Warriors ready to start another special postseason run

Associated Press
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)  — That chase for 73 wins and breaking the Chicago Bulls’ record last season generated so much scrutiny when the Golden State Warriors failed to win it all at the end.

How might have that taken a toll come playoff time? Did fatigue factor in when it mattered most?

Nah, Steve Kerr refuses to think about it that way. Stephen Curry‘s injury sure did, though. Absolutely.

The two-time reigning NBA MVP sprained the MCL in his right knee when he slipped on a wet spot just before halftime of a Game 4 win at Houston in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.

“Steph gets banged up the first game of the playoffs which affected his whole run,” Kerr said. “You can’t account for that stuff. You try your best to keep your eye on guys and to keep them fresh, but honestly Steph was pretty fresh going into last season’s postseason. So this year we’re doing what we can to make sure guys are ready to roll, but you never know what’s going to happen.”

Now, the Warriors – who at 67-15 had the NBA’s best record for a third straight year – and Trail Blazers prepare to face off in the playoffs for a second straight season after Golden State beat Portland in a five-game Western Conference semifinals last year.

Kerr rested players down the stretch as needed, he mixed Kevin Durant back in after a 19-game absence with a left knee injury.

“We’re chasing something, we’re not protecting anything this year,” Curry said. “… In theory, we’re not the hunted. Obviously, we have the best record but we’re not defending a championship. There’s really no pressure. Two years ago we were trying to climb the ladder again and now we’re in that kind of same mentality. It’s good for us to go just go in with all the confidence in the world that we’ve built up this regular season and understand that every round’s going to be different, every round’s going to be just a dogfight. We understand how important every single game is on that journey.”

The Blazers lost all four regular-season meetings but went 17-6 down the stretch.

Curry was sidelined for the first three games of that series last year before coming off the bench in a playoff game for the first time in his career in Game 4 and scoring 40 points, with an NBA record 17 in overtime of a 132-125 victory.

All of that is in the past, Durant assures.

“Last year’s over,” KD said Saturday. “Just trying to move on. We know this is a different season, a different team, just a different year. We’re not coming in saying, `Because of last year, we’re trying to get revenge or we’re trying to show everybody what we got.”‘

Here are some things to watch for leading to tipoff Sunday:

LILLARD’S HOME

Damian Lillard typically brings his best when he comes home to the East Bay to take on the Warriors, and he fully expects to win this series.

“We feel we can do it,” Lillard said. “If we don’t, we shouldn’t even go out there and lace up our shoes.”

Lillard and CJ McCollum make up one of the league’s best backcourts, one that rivals Curry and Klay Thompson.

The Blazers hope to have their big man healthy, too. Portland center Jusuf Nurkic was listed as questionable Saturday after he missed the last seven games with a non-displaced fracture in his right leg.

KD AND STEPH

Portland must pick who to try to stop, and that’s a daunting task with the Warriors’ loaded lineup.

Durant averaged 29.3 points against Portland and Curry 27.3.

KD returned from a 19-game absence with a left knee injury to play the final three regular-season games.

“The main focus is health, and KD getting his legs back and relatively healthy, so that’s a good start for him,” key backup David West said.

LOPSIDED LOSSES

The Blazers would prefer to forget that 135-90 debacle of a defeat at Oracle on Dec. 17 – the largest Warriors’ margin of victory in the rivalry.

Golden State has won the last six meetings overall and 15 of 18.

Portland coach Terry Stotts can look to last year’s playoffs for some guidance, though he said Golden State’s defense is far better now.

“Both teams have a lot of the same players from last year, styles of play are similar,” Stotts said. “Obviously when you add Durant on to the team it adds another potent scorer who fits in well with how they play.”

THOMPSON’S TOUCH

Thompson picked up the slack with Curry sidelined last year against Portland, leading the Warriors in scoring in three of the five games – with 37 points, 27 and 33.

Now, Thompson isn’t afraid to say it: The Warriors plan to be playing for another two months.

“We want to redeem ourselves and we have a golden opportunity,” Thompson said. “It’s a new year. We’ve got to forget about last year whether we won or lost. It’s a new slate and we’re chasing that trophy. We want it back oh so badly.”

 

Butler scores 35, Heat beat Mavericks in battle of desperate teams

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MIAMI (AP) — Miami was desperate. So was Dallas.

Jimmy Butler and the Heat had just enough to help their playoff position – while dealing the Mavericks a big blow.

