Warriors embrace playing second fiddle to Kobe for one final night

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AP

Warriors embrace playing second fiddle to Kobe for one final night

OAKLAND -- The NBA’s No. 1 road attraction will be reduced to fine print on the marquee Monday night in Los Angeles.

Sure, the house will be packed when the Warriors invade Staples Center. It’s the hottest ticket in the league this season, a gala evening that undoubtedly will receive Hollywood embellishments, searchlights for sure and maybe even a red carpet.

It’s Kobe Bryant Night at Staples Center. Both of the legend’s jersey numbers, 24 and 8, are being retired. So while the Warriors are there for the business of defeating the current Lakers, they’ll also be carrying memories of the past.

Win or lose, they will have a chance to enjoy the halftime ceremony. Lakers president Jeanie Buss extended the invitation Saturday, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr plans to accept it.

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Said Nick Young, a former teammate Bryant with the Lakers, of witnessing the ceremony: “That would be dope.”

Most of the Warriors have competed against Bryant, though Kevin Durant and Young have closer associations. Bryant and Durant over time formed a relationship as members of the league’s unofficial superstar club.

Durant has a particularly bittersweet memory from his rookie season with the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007-08, the year Bryant captured his only MVP award.

The Lakers took a 123-121 victory in overtime in Seattle and Durant’s memory of Bryant’s evening -- 48 points, 44 field-goal attempts, game-winning shot -- were perfect. Yet Durant came away feeling he had learned a more valuable lesson.

“It was my first taste of fourth-quarter basketball in the NBA, and (Bryant) fouled me all of the way up until I got the ball,” Durant recalled. “It was a blatant foul, and the referee just stared at him, looked at him, and didn’t call it. I was like, that’s what happens when you’re Kobe and you can do that stuff.

“It was a level I knew I had to get to, and that’s what made me realize that there’s certain players on different levels, and that you have to wait to get to that point. It made me realize it early with Kobe. So it was a great early lesson for me.”

Young, who spent three seasons as Bryant’s teammate in LA, recalled Bryant’s pointed jabs at teammates, unwillingness to tolerate fools and a semi-playful side of the man nicknamed Mamba.

After Bryant’s memorable final game -- a 60-point performance in a 101-96 win over the Jazz on April 13, 2016 -- Young approached Bryant with a pair shoes in hopes of getting an autograph. They were the wrong brand.

Kobe was a Nike guy, Young came with Adidas.

Bryant flipped the shoes into the trash bin.

“That’s Kobe,” Young said, grinning. “I knew something like that was going to happen if I went to him with some Adidas.

“But he did sign some Nikes that I had. And I have that stat sheet.”

Durant, having joined the MVP club in 2014, saw his relationship evolve to the point where they were dinner companions on Bryant’s last trip to Oklahoma City in 2016.

“The stuff we were talking about was next level, just what he wanted to do when he was done playing, his visions as a businessman, how he wanted to leave his mark as a basketball ambassador,” Durant recalled. “There was so much we talked about, and it made me appreciate his intelligent mind.”

Bryant retired as the league’s No. 3 all-time scorer (33,643 points), just ahead of Michael Jordan (32,292) but behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928). Bryant is a five-time NBA champion who was selected for 18 All-Star games. He is a lock to enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

And now, 20 months after he retired, his jerseys will be raised into the rafters at Staples Center.

“Kobe is obviously one of my favorite players, one of the best players to play this game,” Young said. “I know I had a chance to play with him, so I would want to see his number go up there.”

For one night, as a retired legend gets top billing, the Warriors don’t mind merely blending into the scenery.

Curry takes another stride in recovery, but 'little bit concerning' with Draymond

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AP

Curry takes another stride in recovery, but 'little bit concerning' with Draymond

OAKLAND -- Stephen Curry felt good enough Saturday to step onto the court for a light workout, putting up a few shots after the Warriors concluded practice.

Draymond Green, not so much.

Though the Warriors have been downplaying the seriousness of Green’s aching right shoulder, which has kept him out of three of the last four games, coach Steve Kerr concedes the level of worry is rising by the day.

“At first, it didn’t seem like it would be more than a few days, and it’s obviously carried on further than that,” Kerr said. “So it’s a little bit concerning that he hasn’t made bigger strides.

“I still don’t think there’s a major reason for concern.”

Green has played only once since Dec. 4. After missing the Dec. 6 game at Charlotte, the Michigan native played, and quite well, on Dec. 8 at Detroit. He has not since taken the court. He was on the premises Saturday. An update on his status is expected Sunday, a team spokesman said.

Curry has missed the last four games with a sprained right ankle. He is scheduled for reevaluation sometime in the middle of next week. The Warriors would be thrilled if he’s able to return before the end of the month.

