Kurt Helin

Warriors at play: Durant block leads to Pachulia over-head pass, leads to Curry circus shot

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The Golden State Warriors like to bring a little playground to the court.

Check out this play from Sunday night. Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins fakes the three and drives the lane where he runs into Kevin Durant who blocks his shot, the ball caroms out to Zaza Pachulia who makes a no-look over-the-head pass, then Stephen Curry finishes the play with a no-look bucket.

The Kings had the lead early and everything was going smoothly for them — well, unless you were one of their bench chairs — but you could feel the comeback was on its way. It was. Golden State dominated the third quarter and went on to win 117-106.

Three things we learned on Sunday: D’Angelo Russell is growing up before our eyes

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 22: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers brings the ball up during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 22, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES — Here is what you missed in the NBA Sunday while trying to figure out what theater was playing “Hidden Fences”….

1) Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell maturing, evolving into leader Lakers need. Luke Walton sees it. D’Angelo Russell admits it. Anyone watching the second-year point guard play recently can see it — there is a little something different about him the last five games. It’s sort of there in the stats — 20.8 points per game, 39.7 percent shooting from three, 5.2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.4 turnovers per game in his last five — but it’s more more than that.

There is a maturity to Russell’s game that is growing, a confidence as the game slows down for him and his ability to be the floor general the Lakers have counted on comes to the fore.

“Just the way he’s been controlling the game and running his position has been really good…” Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said Sunday night after Russell had 17 points (on 7-of-10 shooting), 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and three steals leading a Laker win over the Magic.. “D’Angelo’s recommitted himself in the weight room. He’s been in there multiple times a week with his strength coach.”

Russell credits his improved play to his developing a real routine — like he’s seen veterans from Kobe Bryant to Lou Williams have.

“Luke kind of notified it to me, just said I should try (having a steady routine), and I did,” Russell said, adding this started four or five games ago. “I didn’t have a routine, I told you about that. The same routine after practice, after shootaround, just the same routine, the same schedule every day. It’s just been very successful for me, my aggression, just everything is more comfortable….

“I’m maturing,” Russell said. “Trying to make sure I treat the game right, come with that approach every day. It’s a habit, it’s a learning habit that we’re picking up.”

With his routine — and just getting steady run and responsibility this season, rather than being jerked around — you can tell his confidence is growing, and that the game has slowed down for Russell. He is seeing floor and making right play far more often than not. He’s figuring out what he can do well — he’s making clever pocket passes, he’s using his size as a point guard to post up smaller guys.

Make no mistake, Russell still has plenty to learn. He got stripped a couple of times late by D.J. Augustin when he tried to force things. Russell’s drives tend to be pretty straight-line and he needs to develop a larger variety of ways to score inside once he gets into the paint (a floater would help, for example). However, Russell is making strides of late this season — which in some ways is his first season being taught what to do, considering the “I’ll bench you, figure it out for yourself” coaching from Byron Scott last year.

The Lakers have seen rookie Brandon Ingram score a career-best 17 points in consecutive games (including vs. Orlando). Jordan Clarkson excites with his hustle and athleticism. They miss Larry Nance Jr. in the rotation. But if the Lakers are going to make a leap with this young core, it’s going to be led by Russell. He’s showing signs now he can do that.

2) James Harden is making his MVP case: Another triple-double, eighth-straight Rockets win. Russell Westbrook’s case for being MVP is obvious — he’s averaging a triple-double this season, and when he goes to the bench the Thunder offense looks like a D-League team. But James Harden is putting up crazy numbers as well — 28.2 points, 11.8 assists, and 8.2 rebounds a game — and his team is winning more games. That frames the MVP question:

The Rockets are on pace for 63 wins currently, if they win around 60 and Harden keeps up this pace, and the Thunder win fewer than 50 games, does Harden beat out Westbrook for the MVP?

It’s too early to answer that question, but Harden made his case Sunday night against a very good Toronto team. Harden had a triple double — 40 points (on 26 shots), 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. He shot 7-of-9 at the rim, and 4-of-9 from three. He was the best player on the floor and the Rockets look like the kind of team that could make the conference finals (a Spurs/Rockets second round series would be fun).

3) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s three gives Pistons second-straight one point win. And they’ll take it. Detroit had stumbled, losing eight of 10 and falling out of the playoff picture in the East. Stan Van Gundy was grasping at anything that could spark his team, to turn the season back around.

