Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns

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.”

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

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I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.