In other health-related news, starting center Zaza Pachulia participated in practice and but still is listed as questionable for the game against the Lakers on Monday in Los Angeles. His left shoulder has kept him out four of the last five games.

Reserve guard Nick Young also went though practice workout but has yet to pass the final test to be cleared from concussion protocol.

With Curry out, Durant shows you exactly why Warriors went all in for him

With Curry out, Durant shows you exactly why Warriors went all in for him

OAKLAND -- Exhibit A: 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. A triple-double and two blocked shots. Warriors win in Charlotte.

Exhibit B: 36 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. Warriors win in Detroit.

Exhibit C: 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Warriors win at home over Portland.

Exhibit D, Thursday night at Oracle Arena, in a 112-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

This is why the Warriors invested time and money and energy 18 months ago in their shameless pursuit of Kevin Durant. This is why a platoon of them took cross-country flights. This is why they embraced the possibility of rejection. This is why any possibility of failing and having to resort to Plan B put knots in their bellies.

For those times when they would be without Stephen Curry, their leader and a two-time MVP, they could turn to Durant, himself a former MVP and four-time scoring champ still in the prime of his career.

“He’s just really, really good,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “KD is one of the most talented scorers to ever play the game. He can make stuff out of nothing.”

Just as Curry found another level shortly after Durant went down last February, missing 19 games, Durant is filling a void perhaps only he could fill. He already has entered Exhibits A-D, and he seems to be working his way through the alphabet.

“I pretty much figure I can do whatever I want on the basketball court if I put my mind to it,” Durant says. “So, whatever position I’m in, I’m ready to conquer it.”

There is a cruelty about what Durant does to defenders when he’s at his best, as he has been over the past four games, ever since Dec. 4, when a sprained ankle took Curry out of the lineup. Durant taunts them without meaning to (maybe). Too quick for 7-footers and too long for prototypical wings, he scores with an ease that leaves observers breathless, if not wordless.

“He doesn’t have many ceilings to his skill set,” says assistant coach Ron Adams, who coached Durant for two seasons (2008-10) in Oklahoma City and is enjoying the reunion.

“He may be the most efficient basketball player I’ve ever played with,” Klay Thompson says. “He makes it look easy out there.”

Thompson is basking in the shelter provided by Durant’s presence. Kerr is delighted to have Durant as, get this, a splendid alternative.

“It’s so amazing,” Kerr says, “to have a player like him, who is a superstar and who, without ever saying anything, without me saying anything to him, with Steph out he just takes over.”

The Warriors are 4-0 since Curry left the lineup. They are 3-0 in games for which fellow starters Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia joined Curry on the sideline. Durant has stepped in the fill a void perhaps only he can fill.

He’s playing at MVP level, averaging 33.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.0 blocks. Through 25 Warriors games this season, Durant had one 30-point game. He has had his three highest-scoring games in the last four.

They were listless in the first half Thursday night, committing ghastly turnovers and playing haphazard defense. They were behind, at home, to a Mavericks team hurtling toward 55 losses.

Except the Warriors had Durant. He was keeping them in the game. He scored 12 of their 24 first-quarter points. When the Mavs tried go up nine midway through the second quarter, he was there was block Harrison Barnes’ layup.

“Kevin is amazing,” says teammate Omri Casspi. “He’s always been great for our team. The past few games he’s just picking up in so many different levels. He’s having Defensive Player of the Year numbers defensively. He’s playing great. Really helping everybody. Blocking shots.”

Shortly after Dallas went up by five early in the third quarter, Durant was there, spoon-feeding Jordan Bell for a layup to cut it to three. A few seconds later, Durant was finding Casspi for a short jumper to bring the Warriors within one.

A Durant jumper pulled the Warriors into the last tie of the game, 61-61, with 7:20 left in the third, and 31 seconds later his 3-point bomb put them ahead for good. Durant followed that by accounting for four of the next six field goals, assisting on one of the other two. Game.

“Frankly, Durant just comes down and jumps over us a few times,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says. “It’s very difficult to stop that if a guy is that good.”

Says Kerr: “There were times where it didn’t look like we had anything going and he just rose up and knocked down threes or put it on the floor and scored. He’s basically un-guardable . . . KD seems to have an answer for everything.”

With Curry and Green out, Durant is absorbing most of their scoring and playmaking and defense. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.

But that’s why he is here. So there is no panic when Curry goes down six weeks into season, even if it’s conceivable he could miss a month. Durant is on it, diving into the challenge in a way he plunged into the NBA Finals last June.

Remember what happened? The Warriors won in five games, Durant coming away with a Finals MVP trophy and his first championship ring.

He was in a zone then, and he’s in one now.

“When Steph and Draymond come back, I’m looking forward to them coming back,” Durant says. “I get back into what my role is.

“I’m ready to conquer anything I have in front of me and I know if I put my mind to it, I can do whatever I want.”