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Golden State looks vulnerable. Can Spurs do anything about it?

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Steve Kerr has been frustrated in recent weeks with his team’s effort. Very frustrated. Walk into the shower, throw a bunch of bats on the floor and call them “lollygaggers” frustrated.

Golden State coasted the last month of the season, much of it without Stephen Curry, and went 7-10 in their final stretch of games. However, the Warriors problems go deeper than a lack of focus and being without Curry — Shaun Livingston has been banged up and not right, Andre Iguodala’s efficiency has dropped this season, and Draymond Green is still shooting just a tick above 30 percent from three. To name just a few things.

The Warriors look vulnerable.

But can the Spurs do anything about it?

Probably not. San Antonio (without Kawhi Leonard, it would be a surprise if he came back now) doesn’t have the athletes. We saw it last year when these teams met in the playoffs and Leonard went down after Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper, at that point the Warriors ran away with the series. The Spurs are not going to beat themselves, they will defend well and make smart plays, the Warriors are going to have to earn it — but Golden State should take the series fairly quickly.

Should. That’s the key, as Kerr said Friday (via Mark Medina of the Mercury News).

“They’re going to bring out the best in us or they’re going to completely expose us,” Kerr said after Friday’s practice. “One way or another, that’s probably a good thing for us.”

It’s probably going to be the former — expect the Warriors to flip the switch.

Here are the things you’ll see Saturday at 3 ET (on ABC) if the sleeping Warriors have awakened.

• Defensive energy and focus. This is what the Warriors have lacked mostly over the past six weeks — since March 1 the Warriors have allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the NBA. Not terrible by some standards, but last season the Warriors allowed just 101 points per 100, best in the NBA. In February of this season, when the Warriors focused for a while, they allowed just 102.3.

The defensive change needs to start from the team’s leaders — Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Durant played fantastic defense in the Finals last season, and remember on Christmas Day he did it again against the Cavaliers (leading to some around the team to try and promote him for the All-Defensive team). Then he seemed to check out on that end. He needs to bring his focus back, create some turnovers with his length, and protect the rim a little.

Green has been good but not dominant this season defensively, but that brings us to our next point…

• Draymond Green needs to take charge of this series. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One ties into our first bullet point above — he is the emotional leader of the Warriors. If they are going to snap out of their malaise, it starts with him. If he brings the defensive effort, others will follow.

More than that, Green has vital roles in this series.

Defensively, he will be matched on LaMarcus Aldridge for key stretches — and with Leonard out the San Antonio offense runs through Aldridge (and occasionally Pau Gasol). While Aldridge can shoot fadeaways or little hooks over the top of Green, historically he has struggled to do that efficiently against Green’s physical defense. It also just isn’t going to be one-on-one because the Spurs don’t have enough shooting to space the floor out and scare the Warriors if Aldridge passes out. If Green (and Zaza Pachulia, and David West) can make Aldridge work for his buckets, it becomes difficult for the Spurs to score enough.

On offense, the Warriors need playmaking Green to return and take on a bigger role. He needs to grab rebounds and push the tempo in transition, in the half court they need him to roll down the lane with the ball then kick-out to the open shooters. He’s more than capable of this, we’ve just seen less of it this season.

• Kevin Durant needs to lead — and that’s as much defense as offense. Last season during the Finals Durant was a defensive force, that won him Finals MVP as much as his offense. That continued through the first part of this season up through the Christmas Day game against the Cavaliers — he was playing so well some around Golden State tried to push him for Defensive Player of the Year (or at least a spot on the All-Defensive team). However, after that Durant seemed to coast a little on defense. He wasn’t the same. The Warriors need the earlier Durant back.

On offense, he’s going to get all the touches and shots he wants, Durant just needs to be efficient and a playmaker.

• Other scorers step up besides Durant. KD is going to get his, and Klay Thompson will knock down threes and put up numbers as well, but when the Warriors are clicking the ball moves, guys are cutting, and the role players get clean looks and join in the scoring.

Will a fresh and rested Andre Iguodala get some buckets on hard cuts to the rim? Will David West knock down some midrange jumpers? Can Quinn Cook continue to impress? Will the center by committee group of Pachulia/JaVale McGee/Kevon Looney/Jordan Bell pitch in buckets?

The Warriors will need them because the Spurs can still defend and will make life challenging for Golden State’s big three.

Kevin Durant has fractured ribs, out a couple of weeks

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The injury bug is hitting the Warriors hard — not with anything that seems like it will last into the playoffs, but it’s still a concern.

Stephen Curry (ankle) and Klay Thompson (fractured thumb), Draymond Green is just returning to the rotation (along with David West and Jordan Bell), and now this — Kevin Durant is going to be out a couple of weeks.

What incomplete means is it is nondisplaced, or to use the slang it is a cracked rib. The bone was not moved out of place and does not need to be reset.

The good news for Warriors fans about all these injuries are they should heal up in a couple of weeks and the Warriors should be fully loaded for bear come the playoffs. And no doubt this team knows what it needs to do to win, it can get back into its groove quickly.

