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Golden State looks vulnerable. Can Spurs do anything about it?

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Steve Kerr has been frustrated in recent weeks with his team’s effort. Very frustrated. Walk into the shower, throw a bunch of bats on the floor and call them “lollygaggers” frustrated.

Golden State coasted the last month of the season, much of it without Stephen Curry, and went 7-10 in their final stretch of games. However, the Warriors problems go deeper than a lack of focus and being without Curry — Shaun Livingston has been banged up and not right, Andre Iguodala’s efficiency has dropped this season, and Draymond Green is still shooting just a tick above 30 percent from three. To name just a few things.

The Warriors look vulnerable.

But can the Spurs do anything about it?

Probably not. San Antonio (without Kawhi Leonard, it would be a surprise if he came back now) doesn’t have the athletes. We saw it last year when these teams met in the playoffs and Leonard went down after Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper, at that point the Warriors ran away with the series. The Spurs are not going to beat themselves, they will defend well and make smart plays, the Warriors are going to have to earn it — but Golden State should take the series fairly quickly.

Should. That’s the key, as Kerr said Friday (via Mark Medina of the Mercury News).

“They’re going to bring out the best in us or they’re going to completely expose us,” Kerr said after Friday’s practice. “One way or another, that’s probably a good thing for us.”

It’s probably going to be the former — expect the Warriors to flip the switch.

Here are the things you’ll see Saturday at 3 ET (on ABC) if the sleeping Warriors have awakened.

• Defensive energy and focus. This is what the Warriors have lacked mostly over the past six weeks — since March 1 the Warriors have allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the NBA. Not terrible by some standards, but last season the Warriors allowed just 101 points per 100, best in the NBA. In February of this season, when the Warriors focused for a while, they allowed just 102.3.

The defensive change needs to start from the team’s leaders — Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Durant played fantastic defense in the Finals last season, and remember on Christmas Day he did it again against the Cavaliers (leading to some around the team to try and promote him for the All-Defensive team). Then he seemed to check out on that end. He needs to bring his focus back, create some turnovers with his length, and protect the rim a little.

Green has been good but not dominant this season defensively, but that brings us to our next point…

• Draymond Green needs to take charge of this series. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One ties into our first bullet point above — he is the emotional leader of the Warriors. If they are going to snap out of their malaise, it starts with him. If he brings the defensive effort, others will follow.

More than that, Green has vital roles in this series.

Defensively, he will be matched on LaMarcus Aldridge for key stretches — and with Leonard out the San Antonio offense runs through Aldridge (and occasionally Pau Gasol). While Aldridge can shoot fadeaways or little hooks over the top of Green, historically he has struggled to do that efficiently against Green’s physical defense. It also just isn’t going to be one-on-one because the Spurs don’t have enough shooting to space the floor out and scare the Warriors if Aldridge passes out. If Green (and Zaza Pachulia, and David West) can make Aldridge work for his buckets, it becomes difficult for the Spurs to score enough.

On offense, the Warriors need playmaking Green to return and take on a bigger role. He needs to grab rebounds and push the tempo in transition, in the half court they need him to roll down the lane with the ball then kick-out to the open shooters. He’s more than capable of this, we’ve just seen less of it this season.

• Kevin Durant needs to lead — and that’s as much defense as offense. Last season during the Finals Durant was a defensive force, that won him Finals MVP as much as his offense. That continued through the first part of this season up through the Christmas Day game against the Cavaliers — he was playing so well some around Golden State tried to push him for Defensive Player of the Year (or at least a spot on the All-Defensive team). However, after that Durant seemed to coast a little on defense. He wasn’t the same. The Warriors need the earlier Durant back.

On offense, he’s going to get all the touches and shots he wants, Durant just needs to be efficient and a playmaker.

• Other scorers step up besides Durant. KD is going to get his, and Klay Thompson will knock down threes and put up numbers as well, but when the Warriors are clicking the ball moves, guys are cutting, and the role players get clean looks and join in the scoring.

Will a fresh and rested Andre Iguodala get some buckets on hard cuts to the rim? Will David West knock down some midrange jumpers? Can Quinn Cook continue to impress? Will the center by committee group of Pachulia/JaVale McGee/Kevon Looney/Jordan Bell pitch in buckets?

The Warriors will need them because the Spurs can still defend and will make life challenging for Golden State’s big three.

Watch Derrick Rose nail game-winner as Timberwolves beat Suns 116-114

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Derrick Rose and the Minnesota Timberwolves needed this one.

