Warriors look to close out the Nuggets, but is their focus on the right things?

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The Warriors look to be in a perfect position.

They have the series lead over the Nuggets at 3 games to 2. They’re heading home to Oracle Arena to play a close out game where the fans will create an environment that’s rarely seen in pro sports. They have the best player in the series on  their side and, for the most part, have made the crucial adjustments over the course of the series that should inspire confidence.

Things should be looking up.

However rather than focusing on all the good, the main story heading into this crucial game 6 is all about what the Warriors aren’t happy about. Mark Jackson complained heavily after game 5, calling the Nuggets cheap shot artists for playing a physical style with Stephen Curry. Today he’s taken more offense to comments George Karl made about Warriors’ back up center Festus Ezeli.

The focus has shifted from what needs to happen on the court to what’s going on off of it. And for the Warriors, that’s not necessarily a positive.

If anything, it shows that the Nuggets have invaded their heads and have them thinking about issues that aren’t related to what they need to do on the floor instead of the things that they can actually control. And once players lose sight of the things they can control, it often leads to a decrease in effectiveness.

Make no mistake, Jackson is clearly trying to protect Curry and get his star some calls and trips to the foul line that didn’t come in the last game. He’s also showing he has his players’ backs by speaking up for them in the media. These things, in a vacuum, aren’t bad at all.

But they could also serve as distractions for a young team who doesn’t have much experience winning these types of games. Not to mention that they could be interpreted as a coach who isn’t quite sure if his team can simply go on the court and win if the style of play from game 5 carries over to tonight’s contest.

What the Warriors need to do is find a way to play through whatever tactics the Nuggets are using and get back to playing the style that had them in firm control of the series through five games.

That means taking care of the ball offensively and not committing the types of turnovers that the Nuggets can turn into good scoring chances. It means protecting their offensive glass and not allowing the Nuggets to get the second and third scoring chances that not only lead to points, but slow the Warriors’ open court game that Denver has struggled to defend. It also means getting Curry the space he needs to become the scoring and playmaking threat that terrorized the Nuggets in games two through five.

If they can do those things, they have an excellent shot at winning. But the time has come to stop talking about what the other team is doing and instead focus on what they can do for themselves.

From the Nuggets’ side the equation is roughly the same they used in their game 5 victory. They need to pressure the ball to force miscues, hit open shots to keep the Warriors’ defense honest in their perimeter rotations, and continue to force a physical style of play via bigger lineup combinations that can bang the smaller Warriors around.

Accomplishing this means another strong night from Andre Iguodala on both sides of the ball, for Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer to hit some of their open jumpers, and for JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried to control the glass and provide a paint presence on both ends. Add in Ty Lawson pushing the pace and Andre Miller mixing in some good playmaking with his penchant to play isolation ball and the Nuggets have a chance.

Of course none of this will be easy, but the formula is there. If the Nuggets bring the requisite energy and commitment to their game plan, they should be right in the mix to win this game.

Unlike what Mark Jackson seems to be focusing on right now, the game will be won on the hardwood and not in the media. Hopefully his players understand this to be the case and match what the Nuggets are sure to bring to the table tonight. Because if they don’t, this series will head back to Denver for a seventh game.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.