Warriors one win from clinching a playoff spot after coming from 18 points down get win over Suns

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PHOENIX — The Warriors are one win from clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2007, thanks to an effort which saw them come from 18 points down on the road to get a 111-107 win over the Suns on Friday.

Phoenix got off to a hot start behind 15 first quarter points from Goran Dragic, who tied a career high by finishing the game with 32 points. Michael Beasley got loose for 19 first half points, and the Suns socred 64 points in the first two periods while shooting 65.8 percent in the process.

“It started with Dragic,” Stephen Curry said afterward. “He came out and hit a lot of jumpers. We followed the game plan, but we could have ben a little bit more physical, I think. Got into him a little bit more. I think he only had one shot in the paint, so you can say you can live with it, but you can’t. At some point you’ve got to make him do something else, and that’s what the third quarter was.”

Warriors head coach Mark Jackson similarly lamented his team’s start, but was obviously pleased with the way his players responded.

“We were not prepared in the first quarter,” he said. “Our defense wasn’t sharp. We were scoring, but we were a step slow defensively. Unacceptable. At the same time, awfully proud of my guys that we responded. There was a time where we’d have to talk about it tomorrow and make the adjustment. But we talked about it at halftime, and we came out and put together a picture perfect third quarter, and it was a big win for us.”

The third quarter was owned by the Warriors, who outscored the Suns 32-14 in the period thanks to 15 points from Klay Thompson, who played all 12 third quarter minutes.

The Warriors pushed their lead to as many as nine in the fourth quarter, but the Suns battled back to make it a one-possession game with 22 seconds left, trailing by just three.

Stephen Curry turned the ball over with a bad pass, and the Suns had new life, with possession of the ball and 18 seconds remaining. As soon as it was inbounded, however, David Lee committed the personal foul near midcourt, preventing the potentially game-tying shot attempt from three-point distance from ever taking place.

Jackson’s philosophy is to play the game this way defensively when the situation dictates it, but with 17.2 seconds left, it was more of a risk than usual. Jackson and Lee both said afterward that the foul came much too soon, and that it was supposed to occur after the Suns had gotten into their offensive set.

It didn’t end up making a difference, because the Warriors won the free throw shooting contest thanks to a miss from Jermaine O’Neal at the line which allowed the Warriors to extend the lead to two possessions.

The win was the biggest comeback of the season for the Warriors, but more importantly, that playoff berth the team has worked toward since the beginning of the year is finally within reach. A home win over Utah on Sunday will clinch a spot in the postseason.

“It means a lot,” Curry said, of being so close to the playoffs. “Coach said a lot of people in this locker room haven’t tasted that before. So for us to be right there and to have a home game to clinch it — we understand we have a bigger goal than that, but it would be nice to just go ahead and get the X by our name, shave these beards off, and keep moving.”

Once the Warriors are officially in (and it would take a monumental collapse to prevent that from happening at this point), they won’t be able to afford efforts like this one. The Suns finished the game shooting 61.1 percent from the field, yet Golden State managed to win nonetheless.

I asked Curry if he’d ever seen an opponent shoot that well against his team and still lose.

“I’m not a statistician,” he said, after stumbling to find the correct pronunciation of the word a couple of times. “But yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever kind of seen that.

“But you’ve got to get it done however you can get it done at this point.”

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.