So long as we’re not talking about all these injuries in the second week of April, Warriors fans do not need to worry.

Projecting final standings in wild West playoff chase

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It’s going to come down to the little things: a lucky bounce here, a sprained ankle there, a made three from the corner under pressure. Unpredictable things — but that’s not going to stop us.

And it’s going to take 46 wins to make the playoffs in the West (last season Portland got in at 41-41).

The West playoff chase is compelling because it is so deep and tight. Right now Houston and Golden State are playoff locks, but after that just 3.5 games separate Portland as the three seed and the Utah Jazz, currently 10th. With just under a month to go in the season, anything can happen.

I sat down and projected out the rest of the season, and here’s what I got, down to projected final record and remaining strength of schedule — it’s going to take those 46 wins to get into the dance (which may be too much for Los Angeles and Denver). But one bounce, one ankle could change this entire dynamic.

 
Rockets small icon1. Rockets: 64-18 proj. record; .483 remaining opponent winning percentage. It’s going to be a coin flip at the end of the season between Houston and Golden State for the top record in the NBA. I’ve put Houston on top for a less-than-empirical reason: Houston wants the top seed, James Harden wants the MVP, and Mike D’Antoni will push for those things while the Warriors will not care about seeding. The Rockets will get what they want.

 
Warriors small icon2. Warriors: 63-19 proj. record; .447 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Warriors have by far an easier schedule the rest of the way than the Rockets, however, they also care less about getting the top seed and will rest guys down the stretch (such as Curry with this ankle, Andre Iguodala with his wrist, and Kevin Durant will get some nights off, too). Coach Steve Kerr cares far more about getting Iguodala and Jordan Bell back healthy than he does the team’s playoff seed.

 
Blazers small icon3. Portland, 48-34 proj. record; .538 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Trail Blazers are seventh in the NBA in defense on the season, and since the All-Star break they are second in the league giving up less than a point per possession — that (and the fact they have outperformed their point differential for the season) is why this team stays at the three seed. We know they can get buckets with Damian Lillard at the helm (especially in the clutch, where he’s been special), but it’s the other end of this floor that makes Portland more of a threat. This team not only gets home court in the first round, they could well win that and advance to the second.

 
4. Minnesota 47-35 proj. record; .474 remaining opponent winning percentage. One of the hardest teams to project from here on out because they don’t have Jimmy Butler, who got them buckets and solidified their defense. That said, in this scenario the T-Wolves get the four seed over OKC because they won the head-to-head tiebreaker (3-1). Butler or no there still a lot of talent on this roster — they need to keep feeding Karl-Antony Towns like they did Sunday against the Warriors — but the Timberwolves have a tough stretch coming up at the Wizards, at Spurs, then home to Houston. They lost two-of-three before the Warriors, if they struggle in the next three does it get into the head of a young team? Their schedule softens up after that.

 
Thunder small icon5. Oklahoma City 47-35 proj. record; .556 remaining opponent winning percentage. It’s difficult to project where this team lands because they are so wildly inconsistent. Watch the Rockets destroy them as happened last Tuesday (attacking Carmelo Anthony mercilessly) and you think the Thunder will be in trouble against any team in the West in the first round, or just getting into the postseason. Watch them shred the Spurs as they did Saturday night and you’re reminded of the elite talent on this team and why they can be such a tough out in the playoffs. Oklahoma City is simply not as good as we thought preseason (especially without Andre Roberson), but they are good enough to make the postseason, and maybe make the second round depending on the matchup.

 
Pelicans small icon6/7/8. New Orleans 46-36 proj. record; .549 remaining opponent winning percentage. In a conference race this tight, why wouldn’t there be a three-way tie for the final playoff spot? There are too many scenarios to get into the three-way tiebreaker for this ending, so for the purposes of this projection, we will call them all even. Anthony Davis only missed one game with his tweaked ankle, this is a team that looks like its recent run was enough to get back to the postseason (the Pelicans are 7-2 since the All-Star break but only have outscored teams by 1.1 per 100 possessions, they’ve been a little lucky). They need a little more luck the rest of the way.

 
Spurs small icon6/7/8. San Antonio 46-36 proj. record; .566 remaining opponent winning percentage. If the Spurs don’t make the playoffs, does the league even still hold them? This is the hardest team to project for a couple of reasons. First is they have the toughest schedule of any West team chasing the postseason, including two more against the Rockets and one against the Warriors. Second is Kawhi Leonard. He is reportedly going to return on Thursday vs. New Orleans, but for how many minutes? And how long does it take him to shake off the rust? If he gets back to form, both the Warriors and Rockets would like to avoid the Spurs in the first round, Leonard is that good, he changes everything. But the Spurs have to make it first, and that’s far from a given.

