Three things to watch: Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings


The Kings have been the best story in the NBA this season, a long-suffering franchise and fan base making the playoffs for the first time since Sean Paul’s “Temperature” was the hottest song in the nation. The Kings didn’t just sneak into the postseason, they crashed through the door and earned a No.3 seed with a historic offense.

All that does not earn them a trip to the second round. They face the defending champion Golden State Warriors in what is not a great matchup for Sacramento.

Here are three keys to watch for this series, which tips off Saturday.

1) Will the Warriors’ playoff muscle memory kick in?

The Warriors are the defending NBA champions and looked like their vintage selves behind Stephen Curry last June.

The Warriors that played the last 82 games did not look like a title contender.

To believe in the Warriors as a threat to repeat is to believe in their playoff muscle memory kicking in, starting against a dangerous Kings team.

Stephen Curry leads a core of six players who return from last year’s title team, including Andrew Wiggins, who has been out since February dealing with a personal matter. He will come off the bench and have a minutes limit at first, but having him back — plus Gary Payton II, who played the final games of the regular season — will help the defense.

Wiggins and Payton matter because the Warriors have not been a good defensive team this season, although they were seventh in the league after the All-Star break. The offense was up and down, but 10th in the league over the course of 82 (and eighth after the All-Star break). There have been signs the old Warriors are lurking, but the lack of consistency is concerning.

Unless you believe in the Warriors’ playoff muscle memory.

We may find out in Game 1 Saturday if we are dealing with last year’s Warriors or the regular-season version.

2) Can the Warriors get some stops, or is this series a pure shootout?

Both the numbers and eye test suggest the Kings are not going to keep the Warriors from scoring (the Kings had the 24th-ranked defense in the league, which you know causes defense-first coach Mike Brown sleepless nights).

The Kings overcame that defense with the league’s top offense, and they can win this series if it’s a shootout. That makes the core question: Can the Warriors’ defense get enough stops to win the series?

Golden State’s preferred five — Curry, Klay Thompson, Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney — have an elite defensive rating of 106.4 this season. The Warriors can use either Looney or Green on Domantas Sabonis, but they have to devise a plan to deal with the Kings’ devastating dribble handoff game. That lineup also will struggle to deal with the speed and creativity of De'Aaron Fox. Sacramento has shooting everywhere and depth off the bench that will spread Golden State thin.

The Warriors have a defense that has won titles slowing down teams that like to isolate their stars, or run spread pick-and-roll actions with them. That’s not the Kings, whose player and ball movement is much more like the Warriors than the teams they are used to going against. Can the Warriors slow this offense down a little? Golden State is not going to stop Sacramento, the Kings are too good, but if the Warriors can score at will then they only need a few stops to rack up four victories.

3) Are the Warriors’ road woes real?

Sacramento earned home-court advantage and their playoffs-starved fans will make the Golden 1 Center (maybe my favorite arena in the league) a rabid place to play.

The Warriors were 11-30 on the road this season.

If the Warriors are going to advance out of this series, they have to win at least one game in Sacramento. All season long the question has been “Why can’t the Warriors win on the road?” And there was no good answer. Were other teams a little more hyped to go at the defending champs? Sure. But it tied into the inconsistency that has plagued the Warriors all season.

This all ties back to item No.1 on this list — if you believe in the power of the Warriors’ muscle memory, you believe they will go back to winning on the road. Maybe they can, but it will not be easy this series.

PREDICTION: Warriors in six. I wanted to find a reason to pick the Kings, they were the better team this season (and I don’t believe in the Warriors as contenders), but this is just a bad matchup for them. If the Kings can hold home court through the first two games of this series, then things will get very interesting.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.

Hawks’ Trae Young plans to shoot more 3s… is that a good thing?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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Quin Snyder wants his teams to shoot 3-pointers. A lot of them. In his final season as coach of the Utah Jazz, they took 10 more 3-pointers a game than his new Atlanta Hawks team did last season after he took over.

Trae Young has heard his coach and is ready to get up more than the 6.3 attempts a game he took last season.

That’s a good thing… but only if they are “good shots.” It’s good only if Young hits more than the 33.5% he shot from 3 last season.

While he has a reputation as a 3-point marksman, Young is a career 35.1% shooter from 3 and has been below that 35% number in three of his five NBA seasons. (Also concerning for the Hawks and Young’s fit with Dejonte Murray, he shot just 20% on the less than one catch-and-shoot 3 he took a game last season.)

Young has had better years, he shot 38.2% in 2021-22 and he is an offensive force as a creator capable of doing that again. That is the Young Snyder needs.

He also needs Young to buy into his system of ball and player movement more. Last season, 45% of Young’s shots came after he had at least seven dribbles — he pounded the ball into the ground and jacked up a shot without getting teammates involved far too often (77.9% of his shots came after at least three dribbles). Young shot 33.3% on the 3s he took after those seven dribbles, and less than that percentage on 3-pointers taken after three dribbles or more, which were the majority of his attempts.

This coming season will be an important one for Young, who has proven he is an All-Star who can put up numbers and drive an offense — he’s made an All-NBA team for a reason. The question facing him is whether he will fit into a team system that balances multiple shot creators, off-ball movement, willing passers and selflessness — what you can see in the two teams playing in the NBA Finals. Snyder will call pick-and-rolls, he wants his team to hunt mismatches at times, but there has to be more of a flow to what is happening. There can’t be many shots after seven dribbles (and that’s not touching on the defensive concerns around Young).

The Hawks will evolve over the next couple of seasons under Snyder. Where Young fits in that will be something to watch.

But we will see more 3-pointers.