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Steve Kerr’s championship hangover cure: one part patience, one part Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — Championship hangovers are a real thing.

“There always is (a championship hangover),” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, talking from experience as the coach of the champion 2008 Celtics. “I just remember a conversation I had with Michael Jordan. I reached out to a lot of players and coaches about what to expect (after Boston won), and I thought he had the best answer. He said, ‘Your role players have been carrying around that championship trophy all summer long, they’re going to come back and think they were the reason. And they were… but then they have to get back into their roles.”

The Warriors started this season with a pretty severe hangover. They were 4-3 to open the campaign, turning the ball over at a frightening rate, getting crushed on the defensive glass, and they had one of the NBA’s worst defenses during that stretch. The Warriors were a combination of moving slowly and disinterested.

It left Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr where a lot of us have been before — looking for a hangover cure. And in this case, the hair of the dog was not an option.

Monday night he may have found his magic elixir.

It started with one-part Clippers — a team the Warriors always get up for and beat, 10 times in a row now during the regular season. The Warriors rose up Monday night and routed the Clippers 141-113, behind 31 points from Stephen Curry.

“I told the guys that tomorrow is Halloween,” Kerr joked after the game, referencing the traditional NBA season start. “Which means that tonight was opening night, and we are back to being us.”

Kerr’s cure is also one-part patience. That’s the hard part.

“Honestly, it’s about not snapping right now,” Kerr said of coaching the team through this. “You know I want to snap — I’m competitive, I want to win every game. But I recognize, having been in their shoes literally with the (1998) Bulls team, I recognize we’re gonna be fine. I know we’re gonna be fine. And we have to get there, but I can’t force that.

“Ron (Adams, Warriors assistant coach) had a great line a couple weeks ago. He said Chuck Daly, after winning a title with the Pistons, he said ‘Sometimes you have to wait on a championship team.’ You have to wait on them. You can’t lead them, you have to wait on them. And I kind of feel that’s the case right now, we’re waiting on these guys a little bit. It’s not effort, the physical effort is there, it’s the mental approach, it’s the focus. And I know that’s going to come from my own experience.”

Kerr’s experience was that even the mythologized Jordan-era Bulls had championship hangovers. Kerr lived through it.

“In ’98 with the Bulls, we were 8-7, after winning 72 and 69 (games),” Kerr said of a team that had won back-to-back titles and would go on to make it a three-peat. “Everybody was (wiped out), we started off the year 8-7, and we had all these team meetings. It feels exactly the same.

“It’s not easy. I think that’s the hardest thing for people to understand — fans, media, whomever — the fatigue, the spiritual and emotional fatigue that sets in when you’ve been going to the Finals. That’s why I think LeBron (James) going to the Finals seven years in a row is, to me, one of the most amazing accomplishments ever for a player in this league. You feel it. You feel it after a number of years. The team has a different vibe and you have to play through it.”

That mental fatigue leads to sloppy plays on the court.

“Guys have their legs underneath them, but our minds aren’t right…” Kerr said. “We’re letting our guard down constantly. With the ball, with our minds…. We know how hard it is to win in this league, but we’re not respecting how hard it is to win in this league.”

Monday night they finally respected it. The Clippers bring that out of the Warriors (Chris Paul or not).

The question now is will Golden State build on those good habits — Kerr said that was his most important job right now — or revert back to their lackadaisical ways? Next up is an always tough test, the Spurs in San Antonio (TNT Thursday night).

“We’re beating ourselves with some things,” Kevin Durant said after scoring 18 points against the Clippers. “It’s the nature of the beast right now, early in the season, it’s the small detail things why we’re losing basketball games. You see tonight when we correct that we can be a phenomenal team.”

It’s one win, the Warriors are still a long way from being a phenomenal team yet.

“I don’t think we are better at all right now,” Green said comparing last year’s title team to this one. “We have a long ways to go…. Do I think we have the potential to be better? Absolutely. I think we have a lot more depth, a lot of guys have gotten better individually, we are more familiar with each other, but we are nowhere near where we are going to have to be or where we can be. It’s a long road.”

A road where the Warriors look a little more comfortable with each step.

Which should scare the rest of the league.

Devin Booker forces OT with deep turnaround buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Bucks beat Suns (video)

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I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.

But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.