Kurt Helin

Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Warriors crush Spurs (again), get to 70 wins

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What were you thinking about instead of the NBA Thursday night? Spacepants. Spacepants. Spacepants.

1) Golden State crushes Spurs, gets to 70 wins, but Steve Kerr still thinking rest.
For the second time this season, the Warriors thumped the Spurs at Oracle Arena, this time 112-101. Golden State continued their sloppy play for the first nine minutes or so of the game, but got some good defensive stops and used those to get out and run during a 14-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters. From there they were never really challenged again. Stephen Curry had 27, and Harrison Barnes had a strong game with 21. It was an impressive win, the kind that should put doubts in the minds of Spurs fans (if not the Spurs themselves) that beating this team four times out of seven — including once at Oracle — will be next to impossible.

The win also makes the Warriors just the second team ever to get to 70 wins in a season, and it keeps the dream of a record 73-win season alive. Curry wants that record. So does Draymond Green. But coach Steve Kerr is still thinking rest would be in order. Here is what Kerr said postgame, via Ethan Sherwood Straus of ESPN:

“It’s not so much that I want to rest guys to avoid injury, but we do have a back to back here. It will be our third game in four nights Sunday night. The good news for us is the guys who actually need rest have had plenty of rest: Bogut, Andre, Shaun Livingston. The rest of our core they’re 24, 25, they recover pretty quickly so I’m not sure they actually need a rest physically but maybe a break mentally would do them some good. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to be in this position next year. You can’t keep winning at this level. It’s a very unique situation to be in this position and our guys are — not all of them — but most of our guys really want to do this.”



2) The Chicago Bulls lose to Heat, are all but out of the playoffs.
In theory, the Chicago Bulls can still make the playoffs — they just have to win their final three games and hope the Indiana Pacers lose out. That’s it. That’s the only way — a path that could be dead by Friday night when the Pacers take on the Raptors, but if not then it will be over when the Pacers take on the Nets and Knicks after that. It’s over for Chicago. They can blame their defense — watch them part the Red Sea for this dunk by Miami’s Josh Richardson.

Dreams of Indiana losing are what the Bulls are left with after their 106-98 loss to Miami. This was a game the Bulls played with the urgency they have lacked too often lately, but the Heat just have more offensive weapons (and the Bulls don’t have the defense to stop it). Now we head into a summer where Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and maybe even Derrick Rose will be gone as Chicago does the kind of roster reshaping it should have considered a summer or two ago.

3) DeMarre Carroll returns for Raptors, who fall to Atlanta 95-87.
Atlanta got the win because their defense — second in the NBA this season — was sharp, rotated quickly, took the Raptors out of what they like to do, and contested shots. That led to transition opportunities and some easy buckets for the Hawks, and that was the difference. And for Raptors fans, that’s not the big story — after missing 41 games DeMarre Carroll was back in the lineup. Carroll had five points and four steals, not a bad return. It’s a hopeful sign.

4) Rockets lose to lowly Suns, playoff chances take a serious hit. If the Rockets miss the playoffs — and they have just a 15 percent chance of making it now, according to fivethiryeight.com — they can look back on nights like this as the reason. Houston was up to take on Dallas Wednesday in a game they needed (and lost), then came out the next night and just didn’t bother to play any defense against Phoenix and paid the price, falling 124-115. It may be rock bottom for the Rockets. Houston is now 1.5 games back of Utah for the final playoff spot in the West — the Rockets need to win out (they have a soft schedule, but this team just lost to the Suns) and hope that the Jazz lose at leat two of their remaining four (Clippers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Lakers). The Jazz are playing well, and they could win three of those. If the teams are tied, the tiebreaker (because they are 2-2 head to head) likely come down to conference record — if Houston wins out, they will take that. But that’s what the Rockets are banking on after too many bad defensive nights like Thursday.

5) Dunk of the night: Of course it’s Zach LaVine. How about an in-game windmill from the man who had 18 in a Minnesota win?  You got it.

Warriors find rhythm, blow out Spurs 112-101 for 70th win

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For the past few weeks (particularly two out of the last three road games), the Warriors have not looked like a team on its way to a record number of wins. They have been sloppy with the ball, unfocused when it came to defensive rotations, and as Draymond Green had said they just looked bored with it all.

