Warriors vs. Spurs preview: Three things to watch

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Never have two teams playing this well met this late in the season in the NBA.

The 62-6 Golden State Warriors travel to take on the 58-10 San Antonio Spurs (who are 34-0 at home this season) — that’s a combined 89 percent winning percentage. (The previous record was a Bulls/Magic game in April 1996, where the teams had a combined 81.6 percent winning percentage, according to the NBA. Chicago won.) The Spurs are on pace to win 70 games this season and still enter this game four games back of the Warriors.

The last time these teams met, Golden State thumped San Antonio 120-90, but not even die-hard Warriors fans can’t expect a repeat of that night. Heck, there are reasons to write this game off — the Warriors are banged up and on the second night of a road back-to-back, having to play their stars in the fourth quarter of a win over Dallas Friday. Still, this game may be the best way to judge these teams and what they will look like if/when they meet in the Western Conference Finals. Yes, these two play again in April (twice), but by then both coaches will be resting players, and more importantly neither coach will want to tip their strategy hand at that point — those games will have all the Xs and Os details of the Pro Bowl.

Here are three key things to watch on this Saturday night showdown.

1) How much will Golden State miss Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut? Last time these teams met, it was San Antonio missing a key piece — Tim Duncan, still the Spurs’ defensive lynchpin, was out. This time he is back, and it is the Warriors who will be missing a couple of key players.

Andrew Bogut has a strained left big toe suffered Friday against Dallas and is expected to miss Saturday’s game — that’s a big body and smart defender the Warriors need against the LaMarcus Aldridge/Duncan front line of San Antonio (Bogut draws Duncan). Remember, the Warriors can’t turn to Festus Ezeli, he remains out with a knee injury. This likely means more Anderson Varejao, who brings some energy and some rebounding, but generally looks lost and slow in the Warriors’ defensive schemes.

However, the bigger blow is missing Iguodala. He helps settle down the second unit, serving as a secondary ball handler, plus he brings defense to that unit. Iguodala is also an essential part of the small ball “death lineup” that is Golden State’s ultimate weapon — without his defense and ability to score those small lineups are less threatening. Remember, we are talking about the Finals MVP here, he will be missed a lot. Especially against a Spurs bench that has been a dominant force of late.

2) Can San Antonio slow Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson? The first time these teams met, Curry had 37 points and hit 6-of-9 threes. Curry and Thompson are coming off a game where they dropped 70 on Dallas. Golden State has had some struggles of late, they have had more than a couple of games where they have looked sloppy (particularly on defense), but the shooting of Curry and Thompson simply bail them out. If San Antonio is going to beat the Warriors (now or in a playoff series), they need to find a way not to let the Splash Brothers go off and dominate.

The Spurs have the best defense in the NBA — by far. This season the Spurs have allowed just 95.7 points per 100 possessions, three per 100 better than the second place Hawks (and five better than the fifth-place Warriors). With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, the Spurs have two quality perimeter defenders they can throw at the hot hand. However, Popovich seems to prefer Leonard on Draymond Green and Danny Green on Curry, which allows the Spurs to switch the dreaded Curry/Green pick-and-roll (it’s about as effective a plan as any team has to deal with that play). The challenge is that leaves Tony Parker on Thompson, which could be a field day for Klay, who can shoot over the top of Parker or post him up. The Spurs are usually good at hiding Parker, but there is nowhere to hide against Golden State. It will help the Spurs this time around to have Duncan back in the paint, both to challenge shots and to quarterback their entire defense.

Will all that be enough? Remember last meeting Curry spun Leonard around and made the game’s best perimeter defender look helpless. Curry is on another level right now.

3) Can Golden State disrupt improved play of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard?
Last time these teams met Aldridge was 2-of-9 shooting for five points. Draymond Green drew the defensive assignment most of the night and despite giving up four inches it was Green who was the disruptive force — he did not let Aldridge get to his spots on the floor or feel comfortable. Green’s length still challenged Aldridge’s shots. After the game, Aldridge was so frustrated he deactivated his Twitter and Instagram accounts (although he denied the two were not related).

Of late, Aldridge has been a lot more comfortable. He has developed a real chemistry with Tony Parker and since the All-Star break Aldridge is averaging 20 points a game on 52.6 percent shooting (an impressive true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent), and his assists are up while his turnovers are down. Aldridge has found his groove, can Green push him out of it again?

Then there is Leonard, who is growing in confidence daily on the offensive end. He had 16 points on six shots in the first meeting, but expect more out of him in this get together. Since the All-Star break Leonard has averaged 24.3 points a game, is shooting 46 percent from three, with a 62.1 true shooting percentage. This may be the matchup where the Warriors most miss having Iguodala to throw at Leonard.

The real danger is when Aldridge and Leonard are paired — the Spurs are +18.1 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together post All-Star break. Add Danny Green to the Leonard/Aldridge combo and the Spurs are +25.2 per 100 since the All-Star break, with an offensive rating of 116.2 per 100 possessions. They will be a test for the Warriors’ defense (which has struggled of late due to the injuries).

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

Miami Heat Media Day
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Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

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SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.