Byron Scott makes ridiculous optimism sound reasonable

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When he used to sneak into The Forum to watch Jerry West, Byron Scott believed he’d grow up to join his hometown Lakers.

He did, starting for three championship teams in the 1980s.

When the Lakers dropped him in 1993, Scott believed Los Angeles was still where he belonged.

He returned, signing in 1996 for another season – Kobe Bryant’s rookie year – to retire a Laker.

When he began coaching, Scott believed he’d lead the Lakers someday.

That day is here.

“This has been a dream of mine for so long,” Scott said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Introduced as the Lakers’ newest coach, Scott made clear his passion for the franchise has only grown stronger with age. Even as the Lakers dragged their coaching search weeks longer than any other team, Scott didn’t worry.

“I’m a little arrogant when it comes to that, because I think I was the best decision and the right decision,” Scott said

How should a Lakers coach be judged?

“This organization is all about championships. Period,” Scott said. “We don’t look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships. We look at championships.”

And how close are the Lakers to contending for a title? Scott, asked specifically whether team could reach that level during the final two years of Kobe’s contract, said he didn’t want to establish timelines.

Then he couldn’t resist giving one more indication of his confidence.

“I don’t think long,” Scott said while trying to contain a smile.

The Lakers are nowhere near championship contention. They went 27-55 last season, their worst record since moving from Minneapolis. They added no impact free agents, and Kobe’s high salary will make it difficult to add other stars.

But if any team has the right to feel optimistic, it’s the Lakers. When the goal seemed distant, they’ve always found a way to reach it quicker than anyone expects.

And if any coach feels optimistic, it’s Scott who keeps living his dreams.

But there’s a fine line between optimism and denial.

Is Kobe still a big-time star just because Scott said he is?

Can Jeremy Lin become a pesky defender just because Scott said he could?

Was Julius Randle a top-three prospect in the draft just because Scott said he was?

Scott can’t just will the Lakers over the hump, though at times today it seemed that easy.

Flanked by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, Scott looked like a winner. It was easy to forget he went 24-58, 21-45, 19-63 and 3-6 in his last four seasons as coach.

But Scott says his experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets was nothing like this.

“It’s kind of hard when the guys in the organization haven’t been to a Finals or haven’t won anything, for them to tell you how to get there when I’ve been there,” Scott

Scott believes he knows the championship recipe, and it’s hard to argue with résumé as a player. He was the glue – never talented enough to be an All-Star – every title team needs. As a coach, his record is spottier, though it includes back-to-back Finals appearances with New Jersey.

But as Scott will be quick to remind you conference championships don’t count here. In Los Angeles, the goals are set higher.

At least they will be.

Facing a question he surely never imagined while dreaming of this day, Scott was asked about reclaiming attention from the Clippers.

“I don’t think L.A. has gone to the Clippers yet, anyway,” Scott said. “This is still a Laker town. Period.”

Still, Scott expressed his respect for the rivalry and adding a dig worthy of true competitiveness.

“We have two teams now – one that has about 17 banners and one that doesn’t have any yet,” Scott said.

Actually, the Lakers have just 16 championships. Maybe Scott, stuck on that question about adding a title during Kobe’s next two years, was already counting the near future.

Optimistic or delusional?

I know the answer is delusion, but back with the Lakers, Scott makes his optimism sound so realistic.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.