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Switch flipped: Warriors rout Spurs in Game 1

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Who is vulnerable, exactly?

Tell me again how the Warriors would struggle to flip the switch in the playoffs.

From the opening tip Saturday Golden State played with energy on defense, moved the ball on offense, and exploited their considerable athleticism advantage over San Antonio. The Warriors shed the disinterested, coasting skin they had worn for weeks and came out playing with the passion — and playing with the flair, having fun — we have come to expect from them.

The end result was a 113-92 Warriors win that was never really in doubt by the middle of the first quarter.

“At the end of the season, I think we were thinking too far down the line and worrying about the playoffs when we should have been worrying about today,” Kevin Durant said in his postgame interview about the Warriors flipping the switch. “Today we worried about the present, came out with a good game plan and executed it.”

The Warriors need to guard against the return of complacency game-to-game — especially if they have a couple of easy wins in a series in a row — but for one day that question was put to rest.

The Warriors now lead the series 1-0, and while Gregg Popovich will make adjustments, it’s hard to imagine what he could do with the players at his disposal that would change the outcome of this series with the way the Warriors have dialed in. The Warriors are just vastly more athletic and it allows them to create matchups and opportunities that work for them.

Nothing highlighted that athleticism gap early like the play of JaVale McGee. The Warriors started McGee at center and guarding LaMarcus Aldridge and he was a force — at one point in the first quarter it was McGee 9, Spurs 8 (the Warriors had 15). In the first half, MeGee had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting plus a couple of blocked shots inside.

Klay Thompson finished with 27 points and hit 5-of-6 from three, Durant had 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, Draymond Green finished with 12 points and 11 assists, and McGee ended the game with 15 points.

Most importantly, the Warriors were engaged defensively from the start, holding the Spurs to 40 percent shooting for the game (although the Spurs did go 9-of-22 from three).

From the opening tip, Golden State was executing smart plays. The Warriors used the Spurs switching defense against them, forcing a smaller guy — Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills — on Kevin Durant, and while the Spurs smalls pressured KD just shot over the top of them on his way to 16 first-half points on 10 shots.

Spurs came out more physical and aggressive in the second half, but it didn’t matter. As the game wore on, the Warriors looked more and more comfortable. They looked more and more like their vintage self.

San Antonio’s offense all season used at its core LaMarcus Aldridge working out of the post, where he can score two on a fadeaway over anyone. But he doesn’t have a lot of shooting around him to space the floor, so he might hit a cutter on the pass, but the Spurs come away with two. Then the Warriors drain a three. The math just doesn’t work for the Spurs, and they have no answer for Durant.

If the Warriors stay engaged and defending at this level, the math is going to end this series quickly for the Spurs.

PBT Awards: All-Defense

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Kurt Helin

First team

Second team

Outside of the center spot, this was challenging to fill out because there were tough factors to balance. OKC’s Andre Roberson was by far the best defensive guard in the league, but injuries limited him to just 39 games — is that enough? (I ultimately decided no.) Also at forward there were a lot of deserving guys, but Tucker has been crucial to the improved, switching defense in Houston and he deserves to make the cut (even over Jimmy Butler). A lot of tough calls in a deep year for this award.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • G: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
  • G: Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
  • F: Robert Covington, 76ers
  • F: Al Horford, Celtics
  • C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Second team

  • G: Jrue Holiday, Pelicans
  • G: Andre Roberson, Thunder
  • F: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
  • F: Draymond Green, Warriors
  • C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

I was looking for the players with the biggest defensive impacts for the season. But so many of the NBA’s top defenders on a per-possession basis missed significant time due to injury and/or having a limited role: Andre Roberson (who could’ve been Defensive Player of the Year if he stayed healthy), Dejounte Murray, Jimmy Butler, Thabo Sefolosha, Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid and Aron Baynes. It was tough to compare them to not-quite-as-good defenders who affected more possessions: Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Al-Farouq Aminu, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Clint Capela.

