Warriors’ hopes hinge on Kevin Durant coming back

Getty Images
8 Comments

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When Game 4 was over, while Toronto fans were waving Canadian flags in celebration inside an otherwise-stunned Oracle Arena, a glum-faced Kevin Durant was outside the Golden State locker room to greet equally glum teammates as they sauntered off the floor.

That’s been his only visible role on game nights in the NBA Finals.

If that doesn’t change Monday, this series is probably going to end.

With it, in that case, so would Golden State’s reign as NBA champions. And then it’s possible that Durant, a free-agent-in-waiting, has played for the Warriors for the last time.

Durant limped off the floor at Oracle Arena a month ago – Game 5 of the second round – with what the team called a mild calf strain. It’s apparently the most severe “mild” calf strain in the history of injuries, because he hasn’t played since and there’s no way of knowing if that’s going to change on Monday.

And the Warriors clearly need him if they’re going to pull off a comeback against the Raptors in these NBA Finals.

“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us at all,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “It’s just a matter of can we get it done or not, and we’re going to leave it all out there starting on Monday.”

That’ll be the case, with Durant or not.

Here’s reality: Any Durant is better than no Durant for the Warriors right now. His mere presence might throw the Raptors off just enough to create more chances for the rest of the Warriors. It’s really the only card the Warriors have left to play at this point.

Toronto took full control of the series Friday night, winning 105-92 for a 3-1 finals lead. Durant wasn’t on the bench for Game 4, and hasn’t been since getting hurt. He’ll be on the plane Saturday headed to Ontario, and his uniform will be packed inside the Warriors’ equipment bags.

If it goes unworn again, the Warriors are in big trouble.

“There’s been hope that he will come back the whole series,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “So that’s not going to change now. Obviously we hope to have him, but we’ll see what happens. We don’t make that final call … he don’t really even make that final call. His body will tell him if he can get out there or not. And if he can, great. And if not, you still got to try to find a way.”

They’ve been trying, with limited success.

Even with Durant.

The Raptors are 5-1 against the Warriors this season, even going 2-0 in the regular season when Durant scored 51 in one game and 30 in another. The Warriors just looked tired on Friday night, weary against a Toronto team that has had every answer in this series. They haven’t been able to muster the offense they need against Toronto.

With Durant, that story could be different.

But even if he plays on Monday, after not playing for a month, how good could he be anyway? Even someone as talented as Durant, who is in the conversation of “best player in the world” right now, can’t fake rhythm. Throwing him into an elimination game in the NBA Finals, after not playing for a month, is an unbelievably daunting ask.

It might be what’s required.

“We’re hoping he can play Game 5 or 6,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “And everything in between I’ve decided I’m not sharing because it’s just gone haywire. There’s so much going on, and so it doesn’t make sense to continue to talk about it. He’s either going to play or he’s not.”

The Warriors will practice on Sunday. With so much at stake, unless his calf muscle just won’t allow it, Durant will probably try to do something that day. It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t want to play, and the fact that he hasn’t been seen yet in this series just reiterates how not mild this “mild” strain was.

A shot at a third straight ring is slipping away. Maybe it was gone the second Durant got hurt. When the Warriors swept Portland in the Western Conference finals, there was silly talk about how the team might be better without Durant.

That talk is nonexistent now.

Any team is better – a lot better – with Durant. And if he finds a way back to the court, the Warriors might just get a lot better in a hurry.

Or else, this era could end Monday night.

“We’ve got to win one game,” Green said. “We win one, then we’ll build on that.”

Without Durant, winning that one game on Monday might be too tough an ask, even for the Warriors.

 

Doncic’s 30, Mavericks’ 17-0 run lift them past Knicks at MSG

0 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) — Luka Doncic had a game-high 30 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. chipped in 28 points against his former team, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the New York Knicks 121-100 on Saturday.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 17 points for Dallas, which outscored New York 69-41 in the second half for just its second win seven games.

“I think it’s great that everyone’s in the locker room smiling,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Everybody saw the ball go in, we shared the ball, we played the right way. … We’re a team that lives or dies by the 3, and today we made them.”

Forward Julius Randle led the Knicks with 24 points, and Immanuel Quickly chipped in 23. Leading scorer Jalen Brunson had 13 points playing against Dallas for the first time since he signed with the Knicks on July 12, but New York fell for the sixth time in its past eight games.

“To be honest, not fun,” Brunson said when asked what it was like playing against his former team. “They played great tonight. You got to give them credit. No matter who is on the floor, my approach stays the same. But to see them after the game and shake their hands, that was pretty cool.”

Hardaway exacted revenge against his former team, with whom he played 254 games over parts of four seasons. Hardaway had 17 points in the third quarter, including five 3-pointers, during a 27-6 run. He credited familiarity in New York – and Dallas’ previous game in Detroit – as keys to his third straight 20-plus point game.

“This road trip, when you have family and friends in both cities, it lightens you and brings some positive vibes and some positive energy,” Hardaway said. “To come here, to Detroit and to New York, both places where I used to play college and professionally, was a great atmosphere. I was comfortable, and my teammates (were) keeping me positive.”

Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, had just 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the first half. But he took over in the third, scoring 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Dallas outscored New York 41-15 in the third quarter, turning a tight game into a rout.

“The first half I wasn’t really participating,” Doncic said. “It was a challenge to come out of the locker room with more energy.”

The Knicks shot 55% in the first half, including 63% from the field in the first quarter. Randle had 14 of his 21 first-half points in the first quarter, including seven on a 9-0 run that gave New York an early 14-5 advantage.

The Knicks led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, but Dallas turned up the defensive intensity and cut New York’s lead to seven, 59-52, at halftime.

“The start of the game, I thought we were pretty good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We built the 15-point lead, then we sort of lost traction mid-second quarter.”

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

0 Comments

A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it

0 Comments

It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
0 Comments

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.