AP

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.

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Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan fined $15,000 for criticizing referees

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The Raptors lost to the Warriors on Saturday, and DeMar DeRozan – despite his own brilliant performance – was irked.

The Toronto guard seemed particularly upset about a review of an out-of-bounds call in the final seconds. After initially giving the ball to the Raptors, officials said it touched DeRozan while he was out of bounds and granted Golden State possession:

The NBA’s replay guidelines say (emphasis mine): “Referees can only initiate a review on a called out-of-bounds play (for example, not one where an out-of-bounds might have occurred) and only those involving doubt as to which player caused the ball to go out (not those, for example, where a player stepped on the line).”

DeRozan

I mean, it’s frustrating being out there feeling like you playing 5-on-8. It’s just what it feel like, period. Some of them calls was terrible, period.

I thought you couldn’t even do that. I’m not even a referee, and I know that rule. So, somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

The NBA corrected him in the two-minute report, saying “After communicating with the Replay Center, the ruling on the floor of Raptors possession is overturned and the Warriors are awarded possession because the ball touches DeRozan’s (TOR) leg while his body is out of bounds before Curry (GSW) knocks the ball out. Referees were able to review two aspects of this out-of-bounds play since they were part of the same sequence.”

Then, the league fined him.

NBA release:

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The comments were made following the Raptors’ 127-125 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, Jan. 13

Saying “5-on-8” seems to be a secret code word for getting fined. I’m not sure whether the rest of DeRozan’s comments would have gotten him fined, but that phrase almost certainly did him in.

Kyle Lowry on plan to meet Ben Simmons after ejections: ‘Put it this way, I was back there’

AP Photo/Rich Schultz
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As Kyle Lowry and Ben Simmons were ejected late in the 76ers’ win over the Raptors yesterday, the players appeared to challenge each other to meet in back.

Lowry eagerly left the court and headed through the tunnel. Simmons appeared much more reluctant at that point.

Despite a report of a confrontation in the hallway, Simmons said nothing escalated, as he went to his locker room.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet

TKO.

Warriors complained of no hot water in showers in Cleveland

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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The Cavaliers are clearly frustrated.

Did someone in Cleveland take out that frustration on the Warriors after they beat the Cavs last night?

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Players were complaining about there being no hot water in the visiting locker room showers. When they walked in, they could be heard screaming in discomfort. Most of the players emerged shivering from taking a quick wash-off.

“Man, they got to do something in ‘The Q.’ Somebody call Bron!” Kevin Durant yelled, referring to LeBron James.

No one seemed angry; the situation was more humorous.

That’s the right approach. Whenever the hot water is out in a visiting locker room, the finger is pointed at the home team for sabotage. Sometimes, heating systems just fail.

Giannis Antetokounmpo assists fastbreak dunk with football-style long snap (video)

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Giannis Antetokounmpo is scoring more in the post, the basketball analogue of football’s trenches.

Apparently, he’s taking the comparison to the next level.

In the Bucks’ win over the Wizards yesterday, Antetokounmpo played the part of a long-snapping center to set up Khris Middleton in transition.

NBC Sports Washington: