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Curry still questionable for Warriors for Game 2 vs Rockets

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors are preparing to play without NBA MVP Stephen Curry for Game 2 of their playoff series against Houston as he nurses an ankle injury.

Even if they know he will beg and plead to play through any pain. As long as he can’t make it worse, Curry insists it will be hard to keep him off the court Monday night.

“Oh, yeah, for sure,” coach Steve Kerr said of Curry campaigning to play. “When Steph’s out, our guys understand that he’s not there to count on, so they have to execute. If they don’t, we’re just not going to score enough points.”

Kerr called Curry’s status questionable again Sunday, when the point guard didn’t practice a day after hurting his right ankle late in the first half of a 104-78 win over the Rockets in the playoff opener.

“Steph is a warrior. If he can play, he’s definitely going to be out there,” center Festus Ezeli said.

Curry was undergoing treatment on the ankle Sunday and unavailable for interviews.

“He’s doing a little better than yesterday,” Kerr said. “He’ll get some rest, get off his feet and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow at shootaround and see how he’s feeling.”

If Curry can’t play Monday, Shaun Livingston will start in his place. The Warriors won at Houston on Dec. 31 without their superstar.

“It kind of changes things. We don’t seem to be as good of a coaching staff when Steph goes out – I don’t know why,” Kerr joked after practice. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play. I think Steph missed three or four games this year. We did fine. Obviously we’ve got to find different ways to score. We’ll prepare for that and see what happens.”

Golden State’s backups have prided themselves all season in not losing a step when the second team comes into the game. In fact, contributions by the bench were a big reason the Warriors set the NBA record with 73 wins to top the 1995-96 Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls that Kerr played for.

“We’re prepared. We’re going to continue to play. We’re ready to step in,” said power forward Marreese Speights, who scored 12 points in 15 minutes off the bench Saturday. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play and will impact the game. We know Steph, when his 30 points are taken off the board – or really 60 points with all the stuff he’s doing on the court, playing defense, passing the ball, helping, controlling the offense – but we’ll be all right.”

Curry landed awkwardly shortly before halftime Saturday.

“I just tried to change direction, missed the shot, and tried to get back on defense, and then slipped a little bit and felt it slip or tweak,” he said after the game.

Andrew Bogut knows it will take a lot for Curry not to play. The positive if he does sit is the Warriors have until Thursday to get him healthy for Game 3 at Houston.

“He’s the MVP. Take the MVP out of the lineup and there will be some tweaks and changes made,” Bogut said. “You know Steph’s a competitor. He wants to play every game he can.”

Bradley Beal says for Wizards to take step forward he, John Wall need to play together more, better

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John Wall and Bradley Beal played together for 1,241 minutes this season across 52 games.

In those minutes, the Wizards outscored their opponents by less than one point per 100 possessions. They played teams even.

That’s not good enough.

Whoever takes over as the Wizards’ coach next season is going to need more out of Beal and Wall if the Wizards are going to have the breakout season everyone expected of the team this season. Beal admitted as much, as reported by J. Michael at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

“It’s been a rocky year in terms of injuries, offense changing, getting used to playing with new guys on the team and adjusting to a few things,” said Beal, who appeared in a career-low 55 games in his fourth season, before the Wizards’ final game of the season that ended 41-41. “We both should’ve had a better year than we had. We should’ve carried the team a little better than what we did. We both can attest to it….

“As far as us two together it wasn’t anything unusual. There was no beef or anything like that,” Beal, who is a restricted free agent this summer, said of his relationship with Wall. “We just didn’t play as well as we were supposed to. I think sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we tried to overdo it especially if one’s not playing and the other one is. There’s a lot of things that factor into it. Overall, it’s no excuse. We both should’ve had a better year than we had.”

The issue is not their personal relationship, Wall added.

“I think we’re in a great place. We do a lot of talking, a lot of communication,” Wall said. “If he didn’t get hurt he was on pace to probably be an All-Star also. We would’ve been a better team. You take just about any team that has a main backcourt and you take Klay Thompson away from Steph for about 30 games it would be different.”

If the Wizards are going to be any threat in the East, they need what Toronto got this season from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Toronto — they both stepped their games up this season, and when they were paired on the court the Raptors outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions. They were the second best backcourt in the NBA.

Wall and Beal also dominated that Raptors’ backcourt in the playoffs last season. They are capable of it.

Wall and Beal just need to stay healthy and be on the court together, defend a little better, and have a system around them that lets them lead the Wizards back to the playoffs. Then we will see if they can take that step forward.

Blake Griffin healthy in time for playoffs. But is he rusty?

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blake Griffin is healthy just in time for the playoffs. The question now: How rusty is his game?

“I don’t know the answer. We’ll see,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Saturday on the eve of his team’s first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Blake’s had not only five games, but some practices time as well. It’s not the exact way you would have wanted it. But we got him back, and that’s better than not getting him back.”

Griffin missed 45 games because of a partially torn right quad, and a fractured right hand from a fight with an assistant equipment manager. The Clippers won the first nine that he missed and were 30-15 overall during his absence, which included a four-game suspension from the team for the fight in Toronto.

