Kurt Helin

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Three things we learned Thursday: The Warriors are who we thought they were

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Thursday night the eyes of the NBA were focused on the Bay Area, as were ours. Here’s a recap of what you should have learned from the Thursday night slate of games around the league.

1) Golden State is figuring everything out, Kevin Durant is unstoppable, The Destructor’s form has been chosen.
So much for that slow start to the season…

Kevin Durant is not going to be able to change the narrative this season — for many fans he is a traitor to a small market team he helped build, he took the easy path to a ring (as if there is an easy path), the Warriors are the villains — but that doesn’t make the potential in Golden State any less real. The Warriors unleashed the full force of their machine on the previously undefeated Thunder Thursday night, and it was an awesome show. Oklahoma City was basically Alderaan. A fired-up Durant was everywhere, scoring 39, hitting seven threes, and playing strong defense.

By the way, Oklahoma City had the best defense in the NBA as of Thursday morning, and Golden State just toyed with it starting in the second quarter — OKC had allowed 88 points per 100 possessions through four games, the Warriors put up 123. It wasn’t just KD, the Warriors kept getting Steven Adams switched onto Stephen Curry, then Curry would blow by him and get the shot he wanted. A lot of Warriors got the shots they wanted.

More importantly, the Warriors are playing strong defense again. Russell Westbrook was just 4-of-15 shooting, as a team the Thunder shot 40.2 percent (with a true shooting percentage of 48.3, well below average). Look at OKC’s second-quarter shot chart (hat tip Nate Duncan), and notice the shots at the rim.

Thunder shotcart

When Golden State plays like this, when focused and motivated, maybe one or two teams in the NBA stand a chance to steal a game. To win four-out-of-seven against the Warriors when they play like this… good luck with that.

2) The best part of the Thunder/Warriors game was Durant and Westbrook blocking each other’s shots.
Okay, the best part was Westbrook showing up to the game in a photographer’s vest, which no matter what he says was a dig at Durant. But Westbrook and Durant rejected each other’s shots during the game and it was fun.

3) LeBron James is 5-0 to start the season for the first time in his career. One team that looks like a threat to Golden State is in the East — the defending champs and the NBA’s only undefeated team. Cleveland brushed aside a short-handed Boston team Thursday (no Al Horford or Jae Crowder), and Cleveland seemingly has picked up right where it left off last season. Don’t take my word for it.

LeBron was the ridiculous version of himself we’ve come to take for granted — 30 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds — but what has been most impressive is that for much of this young season he has pulled back. As he has done the past couple of seasons, we see a largely restrained LeBron during the regular season as he paces himself so he can unleash his full force in the playoffs. The difference has been that peak Kyrie Irving — playing with a post-Olympics bounce — and the rest of the Cavaliers have stepped it up. Tristan Thompson was a force against the Celtics, with 15 points on seven shots, plus 14 boards. Oh, and he did this to poor Tyler Zeller.

Courtney Lee says Knicks need to “practice against more game-like situations”

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It’s early, but it’s not been a pretty start to the season for the Knicks.

They are 1-3, with the 28th ranked defense and 27th ranked offense in the NBA. Their bench has been a mess. We expected some bumps early after Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah missed most of training camp, and they’ve had a tough schedule, but this has felt like a team that has no idea who it is or wants to be. The players, the coaching staff, management all seem to be on different pages — probably of different books.

Courtney Lee says they need to practice defending more pick-and-rolls in practice, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Courtney Lee says the Knicks should “practice against more game-like situations” rather than practicing against the triangle offense. “We run the triangle, we practice against it a lot. I think we need to practice against pick and rolls, practice against other looks and whatnot and get comfortable with that because that’s what other teams are running.”

There’s some logic there. As there is in just putting Rose and Kristaps Porzingis in some pick-and-rolls during games (or pick-and-pops in his case) because there is a comfort level. Right now the Knicks look like a team without an identity — not a triangle team, not a running team, not a comfortable hybrid yet.

