How Steve Kerr brought about Harrison Barnes’ resurgence, a window into Warriors success

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What the best coaches do well is understand a player’s game then put them in a position to play to their strengths, not ask them to do too much. It’s what Gregg Popovich does very well, it’s why guys like Boris Diaw struggle at one stop then thrive in San Antonio. It’s what Bill Belichick does in New England.

It’s what Steve Kerr is doing in Golden State.

And it’s the reason the Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now, have won 11 straight, and have moved into legit title contender status (as much as you want to say that about a team less than 20 games into the season). Kerr has the Warriors playing the best defense in the NBA, but he also has improved their offense by smarter use of the massive talent at his disposal.

Guys like Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry have talked about the offensive changes, but it may be no more clear than what has happened with Harrison Barnes. The breakout star of the 2013 playoffs who seemed to take a step back last season but has become a key starter for the Warriors averaging 11.6 points on 51 percent shooting plus is grabbing 6.7 rebounds a game. The Warriors are 15 points per 100 possessions better when Barnes is on the court, both their offensive and defensive numbers improve.

What is Kerr doing differently with Barnes? Marcus Thompson II laid it out beautifully at the Mercury News.

Under Mark Jackson, Barnes was asked to be a scorer. Especially last year, when Barnes was moved to the Sixth Man role after the signing of Andre Iguodala, Barnes’ role was to carry the offense for the second unit. But most of his action was isolations. That just didn’t fit his game.

Before the season began, Kerr sat down with Barnes and went over film with him. Kerr explained where Barnes’ best spots were on the floor, where he should drift, where he should cut and how he wants him to exist in the Warriors’ potent starting lineup. Plus, Kerr started Barnes with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That opens the floor for Barnes to cut and find creases to offensive rebound….

“It’s hard when you get the ball in an iso situation and you have a set defense in front of you,” Barnes said. “Very few players in the league can do that. You look at the best – Durant, Melo, those guys — look at what percentage they shoot. And that’s the best of the best, so you can imagine where I’m at. I’m like at 15, 20 percent on isos. To get me with the ball moving, getting me in different spots, playing off other people, that’s more of a strength for me right now. Going straight isos, that wasn’t a strength for me.”

That’s where Barnes gets the ball now, cutting and moving more, both in the half court and in transition. Barnes has the athleticism but not the handles, so when he gets the ball on the move he can get to the rim (where he is getting more often) or to his spots and finish.

Kerr also asked Barnes to be the glue guy among the starters — they’ve got plenty of fire power to score, they needed an athlete to defend and rebound. To play with a little edge. Barnes has loved that role and thrived in it.

Barnes is at home in a starting lineup — with Curry, Thompson, Bogut and Draymond Green — that is +27.8 points per 100 possessions together. That is ridiculous. When David Lee does come back from injury Kerr can’t break this unit up, he’ll have to bring Lee (with Iguodala) off the bench.

And it will probably work, because Kerr will get Lee to play to his strengths, he will get Lee the ball in the spots he can do the most damage. Then the Warriors will be just that much stronger.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.

Report: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?

LeBron James says Lakers have off-court issues, out vs. Rockets (groin)

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”

Mike Trudell of the Lakers:

Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.

LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.

Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.

It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.