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Warriors, Spurs series filled with familiar story lines

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Leave it to Gregg Popovich to play mind games ahead of the Western Conference finals.

So, what will he do to prepare his defense to stop the high-flying Warriors?

“Pray,” Popovich quipped Saturday before the Spurs departed Texas for the Bay Area.

Stephen Curry could only chuckle at that one.

“Gamesmanship,” Golden State’s Curry said, “I love it.”

Popovich doesn’t have his old coaching pals Mike Brown or Steve Kerr fooled. Brown spent part of last season working unofficially alongside Popovich and is now coaching Golden State in place of the ailing Kerr, who attended practice Saturday for the first time in more than three weeks as he recovers from his latest procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak that left him dealing with debilitating symptoms.

“That’s Pop,” Brown said with a laugh. “He’s doing a lot more than praying right now. He knows what he wants to do against us.”

As dominant as the Warriors have been sweeping through the first two rounds of the playoffs, praying might not hurt either.

Kevin Durant doesn’t care who is on the court for San Antonio, he knows that Popovich will have his group ready complete with a few surprises in the playbook.

Tony Parker is out the rest of the way with a leg injury. Kawhi Leonard is not at 100 percent because of a tender ankle. Tim Duncan is long ago retired.

“They’re a machine,” Durant said. “They just keep going at you, no matter who’s on the court. They run their system. Similar to us, I feel like, where a guy goes down, somebody steps in.”

San Antonio thoroughly dismantled James Harden and Houston 114-75 in Game 6 on Thursday night behind LaMarcus Aldridge‘s 34 points and 12 rebounds to close out the series as All-Star Leonard sat out nursing an injured left ankle he hurt in a Game 5 overtime win.

Golden State has barely been tested so far this postseason, going 8-0 against Portland and Utah.

Sure, it was nearly seven months ago when the Spurs came to town and thoroughly spoiled Durant’s much-hyped debut – a 129-100 whipping in the season opener – with the Warriors after his scrutinized departure from Oklahoma City.

“That seems like years ago to be honest,” KD said. “Both teams have gotten so much better.”

The Spurs are back in the Western Conference finals for the first time since winning the 2014 title.

Here are a few of the ample story lines to watch when these familiar teams begin their best-of-seven series Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena:

KAWHI’S TOUGHNESS

Leonard had just a few days to get healthy.

Popovich said he went through a full practice Saturday.

“He’s a soldier, man. He’s a fighter,” Durant said. “If he’s out there, he’s not going to make any excuses.”

POP’S DISCIPLE

Out of work last season, Brown spent much of his time attending Spurs meetings, practices and games in an informal capacity with good friend, Popovich . Kerr hired Brown as an assistant last summer.

Brown, last a Spurs assistant in 2003 who has said he hopes to do something to repay Popovich someday for the opportunity, certainly learned some X’s and O’s but it went far beyond that to observing how Popovich has adapted to players now and continued to be a top-notch communicator.

“Mike who? I don’t know a Mike Brown,” Popovich joked. “Mikey’s done a great job. Steve was really smart in hiring him. He didn’t hire him for this reason, Steve didn’t want this to happen, but they know each other well. Mike knows the program well. Steve is right there with him, in his ear. They’re doing things the way they’ve done it for a while now under Steve’s leadership.”

FAMILIAR DAVIDS

David Lee will face his old Warriors team, while David West faces the Spurs, his former team.

A swap of Davids, indeed. West has been helping the Warriors get ready for his old team.

While he still keeps in touch with Curry and others, Lee is downplaying any potential nostalgia from his time with Golden State.

“I try to keep things as simple as possible,” he said. “It’s a building and an environment, a lot of people out there that I’m very familiar with and keep in touch with many of the guys on their team still. With that being said, they’re competitors, I’m a competitor, guys on my team here, the Spurs, are competitors.”

MORE REST

The Warriors again are well-rested and healthy for the next round of their championship chase.

Durant, for one, feels great after dealing with a left knee injury that cost him 19 games late in the regular season then a nagging left calf during the Portland series.