 
Jazz small icon6/7/8. Utah 46-36 proj. record; .489 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Jazz grab one of the last spots thanks to a soft schedule the rest of the way — although they do have two against the Warriors remaining — and the fact they have had the best defense in the NBA since the All-Star break, allowing well under a point per possession. Rudy Gobert would be the clear Defensive Player of the Year if he wasn’t going to have missed 25+ games this season due to injury. So long as Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio can generate just enough offense, the Jazz will make the cut.

 
Clippers small icon9. Clippers 45-37 proj. record; .553 remaining opponent winning percentage. That the team who lost Chris Paul last summer and traded Blake Griffin in the middle of this one is still in the playoff conversation is a testament to what a good job Doc Rivers has done as coach this season. Lou Williams is going to win Sixth Man of the Year going away, and DeAndre Jordan is still a force inside. But the Clippers have a tough schedule the rest of the way — two each against the Trail Blazers and Pacers that will be key — and almost no margin for error.

 
Nuggets small icon10. Denver 44-38 proj. record; .553 remaining opponent winning percentage. Denver has found a nice young core in Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris, and their offense is top 10. However, their 23rd ranked defense (once you remove gargage time stats, via Cleaning the Glass) is going to leave them on the outside looking in when all is said and done. They have two games against Minnesota and one against Portland remaining, win those and the dynamic changes.

Blazers beat Warriors 125-108 for 9th straight victory

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The key to the Portland Trail Blazers’ nine-game winning streak starts behind the scenes.

“I think we’ve done a great job of being sharp in practices and when we go in the film room, we’ve been taking our game seriously – not that we haven’t all season, but I think lately it’s just a different level of focus. It’s more intense,” Damian Lillard said.

The ninth win came on Friday night with a 125-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors. CJ McCollum scored 30 points and Lillard added 28.

The Warriors had won seven in a row but didn’t have Stephen Curry, Jordan Bell and Andre Iguodala, who were all out with injuries. Kevin Durant led Golden State with 40 points.

Portland has its longest winning streak since also winning nine straight in 2014. The Blazers’ streak started when they beat Golden State 123-117 at the Moda Center on Feb. 14, the last game before the All-Star break.

The streak has propelled Portland into third place in the Western Conference, 11 1/2 games back of the Warriors, who are a half-game back of the first-place Houston Rockets.

“What streak?” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We’re just playing games, we’re just trying to get wins.”

McCollum hit a 3-pointer to give the Blazers a 101-93 lead with 7:20 left. He added another 3 before Durant got one. Klay Thompson made a layup but Lillard answered with another 3 to make it 107-98.

Another 3-pointer by Lillard extended Portland’s lead to 115-103 with 2:40 to go and the Warriors could not catch up. There were seven Blazers in double figures.

“We fought hard. I really liked our fight and our competitive spirit but we’ve got to be smarter. We just did not play a smart, focused game tonight and it cost us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

Curry rolled his right ankle in the first quarter of the Warriors’ 110-107 victory at home over San Antonio on Thursday night.

He missed 11 games in December with the sprained right ankle and injured it again last Friday at Atlanta. He did not travel to Portland and Quinn Cook started in his place.

Bell, who sprained his right ankle Tuesday against Brooklyn, will be out through the weekend and re-evaluated Tuesday. Iguodala was out with a left wrist sprain for the second straight game.

Portland saw the return of Maurice Harkless, who missed three games with a left knee injury.

Portland led 33-27 at the end of the first quarter, after Draymond Green‘s dunk didn’t quite make it by the buzzer.

Portland went on an 8-0 run to push the lead to 41-27, but Golden State got within 52-50 on Kevon Looney‘s follow shot. Portland led 61-52 at the half. Durant led all players with 22 points while Lillard had 15.

Durant’s 3-pointer and a jumper gave Golden State a 77-73 lead with 4:01 left in the third. Portland re-took the lead on Ed Davis‘ tip-in and a trio of free throws from Lillard to make it 87-83 going into the final period.

“They hit shots,” Durant said. “They’ve been making shots on this run they’re on for a while. I thought we did a good job making them take some tough ones, but they made them.”

OUTTA HERE

Security at the Moda Center ejected a fan in a courtside seat who exchanged words with Durant late in the second quarter.

“When you’re sitting courtside you kind of think you’re Teflon – you can say or do whatever – but the ref caught him,” Durant said. “Before I could even get over there the ref said he was throwing him out of the game.”

 

Reports: Warriors’ Patrick McCaw out month with wrist fracture

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Warriors’ second-year man Patrick McCaw has seen his role shrink some in recent weeks, but he’s still part of the rotation in Golden State, one counted on in certain matchups.

But not for the next month, he is out with a fractured wrist, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Other Warrior writers have since confirmed this, although the team has yet to make an announcement. He will be back in mid-March, in plenty of time for the postseason.

McCaw was part of the off-the-bench guard rotation with Shaun Livingston. Expect to see a little more Nick Young with McCaw out, so long as young doesn’t shoot his way back to the bench.

The Warriors also have been without rookie Jordan Bell for a couple of weeks due to an ankle injury.