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


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.

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.