AP

Warriors, Rockets set for Game 7 in West finals

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HOUSTON (AP) When the Golden State Warriors lost Game 5 of the Western Conference finals to the Rockets on Thursday night to send them to the brink of elimination they vowed to be back in Houston for Game 7.

After a resounding win in Game 6 that’s exactly where the defending champions are, preparing for a winner-take-all game Monday night for a spot in the NBA Finals.

“It’s going to be fun,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s what you play for, to be in a situation where you’re one win away from going to the finals. Pressure both ways because of how big the moment is, and you’ve got to want it.”

The Warriors trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half Saturday night before using a splendid second half to roll to a 115-86 victory. Curry knows that if the Warriors hope to return to the finals for the fourth straight year they’ll have to get off to a better start in Game 7.

“I guarantee if we start the game out like we did (Saturday) and they jump out to the lead, it’s going to be 10 times harder to make it a game,” Curry said. “So for us that’s our challenge to have the same mentality we had for the last 36 minutes of (Game 6) and bring that from the jump in Game 7.”

Kevin Durant is excited about helping the Warriors return to the finals, but he got a little confused on when Game 7 was on Saturday night.

“I can’t wait `til Tuesday,” Durant said.

Curry quickly jumped in to correct his teammate.

“Monday,” he said. “Please don’t miss a game.”

The Rockets aren’t dwelling on their missed opportunity to close out the series as they get ready for Monday’s game where they’ll try to punch their ticket to finals for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 1995-95.

They might have to do it without star Chris Paul, who is dealing with a strained right hamstring that kept him out of Game 6. Coach Mike D’Antoni said Sunday that he’s continuing to receive treatment and his status for Game 7 will likely be a game-time decision.

James Harden, who had 22 points in the first half on Saturday night but just 10 the rest of the way, insists that the Rockets remain confident despite the blowout loss and are up to Monday’s challenge.

“There’s no pressure. It’s an opportunity, an opportunity that we all are excited to be a part of,” he said. “Game 7 at our house, that’s what we’ve worked the entire regular season for (is) to get home-court advantage. So we’re going to come out and be ready.”

The Rockets tied the Raptors for best home record in the NBA during the regular season by going 34-7. They’re 7-2 in Houston this postseason with one of their losses coming in Game 1 of this series.

After 10,000 people paid $10 each to watch Saturday night’s game at the Toyota Center in what was a fundraiser for victims of the Santa Fe school shooting, Harden has no doubt that the home fans will be ready to help them out in Game 7.

“They’re going to bring it,” he said. “We’ve got a whole city behind us, and they’re as loyal as they come.”

Golden State coach Steve Kerr is trying to figure out why his team has struggled to put together complete games in this series, but is proud that the Warriors have found ways to win despite their up and down play.

“Our guys have a ton of character and a ton of competitiveness, desire,” he said. “They’re champions. So our guys compete. That’s the main thing. They may not always focus, but they compete.”

The Warriors are also dealing with injuries as Kerr said Andre Iguodala, who has missed the last two games with a bruised left leg, is doubtful for Monday’s game.

Kevon Looney has filled in for him the last two games but is also listed as questionable for Game 7 with sore toe on his left foot. However Kerr said Looney is fine and will play in Game 7.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Anthony Davis drains game-winner at buzzer to put Lakers up 2-0

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It looked like Nikola Jokic, the All-NBA Second Team center, was going to be the star of the game — he scored Denver’s last 11 points and had them up with 2.7 seconds to go.

Then Anthony Davis — the All-NBA First Team center — drained this game-winner, a three over Jokic at the buzzer to win the game.

That shot gave the Lakers the 105-103 win to put them up 2-0 in the series. Game 3 is Tuesday night.

Davis carried the Lakers at the end of the game, hitting a couple of clutch threes, and finished with 31 points and nine rebounds. He has been the best Laker in this series, with 68 points and 19 rebounds through two games.

For the Lakers, it was a dramatic win in a game where they were sloppy with 23 turnovers, and where their defense came apart for stretches of the game. Good teams win ugly games, that’s how the Lakers have to view it.

Denver supporters may want to spin this as “look how much better we played” — and they did, slowing the pace down (97 possessions, via NBA.com) and getting inside more — but the reality is the Lakers are only going to have bad outings once or twice a series and the Nuggets needed to take advantage. They didn’t, and this loss stings.

“This is the Western Conference Finals. No moral victories, no silver linings,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame.