The cure? A game against the Spurs at Oracle Arena.

They looked like the troubled Warriors to start — they jacked up quick shots and turned the ball over — but by the end of the first quarter Golden State settled down, went on a 14-0 run, and from there played their best game in weeks. With that, for the second time this season, the Warriors blew out the Spurs at home 112-101 (and it wasn’t that close).

That improves the Warriors to 70-9, they become only the second team in NBA history to get to 70 wins. They need to go 3-0 to get the record, and that includes having to play the Spurs again Sunday in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back (and their third game in four nights). Stephen Curry — one of the Warriors pushing to get this record — said the team will go after it, but coach Steve Kerr said that Friday at practice the team would talk about rest.

Thursday night was about Golden State getting its groove back.

The Warriors denied this was a statement game, but it has get into the Spurs heads a little with “we have to beat this team four out of seven and once on their court?”

Especially after Popovich decided not to rest anyone and played his core guys (minus the injured Boris Diaw). That almost led to real trouble when LaMarcus Aldridge dislocated the little finger on his shooting hand in the first quarter, but the team doctor popped it back into place and taped it to the finger next to it. That said Aldridge had just 11 points on 16 shots and was not himself in this game.

The Spurs — who clearly missed Diaw, so key for them in this matchup he might start over Tim Duncan in a series — did some things well, such as take away the three-point shot from Stephen Curry. However, one area Curry has improved this season is finishing drives in the paint, and that showed in this game when he took what the defense gave him. Check out his shot chart (and a little video evidence).

Curry shotcart

 

The Warriors had adjusted to what the Spurs did to them when these two teams met in San Antonio (a Spurs win). Harrison Barnes came up big early (14 points, many with Kawhi Leonard on him) and finished with 21 points, while Green added 18. Meanwhile, Golden State’s defense did a good job smothering Tim Duncan, who had four points on six shots.

Now it’s the Spurs turn to adjust. Do it by Sunday and they can deny Golden State their piece of history.

Suns end 7-game skid with 124-115 win over Rockets

Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) — Mirza Teletovic scored 26 points off the bench, P.J. Tucker added 24 and the Phoenix Suns dealt another blow to the Houston Rockets’ dwindling playoff chances with a 124-115 victory on Thursday night.

It’s the second straight loss for the Rockets, who entered the day in ninth place in the Western Conference after a loss at Dallas on Wednesday.

The game was back and forth through the first few minutes of the fourth quarter before the Suns took over.

They scored 10 straight points, with eight coming on free throws, to take a 117-110 lead with 1:03 left and send fans streaming for the exits.

Four of those free throws came from Devin Booker and he added two more down the stretch to put it out of reach after a 3-pointer by James Harden.

Tyson Chandler added 21 points for the Suns, who snapped a NBA-high, seven-game skid.

Harden led Houston with 30 points.

It was tied at 103 midway through the fourth quarter when Archie Goodwin drove into the lane and was fouled hard by Clint Capela. He made both free throws and Tucker added a layup seconds later to put Phoenix up 107-103.

Phoenix led by four with about 5 1/2 minutes left when Houston scored the next seven points, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk by Clint Capela and helped by three turnovers by the Suns, to make it 110-107.

Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff tried a variety of different lineups, with everyone on the roster getting minutes except for Terrence Jones. He played Josh Smith for almost 18 minutes after playing him only once in the previous 16 games.

Houston led by one to start the fourth quarter and the teams exchanged leads several times in the opening minutes of the period, but neither team got more than two points ahead.

The Rockets led by three at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to take a 70-57 lead with 9 minutes left in the quarter. The Suns were awful in that span, committing four turnovers, with two of them coming on shot clock violations.

Tucker finally got the Suns going after that, scoring all of Phoenix’s points in a 10-5 run that cut the lead to 75-67 midway through the quarter.

The Suns led by four later in the period after a 3-pointer by Booker, but Harden scored the last five points of the quarter to take a 90-89 lead into the fourth.

Houston led by as many as 12 in the first half, but the Suns ended the second quarter with a 10-3 run to cut it to 60-57 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Suns: Goodwin finished with 16 points. … The Suns got 36 second-chance points to just eight by Houston. … Tucker had 12 rebounds and Chandler grabbed 10.