A couple of one-point wins may have done it. First was the one in Charlotte on Thursday.

Sunday’s came via a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three.

Detroit had almost won in regulation then in the first overtime in Portland, but C.J. McCollum was hitting shots to extend the game.

In the second OT, there were 11.6 seconds left and the Pistons trailed 124-122. On the inbounds play Caldwell-Pope came off a little screen to go down by the baseline, waited for a second, and while Allen Crabbe ball watched KCP made a sharp cut to the arc, Andre Drummond set enough of a pick to slow Crabbe a little more, and Caldwell-Pope got off a clean three. Ballgame.

Drummond had 26 points and 13 rebounds in the win. With the victory the Pistons are now 1.5 games out of the playoffs in the East. This is the kind of win that can help reignite a struggling team. (Portland remains tied with the Kings for the eight seed in the West, with New Orleans, Denver, and now even the Los Angeles Lakers within two games.) We will see if a couple of dramatic wins can resuscitate the Pistons’ playoff hopes.

BONUS thing we liked Sunday: Chris Paul in full point god mode against Heat. That man is just not fair. There was this move.

And this.

And with that the Clippers have won four in a row.

Stephen Curry leads Warriors to a big second half, win over Kings

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Steve Kerr pulled a Gregg Popovich. One missed defensive assignment with no backdoor help on DeMarcus Cousins, and Kerr called a timeout 18 seconds into the game.

“Nobody can make a move like Pop, I’m a very cheap version of him, if at all,” the Golden State coach quipped about Popovich, the longtime San Antonio coach.

“It definitely made a statement,” Draymond Green said.

Stephen Curry scored 30 points and the defense started rolling after halftime, with the Warriors taking their first lead midway through the third quarter on the way to a 117-106 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.

Once the 3-pointers began to fall, the Warriors were on their way.

Kevin Durant had 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four blocks, and Klay Thompson added 18 points. With their 17th straight victory after a loss, the Warriors reached 124 regular-season games in a row without suffering back-to-back defeats.

“It’s deflating for other teams when we can get stops and protect the rim, get steals, force them into tough shots and tough misses and on the other end we’re just running it right back down the paint,” Curry said. “We have to allow that part of our game to shine.”

Green had 10 assists for his 12th game with double digits assists and third in four, while Zaza Pachulia scored 10 points to reach double figures for the fourth straight game. Yet one for the highlight reel was Pachulia’s no-look, backward over-the-head pass to Curry after the big man got the ball when Durant blocked a shot by Cousins.

“We scored, right? Nobody’s going to say anything. If it was a turnover, first thing on the film,” Pachulia said.

Sacramento’s Rudy Gay scored 15 of his 23 points in the first quarter. Cousins had 17.

Golden State had 30 assists for the 26th time this season and won its 13th straight against the Kings, seventh in a row in Sacramento.

The Warriors woke up after halftime, starting the third with a 19-7 burst and outscoring the Kings 39-22 in the period. Golden State didn’t lead until Curry’s 3-pointer with 7:34 left in the third, following Durant’s tying 3 the previous possession. Curry hit five 3-pointers and has at least 30 points in three consecutive games.

Gay shot 9 for 17 in his second game back after missing four straight with a right hip flexor strain and 10 of 11. Cousins went 4 for 11.

“We always have that one quarter or one little stretch where we have bad basketball,” Cousins said. “It comes back to bite us in the end.”

The Warriors went 3 for 14 from long range in the first half, then shots fell as the defense improved.

Before the game, Kings coach Dave Joerger joked, “Ask `em nicely if they won’t shoot so many.”

The Warriors just needed some time to warm up after choosing not to shootaround in the morning with a 6 p.m. tipoff even with it being their first visit to the new Golden 1 Center.

They didn’t relinquish this one, two days after squandering a 24-point lead in the second half of a 128-119 overtime home loss to Memphis.

BOLLYWOOD GAME

The special “Bollywood Night” game marked the first regular-season NBA game to be livestreamed on Facebook, this time only to fans in India.

