Preview: Spurs seek answers in game 3, but the Warriors keep changing the questions

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It’s not a stretch to say the Warriors have been the better team so far this series. They’ve led both contests for the majority of the minutes and it took an amazing comeback, two overtimes, and a last second three pointer for the Spurs to get their win. Heading back to Oakland, the Warriors have to be feeling good about themselves, home court advantage in their pocket and all the momentum on their side.

On the other side, the Spurs have to be wondering exactly what their next step will be in reclaiming their favored status. They’ve struggled to consistently produce points against a Warriors’ defense that has closed off the paint. Golden State’s ability to switch screens has left the Spurs’ motion attack devoid of the ball movement that they typically roast teams with. In response the Spurs — especially in game 2 — became more dependent on an isolation style that only led to 14 assists (in the regular season they averaged 25 a game).

And when they did isolate, they had trouble scoring against the versatility of the Warriors’ long, active wing defenders. For the series, when Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green share the floor the Warriors’ defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 85.5 per NBA.com. Backed up by bruising big men Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili, the Golden State’s perimeter defense has been fantastic.

Combine the Spurs’ offensive struggles with the Warriors’ ability to generate good looks on the other end of the floor and it’s not hard to see why the Spurs are in this predicament.

All is not lost for San Antonio, however. While the Warriors have seemingly solved the puzzle of how to slow down the Spurs’ attack, there are still adjustments that can be made. Quicker ball reversals out of their standard pick and roll sets can create good match ups on the weak side. When Tony Parker looks to attack off Tim Duncan screens, he can quickly swing the ball back to Duncan who can then run a secondary pick and roll with the wing on the opposite side of the floor — especially when that player is Manu Ginobili (who needs to find the range on his jumper quickly after needing 32 shots to score 28 points in the first two games).

This type of quick ball movement combined with screen actions can get the Warriors’ bigs moving side to side while also limiting the effectiveness of defensive switches.

Further, the Spurs can simply do what they’ve done all year by hitting some of the open shots they’re getting. In game 2, several uncontested jumpers clanked off the rim. If the Spurs hope to loosen up the Warriors’ defense, they have to turn some of those misses into makes. This will force the Warriors to rush out to the perimeter to contest shots and allow the Spurs’ wings to attack closeouts off the dribble and get easier baskets in the paint.

Where the Spurs may have bigger issues, however, is in slowing down Golden State’s offense. Someone always seems to step up for the Warriors — in game 1 it was Curry, game 2 it was Thompson — and that makes them difficult to scout and even harder to fully stop defensively.

The plan can start with forcing Curry to penetrate to finish rather than allowing him to take the deep jumpers he prefers to launch. Curry is a below average finisher at the rim and while those shots can often lead to offensive rebounds, it’s best to force him into positions where he’s less effective. If the Spurs need to pick their poison, 2nd chance opportunities from guys like Carl Landry or Festus Ezeli are less dangerous than a lava-hot Curry from behind the arc.

Similarly, they must run Thompson off the three point line and force him into help defenders where his shot will be better challenged. If Thompson and Curry can both be moderately controlled — a tough task, for sure — the Warriors chances of winning go down tremendously. That is unless Barnes, Green, and Jack aren’t making the majority of their shots.

And maybe that’s the Spurs’ biggest problem going into game 3. The Warriors, through their 8 playoff games, have proven to have enough fire power to score points even if one of their best players struggles. The Spurs, meanwhile, weren’t tested in the first round and are just now running into a quality opponent who can stretch them on both sides of the ball.

So while there is, theoretically, plenty of series left for the Spurs to figure things out, the time is now for them to start to make inroads. Another loss tonight will not bode well if they hope to advance to the conference finals for the second straight year.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.