Dane Carbaugh

First team

  • G: Dejounte Murray, Spurs
  • G: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
  • F: Jayson Tatum, Celtics
  • F: Draymond Green, Warriors
  • C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Second team

  • G: Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
  • G: Andre Roberson, Thunder
  • F: Paul George, Thunder
  • F: Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers
  • C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

The great part about this season is the defensive rise of a lot of young players coupled with the immediate, clear impact that has had on their team’s success. Dejounte Murray has looked like a real replacement for Tony Parker and a further evolution of that position for the Spurs. Jayson Tatum has been incredible, and as we said at the beginning of the year the only way for the Celtics to succeed was for their youngsters to step up. Joel Embiid has (mostly) stayed healthy and been a monster. Butler slots into a guard spot as he’s played 80% of his minutes there, per Basketball-Reference.com.

James Harden helps Rockets to easy 109-93 win over shorthanded Spurs

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HOUSTON (AP) — After the Houston Rockets easily downed the San Antonio Spurs, James Harden was asked about his team taking care of business against a team missing its top players.

The All-Star was quick to point out that despite already clinching a playoff berth, this team has many more goals ahead.

“We don’t have the luxury of just taking nights off,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be. We’re not that good yet. So we have to go out there and approach every single game, no matter who we’re playing, like it’s a playoff game. We’re 15 games away, so it’s time to take it serious.”

Harden scored 16 of his 28 points in the third quarter to allow the Rockets to build a huge lead and sail to a 109-93 victory Monday night.

The NBA’s leading scorer took a little while to get going a night after sitting out against Dallas with a sore left knee and had just 12 points at halftime.

Despite his slow start, the Rockets had a comfortable lead in the third and were still up by 13 after a basket by San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray with about eight minutes left in the quarter. It was then that Harden took over, scoring the next eight points to start a 16-4 run that extended the lead to 82-57 with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third and had coach Gregg Popovich calling for a timeout.

Harden had a 3-pointer and made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt to propel that spurt. He didn’t return in the fourth quarter with the game in hand.

“We’ve played I don’t know how many games in about eight days or 10 days, but it’s a lot of games it seems like,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And to have the legs to be able to do what they’re doing and put the game away is pretty good.”

The Spurs, who were without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, got 14 points each from Bryn Forbes and Derrick White. They lost for the fifth time in six games as they fight for a playoff spot.

“Everybody tries to be the best they can be by playoff time and that will be our goal, too,” Popovich said. “(We want) to be in the playoffs and to be as good as we can possibly be no matter what the circumstances are.”

San Antonio scored four quick points in the fourth quarter to get within 15. But Houston responded with the next eight points, with the last five from Chris Paul, to make it 99-76 and end Paul’s night with about 8 minutes remaining.

Paul, who finished with 18 points and nine assists, wowed the crowd in that stretch, crossing over Forbes before sinking a basket and then knocking down a 3-pointer on Houston’s next trip down the court.

The Rockets were up by 10 early in the third quarter before using a 7-3 run, capped by a 3 from Trevor Ariza, to make it 61-47 with about 9 1/2 minutes left in the quarter before the big Harden-fueled run put the game out of reach.

 

NBA Power Rankings: Rockets remain locked on top, race to the bottom interesting

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Not much movement at the top of the power rankings, the Rockets are playing well and most of the other top teams seem to have a case of senioritis looking ahead to the All-Star break. The more interesting race may be to the bottom, where the Suns and Nets are losing, the Knicks have dropped seven straight, and the taking for lottery position is about to go full force.

 
Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (43-13, Last Week No. 1). Houston is a run-and-gun Mike D’Antoni team, right? Not really, or at least not as much as people think. The Rockets are ninth in the NBA in pace and 14th in the NBA in the percentage of offense started in transition. The Rockets are very efficient when they get in transition, scoring a league best 129.5 points per 100 transition possessions (stats via Cleaning the Glass), but they don’t run like people think. The Rockets have won nine in a row, they remain tied with the Warriors in the loss column in the race for the No. 1 seed and home court throughout the playoffs.

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (44-13 LW 2). Whoever is doing the coaching for Golden State (Steve Kerr, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee), he/they seems to have awakened their dormant bench of the past month or so. Which is good, because they may need to fill in for Draymond Green soon — he has a league-leading 14 technical fouls this season, two more and he gets an automatic one-game suspension. One sign of when the Warriors start to buckle down and focus again heading into the playoffs — their dreadful transition defense will improve. Right now it is one of the worst in the league.

