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Three Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Warriors chasing history, Spurs chasing Warriors

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What you missed on a Sunday in the NBA while you were busy calling random Swedes

1) The pecking order in the West clearly established as Warriors beat Spurs to set up a shot at 73 wins.
The Golden State Warriors have tied Michael Jordan’s Bulls for most wins in an NBA season — and they did that by beating a 65-win Spurs team in San Antonio, where nobody had beaten the Spurs all season. Let that sink in for a minute. Stephen Curry was back to doing the ridiculous scoring 37 points on 22 shots. More importantly, the Warriors defense was back in sync, holding the Spurs to an offensive rating of 93.1 (points per 100 possessions, that is 15.4 below the Spurs season average).

Stop and savor what we are seeing people. This is basketball history. It’s entertaining basketball played unselfishly. If you’re response has been “it means nothing without a ring” or “these Warriors couldn’t hold a candle to those Bulls” — yes, we’re looking at you Scottie Pippen — I’ve got to ask why you think Michael Jordan needs you to defend him? No doubt those Bulls are some of the greatest teams in NBA history, nobody is disputing that. They set the bar. The Warriors are trying to establish a legacy to be in that conversation. Welcome to sports. That a team is trying to get into the rarefied air should not be an invitation to shoot them down, it’s a chance to see how high they can fly.

As for the Spurs, they were without Tim Duncan, and they will get their chance in the Western Conference Finals (barring a major upset). This is a good team, but what David West told the Express-News summed it up: “They’re the best and we’re chasing them.”

2) Pacers win, meaning Bulls officially eliminated from playoffs. When the season started most pundits (myself included) had the Bulls in the second tier in the East, the “this is a pretty good team that maybe could challenge Cleveland if everything goes perfectly” tier. Things did not go perfectly. Or even well. Turns out these Bulls aren’t even a playoff team in the East. That dream ended when, as expected, the Pacers beat the Nets on Sunday behind 28 points from rookie Myles Turner.

This sets up an interesting summer in Chicago, where they need to reshape a roster so it can both defend better (that fell off without Tom Thibodeau’s yelling) and play Fred Hoiberg’s space-and-pace style (Jimmy Butler needs to adjust to that system). Pau Gasol is likely gone and it’s going to take a lot of money to convince Joakim Noah to stay.  Derrick Rose‘s name will come up in trade rumors, but the reality of getting another team to take on his contract means he may stay put. It’s going to be an unpredictable summer in the Windy City.

3) No J.J. Barea and the Mavs winning streak ends at six; playoff spot not secure yet. It feels like Dallas should be safe for a playoff spot in the West, up two games on nine-seed Houston with two to play. But Dallas has two tough games — Utah and the Spurs — while the Rockets have two very winnable games, and the tiebreaker. Dallas needs a win (that showdown with eight-seed Utah, which is one game up on Houston, is huge Monday).

The Mavericks could have used a win Monday, but with J.J. Barea joining the long list of injured Mavs they were no match for the Clippers and fell 98-91. J.J. Redick had 20 and Jamal Crawford continued his Sixth Man of the Year push with 22. However, the real news for the Clippers is that in the second half Blake Griffin started to look like himself again, finding a rhythm.

Raymond Felton led the Mavs with 24. Deron Williams was back and added 15. Barea said he was hopeful he could go against the Jazz Monday, they are going to need him.

Rumor: Al Horford thinks 4-year, $100 million contract awaits him in free agency

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Things have already gone sideways for the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving is set to leave, reportedly for the Brooklyn Nets. Al Horford opted out of his contract with the team this week, and reports have it that the integral big man is looking to go elsewhere.

Horford had $30 million left on his contract at age 33, so there had to be some belief that he would get a job elsewhere for more money than the Celtics would be willing to pay. Now, according to a new report, that is exactly the case.

It was floated on Tuesday night that Horford already knew that somebody was looking to sign him to another long-term deal. New York Times writer Marc Stein tweeted as much late Tuesday night, saying that Horford and his camp believe there is a deal around $100 million waiting for him in free agency.

Via Twitter:

It is — and we can’t stress this enough — freaking June. It’s literally and figuratively too early for this.

We all laughed last season about the arbitrary deadlines of free agency creeping forward. Deals were already done well before it was permitted to actually sign free agents in July. But this… is getting ridiculous.

Horford is a leader, the glue that apparently kept the Celtics from breaking apart last season. Reports surfaced this week that Brad Stevens’ dedication to former Butler Bulldog Gordon Hayward was at least one reason for the team chemistry starting to unfurl.

Whichever team grabs Horford will be getting a player who still has much left to give, and who can help guide a team into the playoffs. Whether he’s heading to a contender or an overpaying bottom-feeder, we don’t yet know.

This league just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Daryl Morey denies that Chris Paul requested trade in James Harden dispute

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Things are not all that great for the Houston Rockets. They were bounced in the second round by the Golden State Warriors, and Chris Paul and James Harden appear to be at each other’s throats.

There been reports that Paul and Harden have each issued ultimatums to team management asking the executive branch to instigate a trade. This of course essentially means that the Rockets need to look for a trade partner for Paul.

The problem is that Paul has a massive $125 million left on his deal. It was an insane sum when Paul signed it, but the thought was that even a declining CP3 would be able to help the Rockets as they went all-out expecting a Warriors decline.

But Rockets GM Daryl Morey has refuted the idea that either player has issued an ultimatum. Morey told Marc Stein of the New York Times as much, and reiterated this stance on ESPN radio on Tuesday.

Morey is a veteran general manager, and openly noting that a player has requested a trade cuts his leverage. It has been widely reported that Morey has been looking for trades for Paul and his gargantuan contract for some time, with no apparent taker as of yet.

Now is the time to jump on things in the West. The Warriors are weak, particularly with injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Who knows what that roster will look like next season (and beyond)?

Houston has been the perennial contender against Golden State in the playoffs, but now they appear to be bursting apart at the seams. Morey is one of the best general managers in the NBA, and he has a history of taking big risks and turning wheat into gold. But until he can offload Paul’s contract, things will be tenuous in Texas.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.