Spurs coach Popovich believes Warriors are ‘for real’

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When San Antonio made their run to the Finals last year, they swept the depleted Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, and did the same to a very good Grizzlies team in the Western Conference Finals.

The only team to give the Spurs any modicum of postseason trouble besides the eventual champion Heat was the Golden State Warriors, who were able to cause enough problems to push that second round series to six games.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t believe that was a fluke, either. Speaking after beating a Warriors team playing without Stephen Curry by just two points on Friday, the tenured leader of basketball men gave his opponent the highest of praise.

From Sam Amick of USA Today:

“Well they’re for real,” Popovich said of the Warriors. “They’re really good offensively, (and) obviously they’re very talented. They’ve got an inside and outside game, and they’re really capable of scoring. If that was just it, then you’d call them a dangerous team where on any given night they can do you in. But they’re beyond that, because (Warriors coach) Mark (Jackson) has done a hell of a job in giving them a mentality, an aggressive, physical mentality defensively.

“He’s been demanding in that regard, and fortunately he’s got a group of character guys who want to do it right and get to the next level, and that’s what it takes. He initiated that last year. That takes them from a dangerous team to a solid, competitive team that can play with anybody. That’s who they are. Now it’s just a matter of being persistent and consistent about that, and reducing mistakes and understanding that it’s a long season. They’re definitely on the right path.”

Popovich has a history of being brutally honest, and isn’t ever in the business of giving out compliments when they’re not deserved.

Considering the success of the Spurs under Popovich as the league’s model franchise over the past 17 seasons, Golden State fans should be extremely optimistic about the future given his positive assessment.

Warriors say Kevin Durant doing non-contact drills, could return before end of season

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Kevin Durant has been working out on the court before the last couple of Warriors road games, and people watching have taken note — he was moving well, shooting, and generally looking healthy for a guy coming off a grade 2 MCL sprain and a bone bruise.

Reports were out that Durant was on target to return before the end of the season.

Wednesday the Warriors confirmed that.

Teams are vague, realistically what is that timeline?

Durant likely would be on a minutes restriction for those game, but just getting to shake the rust off and work on his conditioning in a real game would help Golden State heading into the playoffs.

Not that they need much help, having won eight in a row. The Warriors have a 2.5 game lead over the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the game between the two Wednesday night.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

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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