Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Warriors cranking up defense as playoffs near

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Warriors cranking up their defense as playoffs near, just ask the Pacers. Golden State’s defense this season has been like the team in general: There some nights and not others. Inconsistent. Blame injuries or lack of depth or just boredom, but on the season the Warriors have been a middle of the pack defensive team.

No longer. Starting to focus on good habits before the playoffs, the Warriors have cranked up the defense of late, with a defensive net rating of 100.7 in their last five games (just over a point per possession), and they are smothering teams. Such as the Pacers. A scrappy Indiana team scored less than 20 points in two quarters and the Warriors cruised to a 112-89 win Thursday night. The Warriors held the Pacers to 24 percent shooting in the first quarter, 32.7 percent in the first half.

Draymond Green remains the guy who makes the defense work, and DeMarcus Cousins now provides a big body in the paint to deter shots, but the Warriors defense really works best when players such as Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are engaged. Of late, they have been.

Offensively against the Pacers, DeMarcus Cousins led the way with 19 points and 11 boards.

One of the best moments of the night was the warm welcome Andrew Bogut got in his return to Golden State.

Thursday’s win keeps the Warriors half a game ahead of the Nuggets (who also won Wednesday) for the top seed in the West.

2) The bottom half of the West is a seeding battle royal — Jazz, Thunder, Clippers, Spurs all tied in seeds 5-8. Utah had a chance to create a little space in the standings Thursday night, but their legs just got stuck in the mud in Atlanta. After a stellar third quarter, the Jazz looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back playing their third game in four nights in the fourth, and the Hawks pulled away behind Trae Young (who did more damage with his 11 assists than his shot on the night) to get the win.

With this loss, there is now a four-way tie in seeds 5-8 in the West — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Utah, and the L.A. Clippers are all 42-30.

This is going to make the final 10 games fun to watch.

Seeding matters. Nobody wants to be the eight seed and get Golden State in the first round (this assumes the Warriors don’t get bored and let Denver get the top seed, but the Nuggets have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way). When I asked Portland coach Terry Stotts about trying to think about playoff matchups in the first round of the West, he said there would be no easy ones in the deep conference so sharp play and momentum are what mattered, and he spoke for pretty much every coach on that front.

How is this going to shake out? The Thunder have by far the toughest schedule, one of the most difficult in the league the rest of the way. The Jazz have the easiest schedule of any team in the West in their remaining games, the Spurs have the second easiest. But nothing about this season has been predictable, this will not be either.

3) Did Ja Morant play his way into being the No. 2 pick in the draft? The NBA world, like the sports world in general, was talking about the triple-double by Murray State’s Ja Morant in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He was impressive.

Did Morant play his way into being the No. 2 pick? (Zion Williamson is a lock at No. 1.) Actually, Morant may have done that before Thursday — he had a strong regular season — and Thursday was more of a reinforcement.

Whether Morant or R.J. Barrett or some surprise player goes second in the draft will come down to the draft lottery and who gets that No. 2 pick. Is it Phoenix or New York, teams in desperate need of a point guard? If the Hawks or Cavaliers land the No. 2 pick, are they looking more at Barrett? It’s too early to say, and it depends on those teams’ internal draft boards and how they rate players.

But Morant is in the mix, and may now be the frontrunner.

Timberwolves shut down Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague for rest of season

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The Timberwolves are all but officially eliminated from the playoff race.

But Karl-Anthony Towns is still playing for something – a projected $32 million more over the next five years if he makes an All-NBA team.

He’ll continue that pursuit without teammates Robert Covington, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague.

Timberwolves release:

Covington has missed the last 34 games while recovering from a right knee bone bruise, originally suffered on December 31 at New Orleans. Covington had made improvements in his recovery and had progressed to on-court activities, in preparation to rejoin the team.  However, he recently suffered a setback which will require further treatment before returning to the court and as a result, is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Rose has missed the last four games while experiencing soreness and swelling in his right elbow. An MRI taken Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Square revealed a chip fracture and a loose body in his elbow. The team and Rose are currently exploring further treatment options and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Teague has missed the last four games after reaggravating a left foot injury, originally suffered in December. On Tuesday, Teague received an injection designed to treat chronic inflammation. He will wear a boot and is scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately three weeks. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The language – “expected to miss the remainder of the season” – allows the possibility of the players returning. But the Timberwolves wouldn’t set this expectation unless they were pretty certain the players were finished.

Covington deserved All-Star consideration, and maybe Minnesota would still be in the playoff mix if he remained healthy. He was also heading toward an All-Defensive team before getting hurt. I doubt 35 games, even at 34 minutes per game, will be enough to get him selected now. Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green clearly belong ahead of him. Covington has an outside chance for that fourth spot, though.

Rose had a bounce-back year after it appeared he could fall out of the NBA entirely. He looks like a solid backup point guard. He’ll draw plenty of interest in free agency this summer.