There was Indian-themed entertainment and music and even a Henna tattoo station.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Durant notched his 700th regular-season block in the second quarter and had at least three blocks for a third straight game. That matches a career-long streak also done from Nov. 25-30, 2015. …. The team’s winning streak against the Kings is its longest active unbeaten run against any opponent and tied for third-longest in franchise history behind a 14-gamer against Dallas from 1991-94 and 15-game winning streak from 1947-49 vs. the Providence Steamrollers. … San Francisco mayor Ed Lee was in attendance, while Giants CEO Larry Baer sat courtside and got a first-quarter shoutout on the enormous scoreboard.

Kings: Cousins received a technical – his 12th – 4:14 before halftime after punching a chair following his third foul. … The Warriors were the last Pacific Division opponent the Kings had yet to face. Golden State returns to the Golden 1 Center on Feb. 4 before the Kings visit Oakland on Feb. 15 and March 24. … Sacramento hasn’t beaten Golden State since March 27, 2013, and last at home 131-127 on Dec. 19, 2012.

 

LeBron James, Cavaliers hold off Suns 120-116

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PHOENIX (AP) — LeBron James scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and the Cleveland Cavaliers fought off Phoenix down the stretch to beat the Suns 120-116 on Sunday night.

Kyrie Irving added 27 points and Kevin Love 25 for the Cavaliers. They led by as many as 22 in the first half and 20 early in the third quarter.

The Suns tied it late in the third and got within one in the fourth but never took the lead.

Eric Bledsoe scored 31 points and Devin Booker had 28 for the Suns.

James sank consecutive 3-pointers, his only 3s of the game, to give Cleveland a 115-109 lead with 2:46 to play and scored on a driving layup with 44 seconds left to make it 120-114.

The young Suns got their running game going to outscore Cleveland 25-7 and Tyson Chandler‘s inside basket cut the Cav’ lead to 84-82 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.

Phoenix tied it twice before the quarter ended, the last at 90 when Booker banked in an 8-footer with 11.2 seconds left, but Irving sank a 3 at the buzzer and Cleveland led entering the fourth 93-90.

The Sun got within one three times early in the final quarter, the last at 98-97 on Booker’s left-handed drive with 9:37 left. After Phoenix rookie Dragan Bender missed a 3, Irving sank one, then added an acrobatic driving layup to put the Cavaliers up 104-98 with 7:38 left.

The Suns still were down only 109-107 after Marquese Chriss made one of two free throws with 4:28 to play but James sank his first three to boost it to 112-107. Bledsoe’s layup cut it to 112-109, and James sank his second 3 to make it a six-point game. Phoenix never got closer than four after that.

NOT YET

Kyle Korver, acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, joined his new Cleveland teammates Sunday afternoon but couldn’t play because physicals and paperwork still had to be completed to finalize the deal that sent Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams a protected first-round pick and cash considerations to the Hawks.

Korver could make his Cleveland debut Tuesday night at Utah.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: James became the 14th player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career field goals. … Cleveland scored 21 points off 11 Phoenix turnovers in the first half.

Suns: The 69 points matched the most allowed by Phoenix in the first half this season. … Phoenix had won two in a row. The Suns have not won three in a row all season. … Phoenix is 8-5 against the Eastern Conference. … Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps sat next to Suns owner Robert Sarver at courtside.

 

Pistons’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drains game-winning three, knocks off Blazers in 2OT

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This was a big win for a Detroit team trying to climb back into the playoffs in the East. It was a painful loss for a Portland team trying not to fall out of the playoffs in the West.

And it all came down to a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three.

There were 11.6 seconds left in the second overtime and the Pistons trailed 124-122. On the inbounds play Caldwell-Pope came off a little screen to go down by the baseline, waited for a second, and while Allen Crabbe ball watched KCP made a sharp cut to the arc, Andre Drummond set enough of a pick to slow Crabbe a little more, and Caldwell-Pope got off a clean three. Ballgame. Well, it was after C.J. McCollum couldn’t convert a Portland game winner, but he had forced OT and double OT with his shots.

Drummond had 26 points and 13 rebounds for the Pistons. Crabbe had 30 points for the Blazers.

The Pistons are now 1.5 games out of the playoffs in the East. This is the kind of win that can help reignite a struggling team.

Portland remains tied with the Kings for the eight seed in the West, with New Orleans, Denver, and now even the Los Angeles Lakers within two games. We’ll see if anybody actually wants that playoff spot.