Kurt Helin

Stephen Curry

Warriors take down Hawks comfortably in battle of NBA’s top teams

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Was this an NBA Finals preview? Maybe, although the Cleveland Cavaliers and seven other teams from the West will have something to say about that.

It was a meeting of the teams with the two best records in the NBA this season, and round two easily went to the Golden State Warriors 114-95. That evens the series after Atlanta won the first meeting on its home court six weeks ago (although that first meeting was close and entertaining).

Golden State led most of the way, taking a small lead in the first quarter and expanding it to a dozen by the half, 59-47. Then the Warriors’ bench helped spark a 14-3 run late in the third quarter that turned this into a route. This became a party at Oracle Arena, a celebration of just how good the Warriors are when their offense — the top rated in the NBA — gets rolling. It was dunks, it was three-pointers, it was Stephen Curry whipping a behind-the-back pass to Leandro Barbosa for a corner three. In the end, Harison Barnes led Golden State with 25 points while Andre Iguodala pitched in 21.

Both teams were without key parts: Golden State’s Klay Thompson is out with a sprained ankle, Atlanta sharpshooter Kyle Korver will miss a few more games with a broken nose. You can dismiss this game as a one-off if you wish. Know that if there is a Finals matchup the Warriors will not dispatch the Hawks quite so easily.

What I do know is if this is a Finals preview I’m okay with that — that matchup would be entertaining.

 

LeBron James still No. 1. He’s clear leader in shoe sales among active players.

9.15.14 Nike LeBron 12 Launch
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LeBron James is still chasing Michael Jordan, but he is clear and away the best thing going right now.

We’re not talking NBA legacy. We’re talking shoes.

LeBron moves more signature shoes than anybody else in the NBA — twice as much as any active player. Whether in Miami or Cleveland he is still the king of endorsements and moving product.

Kurt Badenhausen has the details at Forbes.com.

Nike sold $340 million worth of James’ signature shoes in the last 12-months through January, up 13% from the prior year, according to SportScanInfo. It is nearly double the amount of the NBA’s second best seller, Kevin Durant….

There are more iterations of James’ shoe than any other player and his shoes are widely distributed, which helps boost sales. His sneakers are also huge sellers with kids. James earns an estimated $20 million a year from the $30 billion-in-sales Beaverton, Ore.-sports giant. Durant’s KD signature line of sneakers had sales of $195 million in 2014 for Nike, up 11% from the prior year. This follows a meteoric 400% rise in 2013 when Nike flooded the market with the popular KD VI….

The biggest gainer among NBA players with signature shoes was Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers’ guard has been a linchpin for Nike for years in China, where Bryant is adored. His U.S. shoe sales more than doubled last year to $105 million, up from $50 million, despite Bryant missing most of the past two seasons with injuries.

Of course, Jordan and the Air Jordan brand are still the undisputed champs. The Jordan Brand sales were up 17% in 2014 to $2.6 billion — to 58 percent of the market. Chris Paul is the highest earner of active players on the Jordan brand, with $32 million in sales of his signature shoes.

The other interesting note is that Nike now owns 95.5 percent of the shoe market with Adidas slipping to a 2.6 percent share. Their biggest name, Derrick Rose, has battled injury which hasn’t helped (although Damian Lillard is on the rise for them, with his first shoe having hit the market in January). This is why Adidas is getting out of making the official NBA apparel and jerseys to shift their focus on this market.

DeMarcus Cousins out vs. Clippers Wednesday night

Atlanta Hawks v Sacramento Kings
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DeMarcus Cousins has been putting up numbers in the George Karl offensive system — 29.7 points per game in his last three. He has been clear and away the Kings best player.

They are going to miss him Wednesday night against the Clippers.

Cousins is out with a right calf strain, the team announced.

Kings fans, if you live in the Sacramento area and are a Comcast subscriber, you can watch a live stream of the Kings taking on the Clippers Wednesday night. Just follow this link

The Kings have played faster and been improved on offense since Karl took over at the All-Star break. However, they also have been the worst defensive team in the league in that time. Without Cousins to score or defend the rim against the high-flying Clips, this could get ugly Wednesday night.

In other injury news tied to this game, Rudy Gay is expected to play for the Kings. However, Matt Barnes will be out for Los Angeles.

Alonzo Mourning on Kevin Love in Cleveland: “He’s outta there”

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
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Chris Bosh warned everyone before the season and some fans — particularly some in Cleveland — scoffed at the notion: It was going to be hard for Kevin Love to adjust to playing with LeBron James.

Here we are with a month to go in the NBA season, and Love remains the uncomfortable fit in Cleveland’s big three. Love is averaging 16.8 points a game (down 10 from last season) on just 43 percent shooting, he’s not getting the ball where he is comfortable, and he’s been sat in the fourth quarters of recent games in favor or Tristan Thompson.

Of course, this has led to a ton of speculation that Love — who can be a free agent this summer with a player option — is going to bolt Cleveland for a team more focused around him. Love has denied this, but the NBA rumor mill will not stop churning on the topic.

Add Heat executive Alonzo Mourning to the mix. He said this in a Q&A with SLAM Magazine.

AM: Then you’ve got Kevin Love, who’s not happy at all. He’s outta there.

SLAM: Where do you think Kevin Love is going to go? LA?

AM: I think he’s probably going to go to LA. I could see that.

The Lakers, who have the money for a max salary, will certainly be making the call to Love’s agent. He’s the level of star Kobe Bryant could hand the franchise over to.

I’d be surprised if that happens this summer, however.

For two reasons. One is simply money — Love wants to be a free agent in 2016 when the salary cap will spike to around $90 million and a max contract will go up in value by a third or more as well (max salaries are a percentage of the cap space available). Love will either opt in with Cleveland or sign a deal with them allowing an opt-out in 2016 so he can cash in.

The second reason? He doesn’t want to be seen as a quitter. Fair or not. He had to have seen the backlash from some quarters (read: Lakers fans) for Dwight Howard choosing Houston, and Love knows if he leaves the Cavs LeBron’s fans will be equally passionate and vocal. The “he wasn’t tough/good enough to play with LeBron” line will be used plenty. Fair or not. So Love will give it another season at least to see if things can be worked out on the court.

Now the summer of 2016 — when Love not only can leave but numerous teams will have a sudden surge of cap space allowing them bring in a couple max guys and put players around them — that could be a different story.

Or, maybe Love is so miserable now he just wants out, like Mourning said.

 

Dwight Howard says he’s “really close” to returning to court

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors
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Thanks to an MVP-level run from James Harden, the Houston Rockets have gone 15-8 with Dwight Howard out with his knee surgery. They have held their place in a crowded West.

But if the Rockets are going to make a serious playoff run, they need Howard’s defense and rebounding. Houston is 5.7 points per 100 possessions better when Howard is on the court, and they are going to need every one of those in the bloodbath that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The Rockets are about to get him back. Howard himself told the media that Wednesday, here are his words via Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle.

Howard also said he would not play in back-to-backs the rest of the way (that would be moot come the playoffs when those disappear).

With Howard are the Rockets contenders? Maybe second tier ones, along with about six other teams in the West. It’s going to come down to health and matchups. But it’s not happening without Howard. For Rockets fans this is good news.