With Anthony Davis and Pelicans drained, Warriors deliver down the stretch

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Dante Cunningham found himself matchup with Stephen Curry after a scramble resulted in yet another loose ball escaping the fatigued Pelicans. Cunningham turned around and practically told Anthony Davis, “You take him.”

Davis staggered forward, stumbling on his own tired legs.

Curry held the ball at his side, rhythmically rocking his head side to side like the seconds hand on a grandfather clock.

5… 4… 3…

Soon enough, 2-0 lead.

Golden State ended Game 2 on a 9-1 run, taking a strong punch from the Pelicans and emerging with a 97-87 win.

“We were right there. We gave ourselves a chance,” Davis said. “But at the same time, we want to win a game. That’s all we’ve been talking about, is trying to get one on the road. And it’s tough when you’re battling like that.

“We know that we can beat this team.”

The Warriors’ 97 points were their fewest in more than three weeks and their fewest in a win since the All-Star break.

New Orleans successfully slowed the pace, contested shots and took Golden State out of its comfort zone. But, late, the Warriors seemingly realized they could play that style, too – and their depth allowed them to grind longer than the Pelicans.

Davis (26 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks) gave his all, but he just couldn’t keep up for all 45 of his minutes. With Davis struggling to even get up and down the floor, New Orleans fell apart.

In the last four-and-a-half minutes, the Pelicans made no shots, missed five, committed two turnovers and allowed three offensive rebounds in six opportunities. Even completing passes became difficult.

Earlier, though, Davis changed everything. He scored 10 first-quarter points – following his 20 fourth-quarter points in Game 1 – and attracted significant defensive attention. Davis wisely dished when the Warriors collapsed, and nobody benefited more than Eric Gordon, who finished with 23 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting. Norris Cole (11 points) also made timely plays, and New Orleans led by as many as 13.

But the Warriors got enough splash with 26 points from Klay Thompson and 22 from Curry. Even Leandro Barbosa (12 points) had a stretch of lighting up the Pelicans.

Most importantly, Golden State’s league-best defense rose to the occasion. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green had their fingerprints all over this one, and Green – who played 42 minutes – was tasked primarily with defending Davis, who shot 9-for-22.

“I ask Draymond if he’s tired, and if he says no, I leave him in. If he says yes, I leave him in,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s a very scientific approach.”

New Orleans has probably had enough of how the Warriors do things in Oakland, where they’ve won 41 of 43 games this season behind an energetic crowd that showed up tonight. The only two teams to win there, San Antonio and Chicago (in overtime), are better than the Pelicans.

Good news for them: The series shifts to New Orleans for Game 3, and the Pelicans should have a better chance there.

If anyone has energy by Thursday.

Bulls reportedly apply for cap relief from Omer Asik contract

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Omer Asik didn’t play a minute for the Bulls this season (they got him in the Nikola Mirotic trade). Back in training camp he ruled out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis, which had flared up last summer. Asik had played in just 49 games combined the two seasons before that.

Prior to this season, the Bulls waived Asik. He was paid his full $11.3 million for this season but had only $3 million guaranteed for next season. The Bulls have now applied for cap relief — meaning taking that $3 million off the books for next season — because of Asik’s injury, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

One year after a player last appeared in a game, teams can apply for cap relief if a player’s injury or condition is determined to be career-ending. An independent doctor needs to verify that Asik could not play again to get the extra cap relief. Asik gets paid, it is still a guaranteed contract. Miami took this step with Chris Bosh, for example.

The Bulls have talked about being aggressive in free agency — finding guys to pair with Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Otto Porter — and while that $3 million is not a lot, it helps. The Bulls will have between $20 million and $23 million in cap space if/when the league approves Asik coming off the books (depending on what they do with a couple of players), according to our Dan Feldman. That’s not max contract money, but it can help bring in some depth and shooting to go around the young core in Chicago.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry top NBA jersey sales again

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There are new names on and climbing the list: Joel Embiid is up to No. 5, Luka Doncic came in 13th as a rookie.

However, for the most part, the names on the list of the most sold jerseys in the NBA look very familiar.

