Kevin Durant shines in Warriors playoff debut in Game 1 win over Blazers

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Kevin Durant had 32 points and 10 rebounds in his Golden State playoff debut, Stephen Curry scored 29 points, and the Warriors withstood a sensational day by Portland duo CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard to beat the Trail Blazers 121-109 on Sunday in Game 1 of the first-round series.

McCollum scored a playoff career-best 41 points, and Lillard had 34, but the Warriors made the crucial big plays on both ends down the stretch with Portland playing without injured center Jusuf Nurkic.

Draymond Green contributed 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five blocked shots to help last season’s second-place team take the first step in what it is counting on to be a championship run.

Durant shot 12 for 20, showing no issues with a recent left knee injury that sidelined him 19 games before he returned for the final three regular-season contests with the NBA-best Warriors. He patted his chest after two straight fourth-quarter baskets and said, “I got this!”

Game 2 is Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.

The opener in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference semifinals won in five games by Golden State didn’t disappoint featuring two of the NBA’s best backcourt duos. There was a little of everything: physical play, trash talk, deep 3-pointers, monster blocked shots and dazzling dunks. After one flurry of a third-quarter sequence when several players on both teams hit the floor trying to secure a loose ball, four towel guys frantically wiped down the court from the sweat.

Durant got going fast. KD drove the lane for a one-handed slam midway through the first then knocked down a 3 from the top about a minute later. After missing a dunk but getting fouled, Durant pounded the basket stanchion with his right fist in frustration.

He vowed to take his game to another level as a new season begins – not to mention the quest for his first title.

Curry’s baseline 3-pointer with 3:30 left in the third followed by Durant’s driving layup and three-point play got Golden State going at last, and the teams headed into the final quarter tied at 88.

Curry reached his hand in the air to further ignite the sellout crowd, thrilled to be inside raucous Oracle Arena on a rainy day that postponed the Astros-Athletics game next-door.

As the final period got underway, Ian Clark did what he often does to give the Blazers fits. The 6-foot-3 guard scored a putback off his own miss in the paint one possession then knocked down a 3-pointer the next as Golden State went ahead 97-90 with 8:59 remaining.

McCollum shot 11 of 15 in the first half then began the second 2 for 7 and finished his day 16 of 28 while Lillard shot 12 for 26.

The shot-making tandem combined for 48 of their team’s 56 points through halftime as was tied. They averaged an NBA-best for backcourts this season with 50 points per game between them.

McCollum’s 27 first-half points matched a Portland playoff record for a half.

Meanwhile, Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson went 12 of 29 in the first half. Thompson wound up with 15 points.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Curry missed the initial three games against the Blazers last year following a fluke sprained right knee injury suffered in Game 4 at Houston when he slipped on a wet spot.

Green emphatically blocked a shot by Noah Vonleh in the third as the Portland center was going up with one hand to dunk.

Lillard only played one game at Oracle this season because of an injury.

But he was part of a 135-90 debacle on Dec. 17 here – the Warriors’ largest margin of victory in the rivalry – that prompted coach Terry Stotts to say afterward, “It’s embarrassing to get beat by 45.”


Stotts figures Nurkic might return at some point this series but isn’t predicting. The big man from Bosnia missed the final seven games of the regular season with a nondisplaced fracture in his right leg, depleting the Blazers’ already thin frontcourt.


Trail Blazers: Lillard has scored 25 or more points in his last seven playoff games – first to do so since Clyde Drexler from April 29-May 14, 1992 – and McCollum 20 or more in the past five, all vs. the Warriors. … Portland has lost 11 of the last 12 including playoffs to Golden State.

Warriors: Curry moved by Wilt Chamberlain (507) for second place on the Warriors list for career playoff field goals. … Curry hit a 3-pointer in his NBA record 59th consecutive playoff game, making his first 1:17 into the game.


The Warriors hope to get forward Matt Barnes back from a sprained right ankle and foot for Wednesday night’s Game 2, while the Blazers were uncertain when Nurkic might be ready to return.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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