Butler had 35 points and 12 assists, Cody Zeller added 20 points and the Heat held off the Mavericks 129-122 on Saturday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

Max Strus and Kevin Love each scored 18 and Tyler Herro added 15 for the Heat. Miami won despite allowing Dallas to shoot a season-best 61%.

“I wouldn’t necessarily have drawn it up this way,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Luka Doncic was brilliant again for Dallas, finishing with 42 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 31 points and Kyrie Irving added 23 points and eight assists for the Mavericks.

“A win is a win,” Butler said. “I don’t like the fact that they shot 61%. But I do like the fact that we finally won a game.”

The Mavs had been 7-0 this season when shooting at least 54%, and fell to 30-2 all-time, including playoffs, in games where they shot at least 60%.

“Our defense was nonexistent,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “Couldn’t get stops.”

Both clubs went to the conference finals last season; the Heat are trying to get out of the play-in round, and the Mavericks are trying to just have a shot at the playoffs.

The win moves Miami (41-37) closer to securing no worse than the No. 7 seed and most advantageous spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The Heat are now 2 1/2 games ahead of both No. 8 Atlanta (38-39) and No. 9 Toronto (also 38-39).

Miami moved within 1 1/2 games of No. 6 Brooklyn (42-35). Even if the Heat win out and finish with 45 wins, the Nets – who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker – would only need to go 3-2 in their final five games to ensure they would finish ahead of Miami.

Meanwhile, it’s a big blow to Dallas (37-41).

The Mavs fell a full game back of No. 10 Oklahoma City (38-40) in the race for the last Western Conference play-in spot, and worse, the Thunder own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Dallas is now two games back of No. 9 Minnesota (39-39) and just a half-game ahead of No. 12 Utah (36-41).

“Just got to play hard, play with desperation and anything can happen,” Hardaway said. “Anything can happen.”

Miami changed its starting lineup, partly out of necessity. Center Bam Adebayo didn’t play because of a right hip contusion, so Zeller – starting a game for the first time since May 15, 2021, for Charlotte – took his spot and Strus took the forward starting spot that had been held by Love since he joined the Heat in February.

The moves paid immediate dividends. Strus was 3 for 3, all 3-pointers, in his first shift. Love was 3 for 3 from the field and 6 for 6 from the line for 13 points in his first 8 minutes off the bench, and Zeller had 12 points by halftime.

“K-Love is always, always has been about winning,” Butler said. “As long as we win, he’s not going to complain.”

It all helped add up to the third highest-scoring first half in Heat history: Miami led 76-64 at the break, stretched the lead to 18 in the second half – then had to hang on in the final moments anyway.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo suspended one game for headbutting Blake Griffin

Utah Jazz v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Celtics thought it was funny — Jaylen Brown jokingly offered Blake Griffin his mask after the Bucks’ Thanasis Antetokounmpo headbutted the Celtic forward.

The NBA didn’t find it as amusing and suspended Antetokounmpo for one game for the incident.

Griffin was given a Flagrant 1 foul at the time, but mostly the Celtics had a good laugh.

It’s easier to laugh when you are blowing out your opponent, and the Celtics made a statement with a 41-point win over the Bucks.

The Celtics are 1.5 games back of the Bucks for the No.1 seed in the East (and NBA), and they are two games back in the loss column. While Boston has the tiebreaker, it will need some help from Milwaukee to catch them. The Bucks play the 76ers in a key game on Sunday, but will do so without Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

 

It’s official: Popovich, Wade headline international class (Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker) into Hall of Fame

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics
Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images
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In an incredibly deep Hall of Fame class, the man who garners the most respect — legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — is the man who feels least like he belongs in these hallowed halls.

“In all honesty, I always felt the Hall of Fame is like for Red Holzman, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … I’ve never felt like I really belonged, to be honest with you,” Popovich told the Associated Press, and it’s not a gimmick. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr. Humble’ or anything. I’m a Division III guy. I’m not a Hall of Fame guy.”

Popovich is a Hall of Fame guy. While it has been expected for a while, it became official on Saturday with an announcement in Houston during the NCAA Final Four.

Popovich is part of one of the great Hall of Fame classes ever: Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Becky Hammon are the headliners.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer that all of these guys are first-ballot guys,” Heat president Pat Riley told the Associated Press. “Look at the records. Look at the longevity that they’ve had in this league. Look what they’ve done for the league, and how much the league calls them back – because they’re ambassadors of this great league and they have a great voice and a great message. Dwyane being a first-ballot was a no-brainer.”