The Knicks are certainly not a defensive team — and the triangle isn’t fully to blame for that. Management putting together this roster, the coaches, and the players all get a share. Here is coach Jeff Hornacek after Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets, via the New York Post.

“It’s not like we haven’t done defense in practice,” Hornacek said. “Guys are offensive-minded guys, but we have to play both ends. Defense has been taught and preached. It’s half of practice every time. Sometimes guys just have to take it upon yourself to stop somebody. Not look for help.”

The hope is that with time they can find some kind of identity, that the ball will move and the team will become comfortable pushing the ball in transition then settling into the triangle if nothing develops. Eventually, they will start to get more stops.

The problem is a terrible start to the season could dig them a hole that’s tough to get out of for a team dreaming of the playoffs.

Report: Patrick Ewing thinks Joel Embiid may be the most talented center in NBA

joel embiid
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Joel Embiid is must-watch NBA television (or streaming, if you prefer).

He’s nearly the only watchable thing about the Sixers, outside of Sergio Rodriguez (and Ben Simmons, once he gets healthy). He’s a dominant force inside who has yet to begin to figure out just how special he can be. He’s raw like a rookie — his moves are stiff, he does not yet have a great feel for the game (he doesn’t look to pass), he’s got to work on his shot and help defense. And yet, he’s a beast averaging 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a game in just 21 minutes a night. He’s special.

Patrick Ewing thinks so, and he should know. From Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Then Clifford told a story about watching preseason game film of Embiid in his office. Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing, a Hall of Fame center, walked in and said “Whoa!”

Ewing told Clifford that Embiid could very well be the most talented center in the league.

“And if you know Patrick, especially at that position, he doesn’t say stuff like that,” Clifford said. “I mean, he can shoot. He can put the ball on the floor. He can pass. He’s got a feel for the game. He’s got toughness, size, and strength.

Embiid is going to be special, and right now we’re just seeing the part of the iceberg above water for him. He may not have any idea just how good he can be.

He’s not the most talented center in the league right now, not more than DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. Yet. Embiid is going to be more in that mold than an Anthony Davis/Karl-Anthony Towns type; Embiid is more traditional.

Embiid isn’t all the way there yet, but he can get there. He could become the best traditional big in the league and be an obvious cornerstone for the Sixers. You know the kind of Top 10 kind of player that Sam Hinkie’s process was trying to bring in.

If you haven’t watched him play yet, seek him out. Embiid is must watch already, and he’s just getting started.

(Hat tip KD at Ball Don’t Lie.)

This should buy some suits: Craig Sager bet $1,000 on Cubs to win World Series

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Everybody around the NBA is rooting for TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager in his battle with leukemia.

Sager has been rooting for the Cubs — he’s a Chicago native and a lifelong fan.

So much so that he dropped a grand on a bet for Chicago to win the World Series.

Cash that ticket, Sager. Then use the cash to buy a couple of suits for your return to the NBA sidelines. We’re all excited to see that. And you.

Kings’ Matt Barnes fined $15,000 by league for language to referees

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The Sacramento was frustrated after an overtime loss to the Heat — DeMarcus Cousins picked up six fouls in the fourth quarter (some of them questionable), the Kings had blown a fourth-quarter lead, then they just came apart in overtime.

After the final whistle, Matt Barnes — never one to be shy with his opinions on the court — let the NBA referees know what he thought of their work. To put it kindly. It was kind of like asking Tommy Lasorda what he thought of Dave Kingman’s performance.

That earned Barnes a $15,000 fine from the NBA, it was announced Thursday.

Barnes knows the routine, he’s been fined more than a few times during his career (which means he’s not getting the benefit of the doubt from the league on these things).

The Kings are 2-3 to start the season with Cousins beasting and Rudy Gay playing surprisingly well (and upping his trade value). Sacramento has dreams of a playoff series to christen their new building. The only thing that is guaranteed is this team will pay a few other fines (at least) along the way.