Preview: Spurs seek answers in game 3, but the Warriors keep changing the questions

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It’s not a stretch to say the Warriors have been the better team so far this series. They’ve led both contests for the majority of the minutes and it took an amazing comeback, two overtimes, and a last second three pointer for the Spurs to get their win. Heading back to Oakland, the Warriors have to be feeling good about themselves, home court advantage in their pocket and all the momentum on their side.

On the other side, the Spurs have to be wondering exactly what their next step will be in reclaiming their favored status. They’ve struggled to consistently produce points against a Warriors’ defense that has closed off the paint. Golden State’s ability to switch screens has left the Spurs’ motion attack devoid of the ball movement that they typically roast teams with. In response the Spurs — especially in game 2 — became more dependent on an isolation style that only led to 14 assists (in the regular season they averaged 25 a game).

And when they did isolate, they had trouble scoring against the versatility of the Warriors’ long, active wing defenders. For the series, when Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green share the floor the Warriors’ defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 85.5 per NBA.com. Backed up by bruising big men Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili, the Golden State’s perimeter defense has been fantastic.

Combine the Spurs’ offensive struggles with the Warriors’ ability to generate good looks on the other end of the floor and it’s not hard to see why the Spurs are in this predicament.

All is not lost for San Antonio, however. While the Warriors have seemingly solved the puzzle of how to slow down the Spurs’ attack, there are still adjustments that can be made. Quicker ball reversals out of their standard pick and roll sets can create good match ups on the weak side. When Tony Parker looks to attack off Tim Duncan screens, he can quickly swing the ball back to Duncan who can then run a secondary pick and roll with the wing on the opposite side of the floor — especially when that player is Manu Ginobili (who needs to find the range on his jumper quickly after needing 32 shots to score 28 points in the first two games).

This type of quick ball movement combined with screen actions can get the Warriors’ bigs moving side to side while also limiting the effectiveness of defensive switches.

Further, the Spurs can simply do what they’ve done all year by hitting some of the open shots they’re getting. In game 2, several uncontested jumpers clanked off the rim. If the Spurs hope to loosen up the Warriors’ defense, they have to turn some of those misses into makes. This will force the Warriors to rush out to the perimeter to contest shots and allow the Spurs’ wings to attack closeouts off the dribble and get easier baskets in the paint.

Where the Spurs may have bigger issues, however, is in slowing down Golden State’s offense. Someone always seems to step up for the Warriors — in game 1 it was Curry, game 2 it was Thompson — and that makes them difficult to scout and even harder to fully stop defensively.

The plan can start with forcing Curry to penetrate to finish rather than allowing him to take the deep jumpers he prefers to launch. Curry is a below average finisher at the rim and while those shots can often lead to offensive rebounds, it’s best to force him into positions where he’s less effective. If the Spurs need to pick their poison, 2nd chance opportunities from guys like Carl Landry or Festus Ezeli are less dangerous than a lava-hot Curry from behind the arc.

Similarly, they must run Thompson off the three point line and force him into help defenders where his shot will be better challenged. If Thompson and Curry can both be moderately controlled — a tough task, for sure — the Warriors chances of winning go down tremendously. That is unless Barnes, Green, and Jack aren’t making the majority of their shots.

And maybe that’s the Spurs’ biggest problem going into game 3. The Warriors, through their 8 playoff games, have proven to have enough fire power to score points even if one of their best players struggles. The Spurs, meanwhile, weren’t tested in the first round and are just now running into a quality opponent who can stretch them on both sides of the ball.

So while there is, theoretically, plenty of series left for the Spurs to figure things out, the time is now for them to start to make inroads. Another loss tonight will not bode well if they hope to advance to the conference finals for the second straight year.

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

Technically Turner can still be traded at the Feb. 9 deadline, but the Pacers have no intention of doing so (as this signing signals). There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).