Warriors shoot, play solid defense and take control of series 3-1 over Nuggets

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When David Lee went down for the playoffs with a torn hip flexor, the Warriors were going to go small and it was hard to see how they were going to slow down a Denver team that led the NBA in points in the paint this past season. Not that Lee’s a defensive force, but he’s a big body and where was Golden State’s inside/outside balance going to come from?

Meet Andrew Bogut.

Bogut has stepped up like his old self and Stephen Curry has cemented his position as the best shooter in the Association over the last three games.

That combination — and a rash of Denver Nugget turnovers — led the Warriors to a 115-101 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Game 5 is in Denver Tuesday night.

Golden State went small when Lee went down — starting Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson — and just decided to run with Denver. Game 4 was played at a pace faster than the Nuggets averaged in the regular season.

It works in part because Bogut is having his best stretch of play since before his elbow injury back in Milwaukee, back when people in the game thought Bogut one of the best centers around. In the first half Bogut went 6-of-9 for 12 points, leading a team that shot 52.5 percent in the first 24 minutes. Bogut was throwing down dunks and roaring at the Nuggets. Denver did a good job of taking the ball out of Curry’s hands — he was just 1-of-3 in the first (and that make was a deep three up against the clock).

But the Nuggets couldn’t take advantage because Warriors also did a good job of crowding the paint and contesting the Nuggets shots when they drove the lane. Bogut again was at the heart of that. Denver shot just 42.9 percent in the first half and the team that led the league in points in the paint in the first half had just 18 points.

Golden State went on an 11-0 to end the first half and lead 56-44 at the break. Denver had six turnovers during that run, 14 for the half and was stalling them out.

That trend continued, Denver ended the game having turned the ball over on 23.3 percent of their possessions. They turned it over almost one if four times down the court.

Denver made a push in the third quarter and got the lead down to four with 6:30 left and looked like they might make the series all square.

Then Curry hit another three and it was on. He finished the third with 22 points, he had the crowd fired up — and there are few crowds louder, few places harder to play when the stadium is rocking than Golden State.

Curry finished with 31 points and the Warriors ran away with it in the fourth quarter. Jack finished with 21 and six Warriors were in double digits. Golden State had 48 points in the paint to 36 for a Denver team that averaged more than 50 a game that way in the regular season.

Golden State has embraced what they had to do after Lee went down, beating Denver at its own game. Denver needs Kenneth Faried and its big men to step up and match Bogut, to defend in the paint. When that happens, the Nuggets can focus on keeping a guy on Curry from the second he steps over the half court line, because right now that’s where his range starts.

Denver is going to need a lot or a team everybody was high on a month ago as a team that could shake up the West will be gone after the first round. Maybe after Tuesday.

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?