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Stephen Curry’s effect on Warriors even more apparent since injury

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry pumped his fists and flexed his biceps. He dangled that signature mouthpiece from his teeth in sheer delight.

Oh, and he knocked down some of those familiar way-back 3-pointers, too.

Yes, Golden State’s sharp-shooting star is feeling it again, and he’s proud to be, in his words, “that presence that kind of gets us going.”

In a 32-point, nine-assist performance against Denver on Monday, Curry wound up 9 for 17 overall while making 5 of 10 3-pointers. But he’s a menace for opposing defenses even without his best shot.

Curry’s mere existence on the court makes every Warrior better. Teammate Draymond Green shot 42.1 percent from the field while Curry missed 11 games with a sprained right ankle. In the five games since Curry’s return, Green has hit 55.6 percent. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala have also shot better since Curry came back.

“That’s why he’s a two-time MVP in this league, that’s why we have two championships,” Green said. “He’s become the superstar that he has even on a night where it wasn’t quite his night, he filled the stat sheet up like that and impacted the game. Even if he didn’t have 32 points and nine assists, what he brings to our offense and all the attention that he draws that gets me open shots … he creates a lot of mismatches on the floor for the defense.”

The reigning Western Conference player of the week, Curry has scored 29 or more points in seven straight games. He’s gone over 30 points in six of those seven games and 12 times overall this season.

He’s been practically unstoppable since returning from injury, averaging 35.2 points over that span as well as 5.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.4 steals in 32.4 minutes. Curry also has four or more 3-pointers in seven straight games.

The Warriors have needed his steady hand with playmaking sidekick and Finals MVP Kevin Durant sitting out the past three games with a strained right calf. Durant is expected back for Wednesday’s home game against the Clippers.

Curry also had six turnovers Monday night, so coach Steve Kerr hardly considered it one of his star’s best games.

That’s fine with Curry.

“Every game’s not going to be pretty. I love being held to that high standard. That’s what kind of keeps me motivated,” he said. “When you can look at that line and find things that I can do better, which nobody needs to tell me that I already know.”

The good news is Curry’s footwork hasn’t been hampered by the ankle injury. It’s something David West and Green respect in particular, even if it’s not the showiest talent for the shoot-from-anywhere point guard.

“I think people get caught up in the flashy stuff, but his footwork is incredible,” West said. “I think that’s the one thing that kind of gets lost in it. If you’re a basketball person you understand that footwork is sort of the foundation. I don’t think we’ve seen the type of footwork he has. He gets his feet set on every single shot, he’s never out of range.”

Curry works hard on that footwork in the offseason. It’s what allows him to have such a quick release, even if he’s catching the ball on the move or with his body facing half-court.

“If you’ve got slow feet or shaky balance, it throws your rhythm off and your consistency,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I have like wide-receiver feet, where they’ve got the quick jabs and they can change direction up like that. I just feel like I’m always in balance, and that’s what helps me get my shot off quick and stay in a solid rhythm through my shot and be able to handle the ball and try to be creative.”

Curry will try to dazzle again Wednesday night for the Warriors, who look to extend their winning streak to six games.

“He’s fast with the ball but he’s not the fastest guy in the world. He’s pretty strong but he’s not the strongest guy in the world, but his footwork is so good that for what speed he may not have, it makes him way faster because of how good his footwork is,” Green said. “He’s probably faster than someone that may be faster than him because he kind of dances. He should go on Dancing with the Stars.”

Curry chuckled about that idea. Alas, he loves his day job, and his first choice for a second career would be as part owner for his hometown Carolina Panthers.

“I will not take Draymond’s advice and go on Dancing with the Stars,” he said. “I’ll just keep shooting jump shots.”

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.

Reports: Jazz might trade Rodney Hood before deadline

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Rodney Hood has been a solid shooter for the Jazz this season, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from three. Of course, you remember him better for this.

Hood is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with the rise of Donovan Mitchell it’s not exactly clear what Hood’s role would be for the Jazz going forward.

Which means Utah might trade Hood, according to multiple reports.

Hood isn’t going to net much in return because he’s in the final year of a contract and because he misses time with nagging injuries (he was out the end of Friday’s game against the Knicks with a lower leg contusion), but considering the number of teams who could use another shooter in the mix there will be interest. More than the big name deals — Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan — this is the kind of trade likely to get done at the deadline.