Mark Jackson has implemented simpler defensive schemes and has put players in position to succeed by drilling them on their responsibilities on any given action. With players understanding where they need to be and when they need to be there, Jackson has been able to turn average individual defenders into a group that was posting a top 12 defensive efficiency before their recent skid.

Lately, however, things are breaking down all over the floor. Individuals are allowing their man to beat them too often and that’s forcing the team into too many help situations. Once you force a team to help it only takes one breakdown from a secondary defender to turn a possession into a win for the offense. These breakdowns have become commonplace for the Warriors with individuals not only failing to stop their own man, but back line and secondary help defenders not doing their jobs to rotate and snuff out what the offense wants to do. Bigs have been late to stop dribble penetration and wings haven’t been digging down to the paint and still recovering back to the wing to contest shooters when the ball is kicked back out.

The resulting numbers have been downright miserable.

In their last 5 games Golden State has allowed a defensive efficiency of 117.1, a mark that would rank them last in the league by nearly 9 points per 100 possessions if given up over an entire season. Teams have been shooting 48.8% from the field and 43.8% from behind the arc during this stretch. Some of these numbers are surely opponent based. They’ve played the Rockets and Thunder a combined three times in those five games, both top 5 teams in offensive efficiency. However, in the other two losses they let the Mavs score 116 points and allowed a bottom 10 efficiency Grizzlies team to put up a mark a full 5 points (per 100 possessions) above their average. So it’s not as simple as chalking up these numbers to the excellence of the other team.

The Warriors have also seen a slip in their offensive performance. They’re scoring under a point per possession in their losing streak and have seen dips in every statistical category on that side of the ball. Most telling is their dip in three point shooting where they’re not only being held to fewer attempts per game but are also worse percentage wise. At the heart of these issues are the recent struggles of Steph Curry (38.5% shooting over the last 5) and Klay Thompson (40% shooting over the last 5), prompting questions about whether or not this duo is able to effectively play together long term.

And when you add the back court struggles to the dip in production from All-Star David Lee and the integration of Bogut (who, after returning from his ankle surgery, is still on a minutes restriction and unable to play on back to back nights), there are just too many things that have not been in this team’s favor lately.

In this regard, the All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Warriors. Their last game before the break was last night’s loss to the Rockets and they don’t play again until a week from now. That rest should allow them to recharge their batteries mentally and physically and reset their season.

That said, if they come back displaying the same lack of effort on defense while continuing to struggle to meet their season standards on offense, their slide will continue. They must get back to defending with purpose and finding ways to work better together on offense while integrating Bogut on both sides of the floor. If they can get that done, they’ll regain their form and compete for a top 4 seed come playoff time.

But if they don’t, their slip in the standings will continue and they may end up proving all those pre-season projections correct by being a fringe playoff team after all.

*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com

Carmelo airballs wide-open 5-foot jumper, sets Knicks scoring record (VIDEO)

New York Knicks' forward Carmelo Anthony (7) questions referee Dan Crawford (43) before he was ejected for two technical fouls in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. The Pelicans defeated the Knicks 110-96. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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Carmelo Anthony is a gifted scorer, but the New York Knicks forward probably wants this one back.

After a slick pass from a teammate on Thursday night against the Washington Wizards, Anthony turned to drop a floater down on the net and missed by a solid foot.

Via Twitter:

The joke was on the Wizards a few minutes later as Anthony went on a tear after the missed bucket. He set a Knicks record with 25 points in the second quarter, ending the first half with 27 points.

New York would go on to lose to the Wizards, 113-110.

Russell Westbrook isn’t an All-Star starter and the Internet is mad about it

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Russell Westbrook, the man averaging a triple-double for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season and a solid pick for NBA MVP, is not starting in the 2017 All-Star Game. Instead, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and James Harden of the Houston Rockets will be on the floor at tip as Westbrook watches from the bench.

That’s clearly wrong … right?

Westbrook lost the starting spot thanks to — brace yourselves — the fan vote. While players and media had Westbrook atop their voting sheets, fan votes put Westbrook No.3. That tied him with both Curry and Harden, who were Nos. 1 and 2 in the fan vote.

Of course, the fan vote is the tie breaker, which pushed the Thunder star to the reserves.

Meanwhile, the Internet was not happy about it:

Yeah … Russell Westbrook should be starting.

