Preview: Warriors need to call on their round 1 experience to beat the Spurs

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We always think of the Spurs as the team with experience. They have championship core and all those playoff wins, after all.

But the Warriors have some experience too, especially when it comes to the situation they’re facing heading into game 2 in San Antonio Wednesday night. In their 1st round upset of the Nuggets, the Warriors also entered game 2 trailing 1-0. In that series they also lost game 1 on a last second shot after mostly controlling the action that night. The Warriors went on to win game 2 in Denver, getting the split they needed to take control of the series.

Tonight, then, the biggest thing the Warriors can do is recall on their experiences from the first round and understand that their goals are still attainable. They mustn’t get hung up on how they lost game 1. They lost a big lead. It happens. Their focus instead should be on everything they did to get that lead while understanding they have the ingredients needed to win this game.

This isn’t to say there aren’t adjustments to be made on there end. The Warriors must find a way to get Jarrett Jack going. One of the reasons Stephen Curry wore down by the end of the game was due to the enormous load he had to carry as lead guard with Jack struggling from the floor, shooting only 5-15. Getting Jack free to create going to the rim — especially when Tim Duncan is on the bench — will help generate offense, lightening Curry’s burden in the process.

Golden State must also find a way to find more minutes for Andrew Bogut. While Klay Thompson has turned into the Warriors’ perimeter stopper, Bogut is still the key to their entire defense. It’s no coincidence that the Spurs’ 4th quarter run came with Bogut mostly on the bench. It’s understandable that in a high pace, heavy pick and roll game that Bogut can be somewhat out of place, but he’s too important to keep on the bench for extended stretches, especially when defense and rebounding will be such big keys in beating San Antonio.

On the Spurs’ side, they must also start to make some adjustments. Tony Parker had a difficult time dealing with the length and quickness Thompson offered defensively, only breaking and showing that typical Parker spark after Thompson fouled out. Parker needs to be more aggressive earlier in the clock and find scoring chances before the defense is set, potentially even getting possessions started before that cross-match with Thompson can take place. Parker was at his best when he abandoned setting up in the half court and instead hunted fast break chances — even when he didn’t have a man advantage. He can do that more and should look to.

And even though Duncan had 19 points, they must also find ways to get him easier baskets. Using quick screen actions to free him up going to the post or looking for him more in early offense rather than as an outlet at the top of the key after running drag pick and rolls are a couple of ways to make this happen. Duncan is facing two quality big man defenders in Bogut and Festus Ezili and that showed in his 6-15 shooting line in game 1. But he’s still as crafty as ever in the post with an ability to not only score but to draw fouls.

Defensively the Spurs must also decide what their match ups are going to be. Tony Parker really struggled guarding Curry and Thompson, while Kawhi Leonard did  the best job of all San Antonio defenders on Curry. Don’t be surprised if we see a switch where Curry moves onto Harrison Barnes while Leonard defends Curry full time. Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich typically isn’t fond of switching or tilting his defense too far in any one direction, but in this case Curry is simply too important a player to the Warriors’ success to not do everything possible to limit his effectiveness.

For both teams, it’s all about calling on your experiences to get you this all important win. For San Antonio, they’ve been around the block enough times to know that going up 2-0 puts them in great position to win this series. While the Warriors know that all they need to do is steal this game and they’re suddenly the team with home court and momentum.

Game 1 offered fans the best show of the playoffs to date and we’d all love nothing more than to get a repeat effort from both teams.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.