Mark Jackson, Stephen Curry

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.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.