 
Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (40-16, LW 3). Winners of six in a row — and the first five each by at least 15 points. The Raptors are in an impressive stretch and look like they could be the class of the East, but they will need to prove it in the playoffs. The Raptors are the top seed in the East as you read this — which could really matter come the playoffs. If Cleveland really has turned things around, the Cavs will still be the 3 seed (six games back of Boston/Toronto), meaning whoever finishes as the two seed gets them in the second round. Finish first, the path to the conference finals is cleaner.

 
Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (40-18, LW 4). Losers of 3-of-4, including ugly losses to the other top teams in the East Toronto and Cleveland. (The Celtics would have lost four in a row if the Wizards had played a little cleaner and Markieff Morris hadn’t fouled late.) The real reason for concern is the defense has been 6.4 points per 100 possessions worse in their last five games, going from best in the league to pedestrian. The offense remains just okay as it has much of the season, they need an elite defense to make up for it. This is likely just a blip, but something to watch.

 
5. Timberwolves (35-25, LW 5). That midseason stretch of good defense may have been a mirage — in their last 10 games the Timberwolves have given up a sieve-like 113.4 points per 100 possessions, 28th in the NBA for that stretch. Their transition defense continues to be the big issue. Rumors persist that Tom Thibodeau wants to pick up Derrick Rose off the buyout market, but I can’t see a good reason to do that. There are better options for point guard depth out there.

Bucks small icon 6. Bucks (32-24 LW 7). When Joe Prunty took over as head coach, his first move was to change the defensive schemes to something simpler and more traditional that his players could execute consistently — and in those 10 games the Bucks have allowed less than a point per possession and gone 8-2. Over that same time the Bucks have had a pedestrian offense (18th in the league) and while injuries (Malcolm Brogdon) are part of that the team needs to step up, starting with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

 
Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (35-24, LW 6). The Spurs have shaken up the starting lineup, inserting Davis Bertans and moving Pau Gasol to a sixth man role. The reason is that with Dejounte Murray starting at the point but not having an outside shot, the Spurs needed better floor spacing. They have gotten it, the offense has looked better with this new lineup. The Spurs are 1-3 at the start of their Rodeo road trip and it continues past the All-Star break through Feb. 25 in Cleveland.

 
Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (32-24, LW 8). Washington has won 6-of-8 since John Wall went down, with the two losses to elite defensive teams (Boston and Philly). With Tim Fraizer also out injured, the Wizards need to pick up a point guard on the buyout market to provide some depth behind Tomas Satoransky (who has played well and moved the ball with Wall out). Expect a move soon.

 
Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (29-28, LW 17). Winners of 10 in a row and they have been the best team in the NBA over that stretch. The biggest surprise is that the frontcourt of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert is working again — the Jazz are +26.2 per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together during this streak. Not sure if that’s sustainable. Donovan Mitchell continues to impress during the streak taking over games late, Ricky Rubio has found a comfort level in Quin Snyder’s system and next to Mitchell, and Joe Ingles can’t miss. With a softer schedule the rest of the way than other teams in the fight for playoffs, fivethirtyeight.com says they have a 90 percent chance of making the postseason.

 
Cavaliers small icon 10. Cavaliers (34-22 LW 19). They are 2-0 with the new-look lineup, and while it’s just two games the fact that LeBron James looks energized again, that the athleticism on defense is paying off, and that the bench looks good are all very good signs the Cavs are on the right track. After the All-Star break Tyronn Lue will get a few practices with his new team, which is needed. It’s too early to buy in on the Cavaliers again, but I like what I’ve seen in the test drive so far.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (32-26 LW 9).. Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony returned to the rotation Tuesday night vs. Cleveland but it didn’t help, and the Thunder are 2-6 in their last eight. Without Andre Roberson in those games their elite defense has fallen to the middle of the pack (15th in the NBA in those 8) and they continue to look for a fifth man in the starting and closing rotation. Also in those eight games, the team’s offense has fallen to bottom 10 in the league. This still feels like a team better built for the postseason, but the hole they have dug themselves will make that a struggle.