With LeBron James jumping teams to the Los Angeles Lakers, it should be no surprise he tops the list of most-sold jerseys (based on NBAStore.com sales since the start of the season). Stephen Curry is second, and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo climbed up to third.

Here are the top 15 in jersey sales this season.

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
4. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
6. James Harden, Houston Rockets
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
9. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
10. Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia 76ers
11. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
12. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
13. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
14. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
15. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Three Sixers made the list (Embiid, Simmons, Butler), the most of any team. Also, Wade went out in the top 15 after his Last Dance farewell tour.

Here are the top 10 franchises in team merchandise sales:

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Boston Celtics
4. Philadelphia 76ers
5. Milwaukee Bucks
6. Chicago Bulls
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Houston Rockets
9. Toronto Raptors
10. New York Knicks

Malcom Brogdon out for Bucks-Celtics Games 1 and 2

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Malcolm Brogdon suffered a foot injury that’d sideline him for the start of the playoffs.

The Bucks (vs. Pistons) and Celtics (vs. Pacers) won their first-round series too quickly.

Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals and first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007. So, the Bucks-Celtics series will begin Sunday, the second-earliest of four possible dates.

Which means no Brogdon to begin the series.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Game 1 is Sunday, and Game 2 is Tuesday. That leaves open the possibility of Brogdon returning for Game 3 Friday, May 3.

Brogdon is a good shooting guard, but the Bucks were just fine without him in the first round. Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton played well against Detroit, and Tony Snell could enter the rotation as he gets healthy.

But the Celtics are a far bigger challenge. Milwaukee won’t necessarily need Brogdon against Boston, but the Bucks’ chances are much higher if he returns to full strength.

Russell Westbrook to critics: ‘I don’t really care what people say’

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Russell Westbrook has faced a lot of criticism this season, a chorus that grew louder in the first round of the playoffs.

While he averaged a triple-double for the third straight season, his shooting degenerated and his efficiency dropped. This is Westbrook’s shot chart for the regular season.

Which was better than his playoff shot chart.

The results of his shooting woes were obvious in the playoffs. Portland big man Enes Kanter can be exposed as a pick-and-roll defender if pulled out on the perimeter to deal with a ball handler, but the Trail Blazers didn’t have to do that. Kanter would sag back, clog the paint, and dare Westbrook to take jumpers or drive past him. Even when Westbrook drove there were not clear lanes and he struggled to finish.

That swelled the volume of criticism of Westbrook. Not that he cares. Did anyone actually expect him to be bothered? Westbrook brushed off his critics speaking with the media after his exit interview on Thursday. Via Royce Young of ESPN.

“There used to be conversations if I was a ball hog, but now I lead the league in assists for the past three years or whatever it is, that’s getting squashed out,” he said. “So now the conversation is about shooting. Next year I’m going to become a better shooter. After that it’ll be probably, f—, my left foot is bigger than my right one. Who knows.

“So that’s why, back to your point, I don’t really care what people say, what they think about me, because it doesn’t really matter. I know what I’m able to do and know what I’m able to do at a high level every night, and nobody else can do what I can do on a night-in, night-out basis, and I truly believe that. If they could, I’m pretty sure they would. But I know for a fact that nobody can.”

Westbrook still impacts the game with his drives and athleticism, he is still an All-NBA level guard in this league, if not MVP level anymore. He is still one of the game’s elite players. However, as he was getting outplayed by Damian Lillard in the first round the questions came up again, “just how far can the Thunder go with Westbrook as their primary option?” After four surgeries in six years, can he still carry a team deep into the playoffs?

When Westbrook was on the floor without Paul George this season, the Thunder struggled. When it was George without Westbrook, they still played well. It’s become clear that not only must Westbrook improve his shooting — not to Curry levels, but closer to his MVP self that shot better from the midrange — but also Sam Presti and Thunder management need to find a way to get more shooting around Westbrook. A stretch-five, in particular, would help (Stephen Adams is good at a lot of things, but spacing the floor is not one of them). OKC needs shooters around Westbrook.

How the Thunder pull that off with a capped-out team — they have the second-highest payroll in the league this season and Westbrook and George are maxed out for years — is going to require some real creativity. But if the Thunder are going to be more than a first-round-exit team in the West, they need to find a way.