San Antonio will have to try to keep pace from the tip.

“We didn’t have much time to practice. It was a long series, an exhausting series and now we play at noon, but we’re here,” Manu Ginobili said. “We’ve got to prepare as fast as we can.”

Associated Press Writer Raul Dominguez contributed from San Antonio.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

James Dolan’s MSG threatens to sue Steve Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers

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This story requires a little background.

The Forum in Inglewood was best known for decades as being both fabulous and the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, back from the Jerry West era and through Magic’s “Showtime” teams. Then in 2001 the Lakers moved downtown to Staples Center, and after that the Forum went through some rough times. It was a number of things, including a mega church for a while, but mostly it was empty. Then several years ago the Madison Square Garden company (owned by Knicks owner James Dolan) bought the Forum, fixed it up, and started booking it again. Now the Forum is one of the hot major concert/event spaces in Los Angeles again, and it’s about to get a boost because it’s adjacent to where Stan Kroenke is building the new Los Angeles Rams stadium. Hello gentrification!

Now enter Steve Ballmer. The Clippers’ owner wants out of Staples Center and the Lakers’ shadow, so he has proposed to build his new arena in Inglewood in another space adjacent to the Rams stadium — land that MSG used to lease. As you might imagine, Dolan’s MSG is not thrilled — they are already battling with Staples to fill their space, now a state-of-the-art arena is moving in down the street.

In a proxy Knicks/Clippers battle, MSG may sue to Clippers and Inglewood in an attempt to block the new building. Here is what Dolan’s attorney in the case, Marvin Putnam, told the Daily Breeze in Los Angeles.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” said Marvin Putnam, a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the damage claim that serves as a precursor to a lawsuit. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

(Inglewood Mayor James) Butts declined to comment, and there is no proof that he made those statements. But when Madison Square Garden Co. relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract states that the land would not be used for anything that would hurt the Forum’s business, according to documents.

Right now the Clippers and Inglewood are in an exclusive negotiating agreement to come to terms on the sale and plans for the property. Putnam told the paper — and the Inglewood City Council — that if the deal goes forward they will sue to block it.

It’s impossible to say how this will turn out, although as a former government reporter I will say these cases tend to be decided in favor of the side about to spend a ton of money on a new building.

 

Jaylen Brown’s #drivebydunkchallenge video is awesome

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I love the drive by dunk challenge (if you prefer, the #drivebydunkchallenge), it would be the best thing on NBA Twitter this summer, if it wasn’t for Kyrie Irving.

But the best one yet comes from Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

He steals the ball, and the best part is the guy who comes over like he’s going to stop Brown from throwing it down.

Nets’ Jeremy Lin: ‘We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says’

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The Nets went 20-62 then traded their best player (Brook Lopez) for a worse player (D'Angelo Russell). Brooklyn’s biggest free-agent signing this summer (Otto Porter) plays for the Wizards. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert are nice developmental pieces but hardly seem on the verge of breakthroughs.

Still, Nets guard Jeremy Lin expects big things next season.

He set expectations in an Instagram Live video (hat tip: AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today):

We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says.

The Nets are on the right track given their asset constraints. Though worse than Lopez now, Russell – eight years younger and on a low-paying rookie-scale deal – is more valuable. Brooklyn made the favorable swap by absorbing Timofey Mozgov‘s awful contract, a wise use of assets considering the difficulty of attracting free agents. An aggressive offer sheet for Porter was a reasonable swing in that situation, as well.

But that’s all helpful in the long run. In the short term, the Nets are almost certainly stuck as lousy. Maybe they can sneak into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, but even that is a huge longshot.

Not that Lin cares what I say.

Check out Top 10 blocks from Summer League (VIDEO)

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When you think of Summer League basketball, sharp defensive rotations is not the first thing that comes to mind. Defense, in general, tends to be an after thought.

But there were some great blocks.

Here are the top 10 blocks from the Las Vegas Summer League. Enjoy the flashes of defense from Vegas.