Associated Press

Warriors ready to start another special postseason run

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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.”

 

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.