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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.”

 

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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As expected, Wesley Matthews says he will pick up $18.6 million option with Mavericks

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Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.

However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.

He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.

Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.

Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.