Let’s break down the cases for the biggest, NBA tied-names:

• Gregg Popovich led the San Antonio Spurs to five titles and 18 consecutive seasons of 50+ wins. “Pop” also coached USA Basketball to the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, and was active. Popovich will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, a man who adapted his system to the personnel he had — how the Tim Duncan/David Robinson Spurs won was very different than the 2014 team led by Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard (and still Duncan).

• Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest shooting guards the game has ever seen. He helped the Miami Heat to three NBA titles and was the 2006 Finals MVP, and along the way racked up eight All-NBA teams and 13 trips to the All-Star game. He is the greatest Heat player ever and is an easy Hall of Fame choice.

• Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest Dallas Maverick ever, an NBA champion and Finals MVP, plus he won the regular season MVP in 2007. His resume includes being a 12-time All-NBA player and 14-time All-Star, plus playing 21 seasons all for the same franchise.

• Tony Parker is a four-time NBA champion for Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs, and Parker was the Finals MVP in 2007. His NBA resume includes four All-NBA nods and six All-Star trips, but his international resume secured his place in the Hall of Fame, for example he was the MVP of EuroBasket 2013, which France won.

• Pau Gasol won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (as Kobe Bryant’s co-star), is a four-time All-NBA player and six-time All-Star, plus he was the Rookie of the Year in 2002. Like Parker, it is Gasol’s international resume that cements his spot in the Hall, he led Spain to the FIBA World Championship in 2006 and won three Olympic medals (two silver, one bronze).

• Becky Hammon, who most NBA fans know as the first women’s assistant coach in the NBA and current coach of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, but before that she was a six-time WNBA All-Star.

Also entering the Hall of Fame this year:

• Jim Valvano, who coached North Carolina State to the 1983 NCAA Championship, and created The V Foundation for Cancer Research
• Gene Bess, All-time winningest college coach (1,300), 2-time NJCAA Coach of the Year.
• David Hixon, who racked up 826 wins and was a two-time D3 national champion and two-time D3 Coach of the Year.
• Gene Keady, best known for coaching 25 years at Purdue, was a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year and made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances.
• Gary Blair, who coached in the women’s game for 37 years, amassing 852 wins, including winning the 2011 National Championship with Texas A&M.
• The 1976 Women’s USA Olympic Basketball Team – Silver medalists in inaugural appearance for Women’s Olympic Basketball.

Watch Davis score 38, Lakers move up to No.7 seed with win against Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and had 17 rebounds to lift the Los Angeles Lakers past Minnesota 123-111 and leapfrog the Timberwolves on Friday night in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

“You’ve got to have that one pivotal force that’s leading the charge, and in our case with this particular team here in the moment it’s AD,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “When he comes out and he’s aggressive and we’re feeding him and he’s not settling and he’s putting pressure on the paint, putting pressure on the rim, we find ourselves having a lot of success.”

LeBron James added 18 points and 10 rebounds and D'Angelo Russell had 12 points and 10 assists against his former team as the Lakers (39-38) won for the fifth time in six games to move into seventh place. They’re even with New Orleans, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pelicans.

“We’ve made some huge climbs, but we’re not finished,” said Davis, who had 38 points Wednesday in tthe win at Chicago. “We’re hungry to not only make the playoffs but make some noise.”

The Lakers improved to 9-4 since losing at home to the Wolves on March 3.

“We jumped on AD’s back, and he brought us home,” James said.

Mike Conley had 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting with seven assists before fouling out, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points for the Timberwolves (39-39), who tumbled into ninth place. They entered the evening one game behind Golden State and the cut to avoid the play-in tournament, with the Warriors tipping off later at home against San Antonio.

Davis scored 12 straight points for the Lakers over a 3:52 span late in the fourth quarter to seal the steely comeback from a deficit that hit 13 points shortly after halftime. He made five baskets in a row with Wolves center Rudy Gobert on the bench, dominating on the glass, in the post and at the rim.

“He’s playing at a super high level right now,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said.

The Lakers took charge earlier with a 24-2 spurt over a 6:49 stretch of the third quarter with their defense on lockdown mode. Conley’s turn to rest on the bench during that run was ill-timed. Davis rolled his left ankle around the start of the Lakers surge, a breath-holding sequence that only seemed to energize the visitors.

“We started to turn the ball over, and the ball started to stick much more,” Gobert said. “We kind of lost our flow offensively, and it really affected our defense.”

The Wolves, whose bench was shortened without center Naz Reid and his broken wrist, went 2 for 14 from 3-point range in the third quarter and were outscored 35-18 in a discouraging stretch for a fired-up crowd that included local sports superstars Justin Jefferson and Kirill Kaprizov in floor seats.