Draymond Green’s fire drives Warriors in pursuit of title

Draymond Green
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry might be the face of the Warriors with the breathtaking long-range shots and ball-handling that makes Golden State so appealing to watch.

Draymond Green is the heart.

The loud, sometimes brash and amazingly versatile Green was the driving force behind the team’s commitment to chase a record 73 wins in the regular season, the key to the team’s dominant small-ball lineup and perhaps Golden State’s most indispensable player.

A knee injury to Curry has done little to slow down the Warriors’ run to a second straight title because fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson has picked up the scoring load to help Golden State take a 2-0 series lead in the second round against Portland.

Making up for what Green does on the court would be almost impossible. In the past four games, Green is averaging 18.3 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and the Warriors have outscored the opponent by 109 points when he is on the court.

“Draymond is huge for us,” center Andrew Bogut said. “His playmaking ability, his defensive ability, he’s probably the best all-around player in the league at this point.”

It’s been quite a ride for a player so lightly regarded that he wasn’t drafted until 35th overall when he came out of Michigan State in 2012. But Green has improved each year, increasing his average in points, rebounds, assists, field-goal percentage and 3-point shooting in each of his four years capped by his stellar performance this year.

Green averaged 14.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game, becoming the first player to record at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocks in a single season since steals and blocks started being officially recorded in 1973-74.

He set a team record with 13 triple-doubles, was the only player to appear in all 73 wins for the Warriors and had the highest plus-minus margin ever on record with Golden State outscoring the opposition by 1,072 points when he was on the floor.

While Green has played the majority of his time with the presumptive MVP in Curry, it is telling that Golden State has outscored opponents by 13.8 points per 48 minutes with Green on the court and Curry off compared to 1.0 point per 48 minutes with Curry playing and Green resting.

But more than numbers, it’s Green’s defensive versatility that makes the Warriors what they are. He’s able to guard all five positions whether it’s battling with post players who have a decided size advantage or chasing quicker guards on the perimeter and that allows Golden State to employ its so-called “Death Lineup” of five perimeter players that opponents have been unable to neutralize.

“I think there’s a lot of great all-around players in the game,” Green said. “You’ll never hear me call myself that, but they are going to call me that, I’ll take it. I’m not going to shy away from it.”

Green is fueled by doubters and skeptics, using the snub of being a second-round pick or critics who called the Warriors lucky for avoiding some top teams or players on the way to the championship last year as fuel for his raging fire.

That fire sometimes gets too hot and led to the 12 technical fouls Green got during the regular season and the locker room shouting match he had with coach Steve Kerr at halftime of a game in Oklahoma City in February.

“We yell at each other all the time,” Kerr said. “He’s a guy that I know I can get on who won’t shy away but will actually do the opposite. If I yell at him he’s going to play better. Sometimes I yell at Draymond just to get the team to play better. Draymond understands that. When you have a relationship like that, every once in a while it’s going to blow over, which it did in Oklahoma City as everybody knows about but that didn’t mean anything.”

Kerr calls Green one of his favorite players he’s ever been around and credits his vocal desire to pursue 73 wins for the decision to go for the record.

Kerr is not the first coach to have run-ins with Green that did little to diminish his appreciation for his style of play. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he had plenty of yelling matches with Green in college but has only praise for Green.

“He had basketball IQ, it’s off the charts,” Izzo said. “It’s as good as anybody. He can see the floor and do some things like no player I’ve had. He has incredible toughness. He’d fight Godzilla. It doesn’t matter who it is, where it is or what it is. He has an incredible will to win. Everybody wants to win but he would sacrifice to win.”

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.