With 30 seconds left, Rose missed the first of two free throws and was kicking himself for failing to give his team the lead.

“I kept saying, `You’re going to get another shot,” Taj Gibson said he told his long-time teammate. Twenty-nine seconds later, Rose proved Gibson prophetic.

Rose hit an 18-footer with 0.9 seconds left to give the Wolves a 116-114 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night.

He carried his team by scoring 29 of his 31 points in the second half to help Minnesota overcome an 11-point deficit.

Gibson dunked to pull Minnesota within one with less than a minute to play. Karl-Anthony Towns intercepted a bad pass from Booker, and Rose hit the second of two foul shots to tie it at 114 with 30.5 remaining.

After giving Rose his pep talk, Gibson grabbed the loose ball after Devin Booker lost it on Phoenix’s next possession. With the shot clock off and the crowd on its feet, Rose calmly dribbled down the clock against Mikal Bridges before pulling up and hitting the final shot.

“I missed a lot. it was all up to my teammates and the coaches for giving me that confidence, putting the ball in my hands and just believing in me,” Rose said.

It was a good confidence boost for both the oft-injured guard, and a team that had lost two of its last three home games by a combined seven points.

“He needed that shot, you know what I’m saying?” Gibson said. “He’s been putting in so much work in, we’ve been in that situation a couple times this year and it didn’t go his way.”

Rose picked up the slack for Towns, who had 30 points but only two after halftime. He went 13 of 13 from the free-throw line in the half, but struggled against Phoenix’s double teams in the second.

“We just stepped it up in the second half,” said Dragan Bender, the main man charged with defending Towns. “We came out, tried to double him, try to get the ball out of his hands and make the other players make plays.”

With Towns struggling against double-teams in the second half, Rose kept the Wolves in the game on 11-for-18 shooting in the half.

 

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. rejoins Mavericks after reconciling with Rick Carlisle

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Second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. has been rumored to be on the trade block. The Dallas Mavericks guard hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with coach Rick Carlisle, and several teams have expressed interest in Smith. It appeared that Smith was all set to join another team as part of a swap as we approach the trade deadline.

A report on Sunday on the latest from Dallas has changed all that. According to The Athletic, Smith and Carlisle have had productive talks and the 21-year-old is set to rejoin the team for their game on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Smith hasn’t made the kind of leap the Mavericks were hoping for. Despite an offensive explosion across the league, he hasn’t seen his advanced numbers experience a significant bump. Smith’s flaws are that of a young player — shooting and decision-making — so any additional communication with coaches will be a good thing for him.

Who knows is he and Carlisle can ever heal the wound fully, but it felt too soon to press the eject button on a Top 10 pick like Smith for Mavs fans.

Lakers PG Lonzo Ball will miss 4-6 weeks with ankle sprain

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The Los Angeles Lakers have been dealt another injury loss.

Lakers PG Lonzo Ball, part of the young core the team is trying to develop around LeBron James, suffered an ankle sprain against the Houston Rockets on Saturday. The team release via their website said Ball would be re-evaluated but could mis 4-6 weeks.

Via Lakers:

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, who was injured in last night’s game at Houston, underwent an MRI which revealed a Grade 3 left ankle sprain. Ball is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and updates will be provided as appropriate.

Ball had to be carried from the court after he collided with James Ennis during a play in the third quarter. Ball appeared to step on Ennis’ foot when the Rockets player tried to cut him off from the basket.

LA has had a rough go of it since LeBron injured his groin some 13 games ago. The Lakers have also been without Rajon Rondo, and have had a tough time winning games. The team, once thoroughly in the playoff race, has now dipped to ninth place in the West.

James and Rondo have been cleared for basketball activities, and they need their veteran leadership now more than ever heading into the All-Star break.

Watch the Bulls’ tribute video for Dwyane Wade

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Dwyane Wade is a Chicago native but the Miami Heat guard only played in the Windy City for a short amount of time. Wade was a member of the Chicago Bulls for 60 games in 2016-17 despite having signed a massive contract with the team in July of 2016.

Wade is now back where he belongs in Miami, and he’s been on a bit of a farewell tour across the NBA. As such, the Bulls felt it prudent to show a little tribute video for Wade before the final game he was to play at United Center.

Via Twitter:

How Bulls fans feel about Wade probably depends on who you ask, but a tribute video from the organization is a classy touch no matter what.

Wade has done jersey swaps with players around the league and in Chicago he got a special one: Benny the Bull.