 
Nuggets small icon 12. Nuggets (31-26, LW 12). Denver quietly made a really smart move at the trade deadline, swapping out Emmanuel Mudiay for Devin Harris — Harris has fit right in and helped (he had 17 vs. Phoenix). The win over the Spurs Tuesday night mattered because for Denver the playoffs start now — they are the current six-seed in the West, but just two games up on the nine-seed Clippers (and three on the 10 seed and climbing Jazz). Denver needs victories now.

 
Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (29-25, LW 16). Adding Marco Belinelli after his buyout from the Hawks was a good pickup, he provides shooting and wing depth this team could use. The Sixers have won eight in a row at home now, but have 8-of-10 on the road were they are 12-15 this season. The Sixers need to keep racking up wins to keep Detroit at arms length and stay in the postseason, but the Sixers have the second toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way.

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (30-25, LW 10). Indiana is 6-1 in games decided by three points or less this season, which is a little bit lucky but has helped keep them afloat and out of too much danger of missing the postseason. Although the bigger reason this team remains solidly in the postseason is the play of Victor Oladipo, the team has gone 13-6 since his return from injury.

 
Clippers small icon 15. Clippers (29-26 LW 14). DeAndre Jordan remained a Clipper past the trade deadline, despite a lot of teams calling about his availability (if the Clippers moved him they did not want to take on long-term salary coming back, and that became a sticking point). Whether he remains a Clipper after summer free agency is another question, he told our own Dan Feldman he’s not sure how much the team wants him, and you can bet other teams will work hard to recruit him.

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (31-26, LW 13). The Trail Blazers offense was hot for a while, then has cooled off (despite a 50 spot from Damian Lillard) but the ups-and-downs are expected in an offense where the pick-and-roll ball handler or a guy in isolation take 30.3 percent of the shots (this team does not move the ball well, which can lead to contests against good defenses). Fun matchup Wednesday night when the Blazers face the Warriors: Lillard and C.J. McCollum vs. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

 
Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (30-26, LW 15). New Orleans is 3-5 since DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season, and not surprisingly it is the offensive end of the court where they miss him most. Since the injury, the Pelicans have scored just 101.6 points per 100 possessions, way down from the 108.3 rating they had before. The Pels defense has been okay, but it can’t cover up that much lack of scoring. Of the five teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the West, the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Pelicans have the toughest remaining schedules, New Orleans needs to find some buckets to stay in the postseason.

 
Heat small icon 18. Heat (30-27, LW 11). Dwyane Wade is back home in Miami, and that boost stopped a five-game skid. Wade is not an efficient scorer anymore, but he is an improved playmaker who can serve as sort of a defacto backup point guard, plus he can make some timely plays on both ends of the court. Expect him to keep coming off the bench but to get some crunch time minutes as well.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (27-29, LW 18). The Blake Griffin honeymoon is over as the Pistons have lost three straight and remain 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East. If you really want to be picky, every game Griffin has won with the Piston came when the opponent was on the second game of a back-to-back. Overall the Pistons have been +6.5 points per 100 with Griffin on the court this season, but in the last three games, the Griffin and Andre Drummond pairing has been -14.4 per 100. Stan Van Gundy is looking forward to having some practices with his team at the end of the All-Star break.

 
Lakers small icon 20. Lakers (23-32 LW 21). Isaiah Thomas has a chance with the Lakers to improve his stock heading into his summer free agency — stock that took a serious hit in the past year with his injury, play in Cleveland, and his disruption of that locker room. Thomas had 22 points in his Lakers debut off the bench, and while his defense is still terrible if he can show he can still put up numbers he helps his cause this summer (either as a key ball handler on a lesser team or a sixth man on a good one).

 
Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (23-33, LW 20). The Hornets didn’t trade Kemba Walker at the deadline, as expected, but they should revisit that during the summer when the offers may improve. Charlotte did take a flier on Willy Hernangomez at the deadline, and while it adds some salary long term it’s a good flier on a guy who showed promise as a rookie then got squeezed in the New York rotations this season. On Saturday, while you’re settling in to watch the Dunk Contest, remember to wish Michael Jordan a happy 55th birthday.

 
Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (20-36 LW 29).. After trading out Nikola Mitotic, the Bulls took an interesting flier at the deadline taking on Noah Vonleh. He didn’t impress much in Portland but he was marginally better this season (he started a dozen games for them) and there is potential. Zach LaVine has impressed more and more of late, including the game-winning steal and dunk vs. Orlando on Monday.

