Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Clippers

The Extra Pass Thursday Roundup: Stephen Curry could be greatest shooter ever

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How good were Stephen Curry and Chris Paul in the shootout between the Clippers and Warriors last night?

It’s almost impossible to be hyperbolic, both about the performances and the players themselves.

Don’t believe me? Try this one on for size: Stephen Curry is the best shooter of all-time.

You’re squirming, aren’t you? It doesn’t sit right. You’re thinking it can’t possibly be true, not yet, not with every great player that has played this game. You’re running through names in your head right now. Larry Bird? Steve Nash? It can’t be Curry.

But then you look. The records are already falling at his feet. You play with the numbers, look deeper and see that Curry is only one of two players to have a career true shooting percentage over 58 percent, a three-point percentage over 44 percent and a career field-goal percentage over 46 percent. By all the important measures, he’s been elite.

And then you see a guy like Steve Kerr listed right next to Curry on that list. Great shooter, Kerr was. One of the best. But then you remember, there is no Michael Jordan creating for Curry. There are no wide open spot-up threes to feast on. Kerr was shooting fish out of a barrel — Curry can’t even see what he’s aiming at half of the time.

And you know what? Everyone knows what he wants to do. He gets every team’s best defender and the full undivided attention of defenses every night. Coaches say, “Make him put it on the floor. Make anyone else beat us.” And then what? He pulls up from 27 feet with a hand in his face and woosh, there goes the ball through the net, and there goes your gameplan.

There’s nothing in the world like watching someone at the peak of their craft doing what they do best. Basketball just happens to be one of the more enjoyable crafts, and that’s what made Curry’s battle with Paul so enthralling. Different styles make for great fights, and that’s what was happening here.

It was actually Paul who dominated in between the lines, using his quick hands to fluster Curry to no end. The turnovers for Curry piled up quick, and Paul was relentless with his pressure on both ends. But once Curry put the ball in the air? All bets were off.

In typical Paul fashion, though, what could be controlled was controlled. The Warriors threw an underrated defender in Klay Thompson at him. No dice. Then they threw maybe the league’s best defender in Andre Iguodala at him, too, and yet still, Paul’s greatness shined through every crack in the Warriors defense.

Paul was more than beating his man – he was exploiting him. This was John Stockton with a streak for scoring, with the same flair for a well-timed flop, with the same nastiness that allows a 6-foot-1 guy to plant a forearm in the chest of a giant and rather ornery Australian man on a cross-screen.

This was two stars in the prime of their careers turning the other eight players on the court into unintelligible blurs. You watched Paul, and then you watched Curry, and everything else was a distraction. Paul, then Curry. Curry, then Paul. And back and forth it went until it came to a close, all while you were wishing that it didn’t have to stop so soon.

—D.J. Foster

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Bulls 82, Knicks 81: This was a sloppy early season game with a lot of turnovers, missed shots and missed defensive assignments — but it was close at the end and it certainly had plenty of drama. Derrick Rose missed nine of his first 11 shots and was 7-of-23 on the night, but the seventh make was a beautiful floater with five seconds left that won the Bulls the game. So he gets a few things forgiven, like the fact he is 11-of-38, or 28.9 percent, through two games. Carmelo Anthony had 22 points but needed 24 shots to get there and he was awful from the midrange (4-of-14).

Clippers 126, Warriors 115: I now will spend the rest of the season rooting for these two teams to meet in the playoffs — I want seven games between these guys. This was just fun. Chris Paul decided not to let the Clippers lose — 42 points, 15 assists, 6 steels. As long as they have kept the steal stat (1974) nobody has had a stat line like that with 6 steals in a game. Stephen Curry had 38 points and 9 assists, he was 9-of-14 from three. He hit two threes from somewhere on Figueroa Street outside the building.

In the end it was Curry’s 11 turnovers and 24 for the Warriors as a team that did them in — turnovers against the Clippers leads to fast break alley-oops, the Lob City show and a lot of momentum for L.A. But I really just want these teams to meet in the playoffs. Come on basketball gods make it happen.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Russell Westbrook keeps trying to show up Rudy Gobert

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the second quarter during a NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Jazz center Rudy Gobert is having an awesome season, credibly putting himself in the mix with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol as the NBA’s best big men.

But that doesn’t mean Russell Westbrook respects him.

Before the Thunder’s win over Utah yesterday, Westbrook was asked how Oklahoma City would contain Gobert. Westbrook just laughed and walked off.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Then, in the game, Westbrook tried to jump right over the 7-foot-1 Gobert and dunk on him:

I would say Gobert proved his ability by successfully protecting the paint, but I’m just too astounded by Westbrook’s leap.

Zaza Pachulia, running up court, turns back to smack Luke Babbitt in face (video)

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Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?

That debate can be rekindled after the Warriors center earned this flagrant foul for smacking Heat forward Luke Babbitt.

Just don’t forget: Pachulia is more than an unskilled enforcer. He brings plenty to the table as Golden State’s fifth starter, and his ability was on display earlier in the game:

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.