Warriors still confident of winning second straight title

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Curry sat on the bench and buried his head in his hand. Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson wrapped a towel around his face.

This was misery for the Warriors and their fired-up fans, who made for the exits early during Monday’s 112-97 NBA Finals loss to the Cavaliers that sent the series back to Cleveland for a Game 6 on Thursday night.

They wanted so badly to do it for Draymond Green, do it for each other, and for their home crowd this time.

Instead, Golden State is going to Ohio again. One flight the Warriors surely would have preferred not to take at this road-weary stage of another extra-long season, but it will be well worth it if they hoist a second straight trophy when these NBA Finals finally end.

Their “Strength in Numbers” mantra was tested once more in a game that mattered so much. The Warriors lost at home for only the second time this postseason and fourth overall.

Yet there’s no panic now for the defending champions after LeBron James and the Cavs forced at least one more game in what has become quite the testy rematch. The Warriors lead the series 3-2 and still have the upper hand.

“We’re all disappointed. We want to win,” guard Shaun Livingston said. “With the stakes being what they are right now, obviously it’s a gut punch. But it’s the finals. It’s not going to be easy. They’re not going to lay down. It doesn’t matter who’s on the court. We’ve got to play.”

Golden State will get a boost having emotional leader and All-Star forward Green back after he sat out Game 5 serving a suspension for a Game 4 swipe at James’ groin. Fans chanted “Free Dray-mond! Free Dray-mond!” and large cutouts of his face waved from all corners of Oracle Arena as he watched from a baseball suite next door in the Oakland Coliseum.

“You want to win here more than anything for your fans. They deserve to see us win, but you just suck it up and move on,” Thompson said. “We’re still in a great position.”

While Green returns for Game 6, the Warriors might be down big man Andrew Bogut. The 7-foot center sprained his left knee early in the third quarter Monday and was scheduled for an MRI exam Tuesday before the team traveled. Bogut has been an imposing presence with his shot-blocking ability, but the Warriors have some depth at the position and often use a center-by-committee approach with Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights among others like Anderson Varejao getting regular opportunities to contribute.

“If there’s a chance he’s out Thursday, our bigs are just going to have to step up. Been doing it all year,” Thompson said.

Defensively, the Warriors must find a way to keep James and Kyrie Irving from going off the way they did Monday, with each scoring 41 points.

Not that the always-confident Warriors are overly concerned. They are a group that bounced back from every rare loss during a record-setting, 73-win regular season. Golden State is 14-1 following a defeat.

“We’re in the same place we were last year, up 3-2 heading back to Cleveland. If you told me this before the series, I would have taken it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “So we’re in a good spot. We’re disappointed we didn’t win tonight, but, like I said, they outplayed us. They deserved the win. And we’ll go back to Cleveland and we’ll play a better game for sure.”

Golden State doesn’t have much further to fall after shooting a postseason-low 36.4 percent – its first game below a 40 percent clip – despite getting 37 points from Thompson with six 3-pointers and Curry’s 25 with five 3s.

“You tip your hat to them. They had a great night,” Curry said.

The Warriors are trying to close out the fifth championship in franchise history and third since moving out West from Philadelphia in 1962-63. Each of the last two since coming to the Bay Area have been clinched on the road – the first title in 40 years last June and also in 1975, when the Warriors won at Washington with a four-game sweep of the Bullets.

“It (stinks) that it happened tonight with the opportunity we had in front of us to close out a series at home in front of our home fans, and it’s a tough feeling,” Thompson said. “But you work hard in the series early to put ourselves in this position again on Thursday, and we’ll be ready.”

Paul George on twins Marcus, Markieff Morris: “They’re different, but they’re the same”

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George has given us the quote of the day.

For some quick context, last season Paul George played with Markieff Morris in Oklahoma City. This season, George’s Clippers team traded for the other Morris twin, Marcus Morris, at the deadline. When asked about them, George admitted to mixing them up — and then had a classic description of twins.

“It was weird at first, ‘cuz I would call [Marcus] ‘Keiff.’ It actually took a good week. It’s crazy. ‘What’s up Marcus? Nice to meet you.’ Then instantly after, ‘Hey Keiff!’ It’s gonna take a second…

“They’re different, but they’re the same.”

Um… yes, they are.

Both Morris twins live in Los Angeles now (and are expected to move in together). Marcus was traded to the Clippers at the deadline, while Markieff was waived and became a free agent, choosing to sign with the Lakers.

George had high praise for both of them.

“Markieff and Marcus, they are great glue guys,” George said. “They just know how to play the game. They fit right in, they bring toughness, hecka [good] locker room guys, both of them just great people. Great dudes.”

They’re the same that way. But different.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.