Rockets: Bickerstaff received a technical in the second quarter for arguing with officials. … Trevor Ariza had 22 points. … Dwight Howard had 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.

 

Heat rally past Bulls 106-98; Chicago on verge of elimination from playoffs

Associated Press
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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade wanted Miami to view Thursday night as a close-out opportunity, a chance for the Heat to essentially finish off a Chicago team desperate to keep its season alive.

In short, a dress rehearsal for any series-clinching scenarios that might await in the playoffs.

It went exactly to Wade’s liking.

Wade scored 21 points, Joe Johnson added 17 and the Heat beat the Bulls 106-98, putting up 66 points in the second half and making big defensive plays to pull away down the stretch.

“At this time of year, you have to use certain situations to try to prepare us because we’ve never been there together as a team,” Wade said. “This was one of those situations.”

Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside each had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, which has 14 consecutive games of scoring 100 or more at home – the second-longest such streak in franchise history.

Luol Deng scored 13, Josh Richardson had 11 and Amare Stoudemire added 10 for the Heat (46-32), who remained fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for the Bulls (39-40), who now need a series of miracles to get into the postseason. Pau Gasol finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Derrick Rose scored 17 for Chicago, which could be officially eliminated as early as Friday (the Bulls need to win out and the Pacers need to lose out or Bulls are eliminated).

“Obviously it’s not the way that we wanted,” Butler said. “I think everybody thinks about it each and every day. It probably keeps everybody up late, I know it does for me. But we can’t change it now. It is what it is.”

Rose had a chance at a layup that would have given Chicago the lead with 3:50 left, only to see it blocked by Whiteside to set up a three-point play by Wade and a 90-86 Heat lead.

“That’s his gift,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Whiteside’s block.

Moments later, Butler thought he saw someone open in the corner but his pass was deflected for a steal by Wade, leading to more Heat points as Miami kept pulling away.

Chicago hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2007-08, when the Bulls finished 33-49. They then beat 60-1 odds to win the draft lottery, getting the right to take Rose with the No. 1 overall pick – while Miami, far and away the NBA’s worst team that season, wound up taking Michael Beasley with the No. 2 selection.

Rose isn’t ready to concede.

“Still have three more to go,” he said.

Miami sputtered offensively in the first half, trailing 46-40 at the break. The Heat came out and scored 35 in the third, the 17th time the Bulls gave up that many in a quarter this season. That happened only seven times last season.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Taj Gibson (ribs) tried to warm up before the game, but wound up missing his fifth consecutive contest. … Gasol had a double-double against Miami for the 17th time in his career. It was also his 99th in the last two regular seasons, after leading the NBA with 54 last season. … The Bulls were swept by Miami for the first time since 2003-04, Wade’s rookie season.

Heat: Dragic’s 12 rebounds were a career high. … Justise Winslow appeared in his 75th game. He’ll finish the regular season as the Heat leader in games, the fifth rookie in team history to have that distinction. … The Heat had three assists in the first half, their lowest in any half since Feb. 14, 2012. The trend didn’t last – they had five in the first 4:02 of the second half.

UNCHARACTERISTIC

Doug McDermott‘s flagrant foul against Whiteside late in the third quarter was unusual in many ways. Not only was it Chicago’s first flagrant call of the season, it was the first time McDermott was whistled for anything other than a common foul in years. He had no flagrants or technicals in his first 117 NBA games, and no technicals in his 145 games at Creighton.

BOSH SPEAKS

Chris Bosh blogged again Thursday, following up his recent thoughts about beer and barbecue with revelations of what apps he’s using and his affinity for technology. He offered no update on his battle with blood clots or if he’s still hoping of returning this season. Thursday was his 25th game missed since being diagnosed with a clot in his leg at the All-Star break.

 

Classy, fantastic tribute to Craig Sager from Miami Heat

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The Miami Heat are a first class organization.

It shows in this video tribute to Craig Sager, which they showed at the game. It’s heavy on Heat highlights (as you’d expect), but there are other classic Sager moments in the video.

After it played, Sager got a standing ovation from the crowd in Miami.