Teague has a $19 million player option for next season. He already seemed likely to exercise it, and this only increases the odds. The 30-year-old had a relatively down season.

Teague’s and Rose’s absences will leave the ball in Tyus Jones‘ hands at point guard. Jones has looked good in a small role, and this offers him an opportunity to prove himself before restricted free agency this summer.

Importantly for Towns, Minnesota’s depth at point guard allows him to play with someone credible at the position while he attempts to finish the season strong. There’s a lot of room to produce for the Timberwolves now, though Towns will likely face double-teams even more frequently.

Spurs take down Warriors, extend streak to 9 straight wins

Associated Press
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan had 26 points and nine rebounds, LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points and 13 rebounds and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Golden State Warriors 111-105 on Monday night for their ninth straight win.

San Antonio won its 11th straight at home and moved into fifth in the Western Conference at 42-29 following Oklahoma City’s loss to Miami.

Stephen Curry had 25 points after a slow start and Kevin Durant added 24 for Golden State, which entered the game having won two straight.

The Warriors have dropped into a tie with Denver for first place in the West with matching 47-22 records.

There were nine ties in the intense matchup between the West’s best and the league’s hottest team.

The Warriors had to rally in the second half after a sluggish start.

Curry and Klay Thompson opened the game a combined 0 for 11, but the Warriors’ defense allowed them to tie the game at 25 when Curry threw in a 61-footer to close the first quarter.

Thompson finished with 14 points.

After trailing by 11 in the third quarter, the Warriors’ offense awoke to silence the sold-out crowd with a 16-5 run to forge a 75-all tie. The run included a shakedown, step-back 3-pointer by Curry and a pair of quick passes from Curry to Draymond Green to Shaun Livingston for an emphatic dunk. Curry had eight points in the run.

DeRozan scored 10 points in the final quarter, including a pair of pull-up jumpers over Thompson, to seal the victory.

Rudy Gay added 17 points for San Antonio and Derrick White had 12.

Andrew Bogut expected to made debut with Warriors on Thursday

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His visa issues are cleared up and Andrew Bogut is ready to rejoin the Golden State Warriors…

On Thursday.

Bogut just wrapped up his season playing for the Sydney Kings in his native Australia and is expected to land Saturday in the Bay Area, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday, via NBC Sports Bay Area. However, rather than have him fly out for the final games of the road trip the team is on (Saturday in Oklahoma City, Monday in San Antonio, Tuesday in Minnesota)

Bogut, who was the MVP in the Australian league in his season there, is insurance for the Warriors. DeMarcus Cousins starts at center, and particularly in the playoffs Kerr will roll out the “death lineup” minutes with Draymond Green at the five. However, with Kevon Looney out injured there are minutes to be had for a traditional backup big in certain matchups.

The Warriors brought in the guy they knew. Bogut started at center for the Warriors in the 2015 title run, but was seen as too injury prone for them to keep long term (his injury in the 2016 Finals is an under-discussed reason for the Warriors 3-1 collapse against the Cavaliers). Golden State traded him after the 2016 season to get the cap room to sign Kevin Durant.

Draymond Green says over-the-line fan comments happen “Often. A lot. It’s crazy.”

Associated Press
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Players have privately sounded the warning bell for years: As the volume of hateful speech has risen in society at large in recent years, players have said they have heard more abusive comments from fans. Not heckling about the game but personal, racist comments.

It has come to a head with the Russell Westbrook incident in Utah (one the Jazz handled very well, banning two fans for life who used abusive and racist language).

How big a problem this really is has been a topic of debate. A year ago when I asked league officials about it, I got a response that said the real bad apple fans were removed more than other fans/the media realized and this was not really a big issue.

Draymond Green disagrees, saying after practice on Friday it happens “Often. A lot. It’s crazy.” Green also went in on the people doing it, and got in a dig at the league.

Via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“I guess it’s just the nature of what we do,” the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year told reporters in Houston. “I don’t really understand why grown men get off by coming in to someone else’s job and saying bulls–t. I guess that’s their way of letting out their frustration in their life.

“Kinda stupid to me…

“If I’m someone who’s probably not as happy with my life … I know if I say something crazy, whatever they say back and they lose money — misery loves company,” he explained. “The longer our penalties are raised and blasted to the world, people will keep doing that.

“At the end of the day, what do they really lose? Our families lose money that we provide. As long as the league continues to fine players for saying something back when they’re getting completely disrespected, it’s gonna always happen.”

Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the league for his comments back to the Jazz fans, although he came back hard and crossed a line himself.  Then again, if he hadn’t would the fan have gotten any more than a warning card from security? Probably not. And the issue would still be buried.

The NBA and teams sell access to players for those who can afford to pay — that’s part of the draw of courtside seats. Pay enough and you can hear what the players say, and they will be within earshot of what you say. But if the NBA is going to profit from that access it must give the players some protection, too. Green is far from the only player who thinks the league and teams have fallen short on that front.

We will see if the spotlight of the Westbrook incident changes things.