Miami churns up plenty of memories for Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six
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MIAMI (AP) Dirk Nowitzki tries to avoid feelings of nostalgia.

That’s impossible when he’s in Miami.

For all the cities around the world where he’s played, whether with the German national team or the Dallas Mavericks, the only place where Nowitzki celebrated the ultimate prize is Miami – where he led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA championship , avenging a loss to the Heat five years earlier. So on Thursday, before playing in Miami for the 25th time, Nowitzki was understandably reflective.

“You definitely never forget,” Nowitzki said, as he relaxed for a few minutes in a courtside seat across from the Heat bench. “You don’t always want to live in the past. You kind of want to make it work now in the present, so I don’t always think about that year, but coming here, walking in the hotel, walking in this building, it’s tough to forget.”

Nowitzki is under contract for next season, though no one seems sure if he’ll play past this season. He turns 39 in June. He’s probably just a few weeks away from reaching the 30,000-point mark. His place in the Basketball Hall of Fame was ensured long ago. And the Mavericks are in a rebuilding phase, making it fair to say that another title probably isn’t in the immediate offing.

So it’s possible that Thursday may be his Miami farewell.

Whenever he leaves the game, the Heat will tip their caps.

“At the highest level, in the biggest moments, he proved that he can be the best player in the world – period,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “What else do you need to say? His game is timeless, too.”

It’s timeless, yet evolving. Nowitzki was probably more of a small forward when he broke into the NBA, became a power forward who changed the game with his combination of 7-foot height and guard-like shooting, and now plays a hybrid center role. The one-legged step-back jumper – his signature move – has been emulated by many, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

Nowitzki went to The Finals twice, both times against Miami, and the Heat still offer him what they call ultimate respect.

“You could say that Dirk Nowitzki, in his prime, forced longer and more coaching meetings around the league, or at least as much as any player in the league,” Spoelstra said. “He was so unique. You had to have specific Nowitzki rules. The absolute best of the best require their own rulebook, and you had to design ways of defending that may not be consistent with your system but specific for him.

“Otherwise,” Spoelstra continued, “you would run around in circles looking like idiots.”

Much has changed since Nowitzki first played in Miami on April 7, 1999.

The Mavericks and the Heat both had different logos than they do now. Don Nelson was coaching Dallas, Pat Riley was still in his first of two stints coaching Miami. Vancouver and Seattle still had NBA teams. The Heat weren’t even playing in AmericanAirlines Arena at that point – they were at Miami Arena, which was demolished in 2008.

Nowitzki went scoreless in three minutes that night, and scoreless again three nights later against Golden State. He’s failed to score only twice in 1,454 games since, the last of those coming in 2003.

“I used to be a tough matchup,” Nowitzki said.

He won’t say it, but he still is.

Age has slowed him, for sure. The skills and the know-how, that doesn’t change.

“Hall of Famer,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “One of the best big men to play the game. He definitely changed the game. Hell of a competitor, a champion, somebody who I have a lot of respect for.”

Haslem had the task of guarding Nowitzki in those Finals meetings.

“I really found out what I was made of as a competitor,” Haslem said.

The Mavericks don’t always stay in the same hotel when they visit Miami, but the one they got for this trip helped spark Nowitzki’s trip down memory lane. They stayed there in 2006 during the Finals when they lost three games in Miami, and stayed there again in 2011 when they left Miami with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow.

All the memories, good and bad, started flooding back as Nowitzki walked through the lobby.

“You know, `06 will obviously never be out of my memory,” Nowitzki said, “but `11 definitely made it sweeter.”

Kings make it official: Rudy Gay out for season with torn Achilles

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We all knew this was coming, but the MRI made it official:

Kings’ wing Rudy Gay is out for the season with a torn left Achilles, the team confirmed Thursday. He will have surgery to repair the Achilles soon, but a date has not yet been set. Recovery from this injury lasts at least nine months, often closer to a year.

This was expected after the initial diagnoses Wednesday. Still, it’s a blow to Sacramento and its playoff dreams.

Gay was the Kings’ second-leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, plus pulling down 6.4 rebounds a night, and this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi will be asked to pick up the slack. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings in terms of scoring.

The big picture for Gay also gets cloudy. Gay made it very clear he was not happy in Sacramento and planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer. That led to him being a potential trade deadline target. Those trades are off the table. At age 30 and trying to come back from a traumatic injury, it’s fair to question if Gay will even opt out.