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David West’s reliable passing off the bench key for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) David West checks in to start the second quarter and the rest of the Warriors know to have their hands up and ready to catch his passes, because they will come fast and right on target. He has a knack for finding the open man before the man is even open, somehow seeing a play develop before it has even developed.

For all the years West yearned to be part of the great San Antonio Spurs franchise, he finally got that chance last season. Now, he is facing them from the other side with Golden State and doing his part to chase a championship. His old coach, Gregg Popovich, believes West has found a perfect fit in the Bay Area alongside Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the others, as hard as it is for Pop to see him in another uniform.

“We’ve got a lot of experience and guys who have seen just about every sort of mix you can find in the NBA, so that’s been the joy, also just sort of figuring out what works for us defensively with all the different moving parts we have,” said West, a 14-year veteran who returns to San Antonio for Saturday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals with his new team up 2-0.

“Personally, I expected us to take a little bit longer. That was a surprise just how well we all sort of meshed.”

The 36-year-old West is a big reason why. He has experienced a special two-year stretch deep into his successful NBA career, finding an important role with the Warriors’ second unit that strives to take the pressure off while maintaining the high level of the starters.

“Ah, man, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” forward Draymond Green said after Thursday’s practice. “He’s a special person. I didn’t know he could pass as well as he does, he’s as smart as he is, on and off the court, just a brilliant person, someone who always has your back. Anybody on the team, he’s riding for you. It’s just been great having D-West here. Hopefully we can keep him for as much longer as he wants to play.”

West always wanted to play for Popovich in San Antonio, then once he’d done so decided to move on to Golden State. It seemed like the next intriguing move to be part of the Warriors’ roster of superstars.

Still, the Spurs miss him.

“He was wonderful. He’s a class act. He’s a contemplative guy. He thinks about things,” Popovich said. “Beyond basketball, it’s fun to be around him to talk about social situations. We’d share that sort of thing. As a player, he’s in the perfect system. They’ve got the big guys out on the court and passing and everybody’s running splits and back door and slipping, and he’s a good passer. If you get off, he can shoot the shot. So I’m happy for him in that situation. We hated to lose him.”

West has been a steady contributor, initially surprising many teammates with just how spot-on a passer he is and how he immediately makes things happen while providing much-needed boosts during important stretches.

“David is such a good passer. He loves to get to those elbows,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He has good cutters around him. We have a lot of guys on the floor who really like to cut and move without the ball so David has fit in beautifully with the way we like to play anyway. He’s really added a dimension to our game this year to be able to play through him when he’s out on the floor.”

West dished out a season-best seven assists in Game 1 against Utah the last round, his most in a playoff game since getting eight three years ago with Indiana. He notched six assists in just 15 minutes last month against Minnesota, five during a short second-quarter stretch.

Golden State is fortunate to use three distinct centers: starter Zaza Pachulia, dunk master JaVale McGee and West.

Durant left Oklahoma City to join the Warriors last July 4 then West signed only five days later.

“I got the freedom just to pick a place to go play ball and leaving there wasn’t tough,” West said. “Obviously, it was just something I wanted to do. It was sort of one of those things on my bucket list. I always wanted to play for the Spurs, see what the inside of the organization felt like. Really last year was the only opportunity I had in my career to do it. Took a shot at it. I felt like coming up here to play, experience this environment. It has all worked out.”

Notes: F Andre Iguodala, who missed Game 2 with soreness in his left knee, practiced in full Thursday while Pachulia participated in some of practice then worked out on a stationary bike as he nurses a bruised right heel that sidelined him for the second half of Game 2. Both were listed as questionable to play Saturday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.