Davis’ good look to win the game came on the kind of defensive breakdown that other teams have not exploited these playoffs. Mason Plumlee was inserted for his size and defense, and he was on Davis, who simply runs across the top of the arc. Plumlee doesn’t stick with him, instead running over by LeBron James, who is just hanging out at the elbow, and acts like there should be a switch. Torrey Craig can’t switch, if he does that LeBron has a free lane to the rim and an easy two. If it was an X-out style switch then Plumlee needed to trail Davis all the way to Jokic, he didn’t, leaving Jokic a ridiculously long closeout. Plumlee blew it. Jokic read the play and got there to contest, but Davis had gotten a clean look.

Jokic had 30 points and nine rebounds for Denver, taking over the game when it mattered most. Jamal Murray had 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting and (as The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted on Twitter) was +16 in 44:14 minutes, meaning Denver was -18 in the 3:46 he was on the bench getting some rest. Denver got 15 points from Michael Porter Jr. and good minutes out of P.J. Dozier (although his five missed free throws in six attempts came back to bite the team).

Los Angeles got 26 points and 11 boards from LeBron and 11 points each from Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Lakers came out flat in this game except for LeBron, who had the team’s first 12 points. It looked like a close game until the Lakers went on an 18-3 run in the second quarter, with 8-0 of that coming with LeBron on the bench. The highlight of that was an Alex Caruso dunk that had the Lakers bench up and yelling.

Los Angeles stretched the lead out to as many as 16, but the Nuggets never quit.

Anthony Davis had to shut the door on them.

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.

Kevin Durant: ‘Knick fans, those Knicks media, they bothered me the whole year’

Kevin Durant Knicks
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No, I never planned on it — going to the Knicks. That was just the media putting that out there… So around February, as I was thinking, I didn’t want to be the savior of the Knicks or New York. I didn’t care about being the King of New York, that never really moved me. I didn’t care about being on Broadway or that s***.”

“I’ve seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn’t see that. So that whole brand of the Knicks is not as cool as let’s say the Golden State Warriors, or even the Lakers or the Nets now. You know what I’m saying; the cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Kevin Durant has not held back from taking shots at the Knicks since signing with Brooklyn. Saturday, Durant turned his attention to Knicks fans and media.

Durant appeared on rapper Joe Budden’s podcast Saturday and, among other things, fired shots when asked if he could “leave the Knicks alone.” (Hat tip Nets Daily.)

“What you mean? They bothered me for a whole year! I was just trying to chill and just play and worry about my season. All the Knick fans, those Knicks media. They bothered me the whole year. But when it’s my time to talk about it, I gotta shut up now? I’ve been wanting to ask these questions for a year. Now that I’m available, it’s a problem?”

Before his free agency, the conventional wisdom around the league was that Durant was headed to the Knicks, possibly along with Irving or another star (there was a lot of smoke on the topic). Durant denied that after the fact. Either way, there certainly was anticipation in Manhattan, which means Durant was reading about it in the media and seeing it on social media. Durant pays attention to all that, and it doesn’t motivate him (it seems to have the opposite effect, actually).

Durant made his choice, and he went to the more stable organization right now, the one with the better foundation of players. Now he and Irving have to win, which will not be that easy with Durant coming off a torn Achilles.

That doesn’t mean he’s done taking shots at that team just over the bridge.

Steve Nash on Kevin Durant: ‘I plan to use him in all five positions’

Kevin Durant
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What makes the Brooklyn Nets potentially dangerous next season is not just the elite talent on the roster — talent coming off injuries, but championship talent nonetheless — but the versatility of it. Kyrie Irving has handles as good as anyone in the league, won the Three-Point Shooting Contest seven years ago, and can create looks with the best of them, but he also is dangerous off the ball. Caris LeVert can play anywhere on the wing and even some small-ball four in a pinch. Spencer Dinwiddie can play on- or off-ball.

And then there is Kevin Durant, as versatile a player as the league has seen.

New Nets coach Steve Kerr has plans for him, as JJ Reddick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast (hat tip to SNY).

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions.”

That’s smart — and that’s what the regular season is for. Coaches need to experiment with lineups and test ideas during the season, even if it costs them games, to be better prepared for the playoffs.

With Durant, Irving, LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and a roster filled with whatever other offseason moves the Nets make, the Brooklyn roster will have talent and versatility. Will the key players be healthy enough — and will they stay healthy — will be the bigger question facing Nash and his team.