“When you look at the stretch where Blake was out, it was like everyone had their days. That’s how we had to play this year, and it was good for us in the long run,” Rivers said. “It forced us to play small for 48 minutes a night, which I didn’t think I would ever do, but it allowed is to get into a great rhythm.”

The Clippers had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and will host the first two games of this series. That should help Rivers gauge whether his club has the goods to get past the second round for the first time in the franchise’s 47-year history.

MORE FUEL TO THE FIRE: Both of the Clippers’ playoff series last year against San Antonio and Houston were decided in seven games. Griffin averaged 25.5 points during those games, but the Clips led three games to one before dropping the next three.

“I wouldn’t use the word underachieving, but we expect to go farther this time,” Griffin said. “I like where we’re at from a mental standpoint. We have the reassurance that we’ve been here before, and that experience alone has helped us get in the right mindset going into the playoffs.”

REDICK QUESTIONABLE: Forward J.J. Redick has a bruised left heel. If he can’t play,, two-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford will start in his place.

“You don’t know what you are really until you’re tested, but these guys have been tested all year,” Rivers said. “Every team and every year is different when you go to the playoffs, so you don’t have any of those answers until the playoffs.”

Rivers, who guided Boston to an NBA title in 2008, is second among active coaches in playoff wins with 77 – second behind Gregg Popovich’s 152 with the five-time champion Spurs.

BLAZER BEATERS: The Clippers won the last three meetings with Portland during the regular season after losing the first one. This is the first time these two teams will be meeting in the playoffs since the rivalry began in 1970-71, the season that both franchise entered the NBA.

“It’s different in the playoffs because it’s a different environment,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “But I feel like when we’re a healthy team, we can beat anybody. And we have so much depth now.”

BACKCOURT CHALLENGE: Point guard Damien Lillard led the Blazers with a 25.1 average and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum was right behind at 20.8. Portland has two former Clippers in small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and backup center Chris Kaman.

“The game that they won, they outrebounded us by a considerable margin, so the rebounding battle is important because they play hard and their bigs crash the boards,” Griffin said. “Corralling C.J. and Damien is on us as a team, not just on the guards. So it’s going to have to be a team effort from top to bottom.”

Nets hire Hawks’ assistant Kenny Atkinson as new head coach

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The Brooklyn Nets were not going to land one of the big-name coaches — your Tom Thibodeaus, Scott Brooks, etc. — for what will be the most challenging rebuild project in the NBA. They needed to go with the smart, rising assistant coach who understands how to develop players and a culture.

Enter Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson, the lead assistant to Mike Budenholzer. He’s got the job, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and soon confirmed by the team itself. From Wojnarowski:

Nets general manager Sean Marks met with several candidates in recent weeks, but had long targeted Atkinson for the Nets job, sources said. Negotiations took place over the past several days and culminated with an agreement this weekend.

“We are thrilled to announce Kenny Atkinson as our new head coach and to welcome him and his family to Brooklyn,” Marks said in a released statement. “Kenny’s years of NBA coaching experience working under successful head coaches such as Mike Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni have provided him with the foundation and experience we were looking for in a head coach. We believe that Kenny’s core principles, leadership, communication skills and exceptional background in player development make him an ideal fit for the culture we are building in Brooklyn.”

Atkinson will stay with the Hawks through the end of that team’s playoff run before jumping to Brooklyn (the Hawks are up 1-0 against the Celtics in the first round).

“I’m very happy for Kenny and excited that he’s earned the opportunity to be a head coach,” Budenholzer said in a statement. “His competitiveness, knowledge and feel for the game, and passion for player development are all at a high level and will serve him well as a head coach. With him and Sean in place, the Nets have a very strong foundation to build on.”

This is a San Antonio connection — Marks was an assistant GM and assistant coach with the Spurs before taking over the Brooklyn job. Budenholzer was a long-time Spurs assistant who has brought that philosophy to Atlanta, something Atkinson has been steeped in. Atkinson worked for a year under Rick Adelman in Houston, then spent four years in New York as an assistant coach under D’Antonio — where he was seen as the assistant coach who made Linsanity happen — before joining Budenholzer in Atlanta four years ago.

Hiring Atkinson is a good move, in part because he is well-respected around the league and is the kind of assistant coach who deserves a shot.

More importantly, this hire is a sign the Nets have moved on from the quick-fix philosophy — this is a “we’re developing slowly and the right way for the long haul” hire. Which is exactly what the Nets should do. Sean Marks is doing things the right way so far.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley has strained hamstring, “very unlikely” for rest of Hawks series

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You knew it was going to be bad when Celtics coach Brad Stevens said this of Avery Bradley after Game 1, via A. Sherrod Blakeley of CSNNE.com.

“And he said on the court that he heard a pop.”

On Sunday the bad news became official.

While Bradley was scheduled for an MRI Sunday, the team didn’t need those results to make this call, reports Blakely.

The injury occurred in the fourth quarter when Bradley stepped in to challenge a Jeff Teague drive and pulls up grabbing his right hamstring. He has to be helped off the court.

The Celtics were 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when Bradley was on the court this season, and the offense, in particular, saw a big jump in production.

No Bradley means more Marcus Smart and R.J. Hunter. Boston trails Atlanta 1-0 in the best-of-seven first round series after a 102-101 Hawks win on Saturday.