 
Magic small icon 23. Magic (18-38, LW 25). And somewhere Scott Skiles smiles — the Magic decided to move on from Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline. They didn’t get much back but it was still the right move, it was time. Orlando continues to play well on offense — they are 10th in the NBA in that category over their last 10 games. The problem is they give up almost as many buckets as they score, leading to a 4-6 record in those games.

 
Mavericks small icon 24. Mavericks (18-40 LW 23). Dennis Smith Jr. continues to show flashes but struggle with efficiency, he scoring 15.5 points per game in his last 10 but is shooting just 36.1 percent overall and 27.7 percent from three in that stretch. On the bright side, Dirk Nowitzki dropped 22 on the Lakers and even had a dunk (his first of the season).

 
Grizzlies small icon 25. Grizzlies (18-37, LW 24). Tyreke Evans is still in Memphis after the trade deadline in one of the most bizarre deadline non-moves we have seen. Memphis’ GM tried to spin this was better for the team, but the reality is no team was going to give him the first he wanted, so now rather than two second-round pick (or a second and Emmanuel Mudiay, a deal that was on the table) the Grizzlies are going to watch him walk this summer for nothing. Will they revisit the Marc Gasol trade idea this summer?

 
Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (23-35, LW 22). They have lost seven in a row and are pushing their way higher into the draft lottery. I like the trade deadline gamble on Emmanuel Mudiay, a big point guard who could be a backup down the line, and maybe play next to Frank Ntilikina. The Knicks aren’t going anywhere (this season or probably next after the Kristaps Porzingis ACL injury) so taking gambles and trying to develop players is what they should do.

 
Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (18-40, LW 28). Dewayne Dedmon is back in the rotation, and Mike Budenholzer is going deep into that rotation to get a good look at the players they have as the Hawks start to work out who can be part of the rebuild long-term. Atlanta has won 3-of-6, which normally one would say is a good thing but in a tight race for lottery position, the Hawks wins cost them the best lottery odds in the past week.

 
Kings small icon 28. Kings (18-38, LW 26). The Kings moved on from George Hill at the deadline, and they got a second-round pick for it. The real key for the Kings is what they do with that and their other picks — the Kings have either missed on or been unable to properly develop players over the past decade, and that has held them back. Sure, they nailed DeMarcus Cousins, and this is not about Georgios Papagiannis (who they waived), rather it’s about not regularly turning first-round picks into solid rotation players they can hold onto at an affordable price. That’s how teams get built, and the Kings need to get there to turn this ship around.

 
Nets small icon 29. Nets (19-39, LW 27). Getting a second-round pick for Tyler Zeller was a good move for the Nets. Losers of six in a row, that only serves to make Cavaliers fans happy as they control the Brooklyn pick (and they value it enough that Cleveland would not give it up at the trade deadline despite a roster overhaul). Allen Crabbe has shown some signs of life in the last two weeks, a good thing as he is near the top of the “most disappointing player in the NBA this season” list.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (18-40, LW 30). Losers of six in a row and 11-of-12, the Suns are now tied for the worst record in the NBA (and a chance for the top spot in the draft lottery). I like the flier on Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline, they want a point guard to put next to Devin Booker eventually, and while Payton may not be it they didn’t give up much and Payton has potential if he could find his shot.

Someone actually helped up Kevin Love in viral video of Cavaliers ignoring him – Spurs’ Dejounte Murray (video)

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Just how maligned is Kevin Love with the Cavaliers?

There have been two (!) viral videos of teammates not helping him up.

The first came when LeBron James stepped over him a couple years ago. The second came during Cleveland’s loss to the Spurs on Tuesday, when Jae Crowder stepped over him.

Now, these could be overblown. Sometimes, a player just wants to catch his breath for a moment on the floor. In Crowder’s case, play was ongoing, and he could have been locked into that. No other Cavs were clearly close enough to Love to help him up, though they all got collectively blamed for not running over (again, while play continued).

But ESPN showed a new angle, and – once again, fairly or not – it doesn’t paint the Cavaliers in the best light. Because Love did get helped up. By Spurs guard Dejounte Murray.