Associated Press

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant engage in spontaneous, fierce three-point shootout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Steve Kerr paid close attention. Teammates, too. Nobody wanted to miss this impromptu, incredible shooting display by two of the world’s best.

Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant took turns firing 3-pointers from all over the court, some 200 of them total, while their coaches-turned-rebounders kept careful count of makes and misses and others watched in awe. Klay Thompson was shooting behind them, “I heard a lot of makes, though.”

Steph edged KD by a single 3, per player development coach Bruce Fraser’s figures from Tuesday’s shootout. Durant later confirmed the final stats.

“That was a really skillful workout right there, there wasn’t a lot of athleticism being shown, but iron sharpens iron,” Durant said. “You only get better when you play with the best and you work with the best.

“I didn’t even realize what we were doing. I was really just focusing on regaining some touch. It was definitely fun working with Steph. He works so hard, he brings something different to the game that I don’t have and I think vice versa. We push each other.”

Special guest Chris Wondolowski got a treat. The San Jose Earthquakes star and U.S. national team forward realized he had come on the right day to witness an amazing show of shot-making.

Even those who see Curry and Durant every day appreciated this performance.

“It was really fun for me to watch,” Kerr said. “It’s really fun to think about, `Oh, yeah, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, they’re on our team.”‘

And their post-practice shooting went up a notch this week with the playoffs about to begin. The fierce competition on Curry’s regular practice court became all-out entertainment with Durant healthy at last from a left knee injury that sidelined him for 19 games. The session lasted about 30 minutes. They talked and laughed, they cursed a little, they hollered at the basketball to cooperate.

Mostly, it did.

“Anyone that can keep up with Steph is an amazing shooter,” Fraser said. “You can count that on one hand, and Kevin’s one of them.”

Swish after swish, an occasional clank off the rim, but that’s pretty rare for these two. Even when they are taking 100 of them each in a game that’s just for fun.

“Don’t step out of bounds, KD!” Kerr yelled from behind the baseline as Durant let fly a corner 3.

Kerr notes that his pet peeve is seeing players in practice step on the end line – and Durant has big feet so it could easily happen – because then it’s more likely to occur during games.

His two biggest stars were locked in. The contest required each to make five 3s from five different spots, but when neither would miss it often took 10, 11 or 12 straight 3-pointers before someone would win that location and they could move on to the next.

“It was super spontaneous, it wasn’t planned, which is always sometimes the best way,” Fraser said. “It’s good when those two get together for many reasons. It’s good camaraderie, good for them to spend some time together and it’s also a good way for them to compete a little bit. It’s pretty incredible to be able to work with two of the best players in the world on the same court, the same space.”

And you should see that frayed net. Equipment chief Eric Housen acknowledges it’s overdue for a replacement given all the work Curry gives that basket.

The shooting marathon sure seems to have paid off: Durant went 11 for 16 and made 5 of 7 3s a day later in a win Wednesday against the Lakers. Curry also hit five.

“He mentioned that he’s a little hesitant coming off the injury, but he looked real springy,” Curry said afterward. “Obviously found his touch, so that’s a good sign.”

Now they’ll try to transfer that steady shooting and energy to the court when the NBA-best and top-seeded Warriors (67-15) host Portland in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena.

Playing off ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, they’re calling this friendly game “30 for 35” – for Curry’s No. 30 jersey and KD’s 35.

“Steph said it first, he said `30-35’ and I put in the `for,”‘ Fraser said. “At the beginning it was just kind of a light shooting where they were moving around and making 21 shots, then they got into a collective make 10 from each space, so it was combined where they were working together. And then we put it where they were going against each other, which was interesting because they kind of both perked up. Neither wanted to lose to the other.”

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Bucks’ Khris Middleton, dealing with illness, misses practice

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed practice with an illness that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (14.7 points) all week.

Middleton was 3 of 8 for eight points in 35 minutes in the 118-93 Game 5 loss in Toronto that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said he didn’t think the illness was a factor, and that Middleton had good looks and played well defensively. He expected Middleton to start on Thursday and said he wasn’t pondering any lineup changes for Game 6.

The Bucks got a day off from practice then returned to practice Wednesday after a brief break from what has been an increasingly rugged series.

After getting blown out in Game 3 by the Bucks, the Raptors won the next two games in part by being more physical and slowing down Milwaukee.

Sometimes, a young team needs to learn from failure to get better.

Kidd hopes his players build on the lessons learned from a stinker of a Game 5 in their opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They need to regroup quickly to avoid elimination when the Raptors and Bucks meet Thursday night at the Bradley Center.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Kidd said when asked about whether his players learned from the blowout loss. “Today, I thought guys were focused, understanding what we have to do. It’s not hard, but for us the process of being able to be consistent is the one thing that we struggle with.”

Workaholic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo might have been the only player who didn’t want a breather.

“I don’t know, for me, I didn’t need an off-day. But for sure some guys played a lot of minutes, their bodies are sore,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think for some guys it’s good to get some rest so we can bring more energy tomorrow.”

For all of his athleticism, the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo lacks playoff experience when compared to the postseason-tested Raptors.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton are playing in their second career playoff series after the Bucks lost in six games to top-seeded Chicago in 2015. Antetokounmpo’s role has changed now that he’s the focal point of the offense, so he faces more defensive scrutiny.

The team surrounding Antetokounmpo and Middleton has been almost completely made over since then, with injured forward Jabari Parker and center John Henson the only other holdovers. Henson has only played three minutes against Toronto.

Two other starters, guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, are rookies. Even center Greg Monroe, a seven-year veteran who provides scoring punch off the bench, is making his playoff debut. Fourth-year players Tony Snell (Bulls) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers) joined the Bucks this season, brought to Milwaukee in part because of their postseason experience.

In contrast, the Raptors have been through about every conceivable playoff situation after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Led by one of the best backcourts in the game in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto is no stranger to adversity.

“You definitely see that experience come into play and we just understand the moment probably a little bit more than them. That’s not to take away (anything) from them,” DeRozan said. “They are a great team, a young team and this is definitely going to be an experience they will learn from and carry over but for now it’s something we have to keep in mind and understand the moment of going into every single game … to try and close this thing out.”

Milwaukee’s transition game is off track with 31 turnovers over the last two contests.

“That’s the physicality part, because it’s the playoffs, because it’s more intense. You get away with slaps, holds, grabs and that’s a trick of the trade,” said Jason Terry, a 17-year veteran who is averaging about 10 minutes a game off the bench for the Bucks this series.

“If you haven’t (been) through that, you don’t know it until you face it,” Terry said. “I think for us being a young team, now that we’ve seen it four or five games consecutively, hopefully now we can adjust.”

NOTES:

 

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty: