NBA

Steph Curry looks solid in return to Warriors practice with no sign of setback

Steph Curry looks solid in return to Warriors practice with no sign of setback

SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry returned to practice Saturday, but there will be no miracle Sunday when the Warriors meet the Spurs in Game 4 of their first-round series.

“He’s coming along well,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But don’t expect him to be Willis Reed tomorrow.”

The Willis Reed reference dates back to the 1970 NBA Finals, when the Knicks center came limping onto the court for Game 7, despite a torn muscle in his right thigh, provided an emotional lift that gave New York the victory.

Curry has missed the last four weeks with an MCL sprain in his left knee. The Warriors were pleased to have him back on the court for non-contact drills. He completed those drills along with his teammates, without any sign of a setback.

“From his movements, he looked good to me,” Kevin Durant said.

“He was really shooting the ball well and moving around well,” assistant coach Ron Adams said. “I don’t know how he’s feeling internally, but I like his attitude about this. He’s positive and upbeat and it rubs off on the other guys.”

Curry is scheduled to be re-evaluated next weekend, after which his status will be updated.

Though both Shaun Livingston and Durant rolled their left ankles in Game 3, participated in practice. Durant is not on the injury report and Livingston is listed as probable.

With health No. 1 concern, Warriors aiming high for sweep of Spurs

With health No. 1 concern, Warriors aiming high for sweep of Spurs

SAN ANTONIO -- The Warriors now know that if they come into Game 4 Sunday with the same level of energy displayed so far in their first-round matchup against San Antonio, they’ll accomplish a series sweep.

They’re also starting to feel they might need to get a sweep.

They’ll be shorthanded again Sunday and could use the time to heal before the next round begins, as soon as next weekend. Five days to a week between games is as good as it gets.

With Stephen Curry out since March 23 -- and for at least another week -- the Warriors picked up two more aches in the final minutes of Game 3. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston both rolled their left ankles and left the game.

An hour later, Durant was walking without a discernable limp. Livingston spent plenty time on the trainer’s table and was walking with a very discernable limp.

Livingston wouldn’t rule himself out of Game 4, saying he’ll take Friday off, receive some intense treatment, and then see how he felt prior to practice on Saturday. Based on the visual, he’ll be sitting. And should be sitting.

Curry’s status was updated Friday. He has been cleared for “modified” practice activity beginning Saturday and will be reevaluated next April 27.

Game 1 of the next round of the playoffs could be as early as April 28.

In the hours after the Warriors’ 110-97 victory in Game 3 on Thursday, Klay Thompson pointed out some of the advantages of advancing as quickly as possible.

“Limit our road travel, expand our time to rest and get our best guys healthy, like Steph, KD and Shaun,” he said.

The Warriors almost certainly will need their best selves to deal with their next opponent next weekend.

There are 16 teams in the NBA playoffs, and none has been more surprisingly spectacular than the Pelicans. Suffocating the Trail Blazers on one end and shooting them into submission on the other, New Orleans is up 3-0 and on the brink of advancing.

It was evident from the buzz in the postgame locker room that the Warriors are impressed with the No. 6 seed Pelicans’ demolition of third-seeded Portland.

A week into the postseason, only the Warriors’ net rating of 20.2 is better than New Orleans’ 11.3. The Warriors are second in offensive rating, the Pelicans fifth. The Warriors are third in defensive rating, the Pelicans fourth.

New Orleans is thriving because point guard Rajon Rondo is fully engaged, Anthony Davis is playing with gusto and combo guard Jrue Holiday is reminding folks how terrific he was before his career was temporarily rerouted by injuries to himself and a serious health scare to his wife, former soccer star Lauren Holiday (nee Chaney).

“People forget, but he was really good when we were teammates,” said Andre Iguodala, who spent three seasons with Holiday in Philadelphia. “He could score, he could pass and he always could defend. He can do pretty much anything on the basketball court.”

It’s not that the Warriors are looking past the Spurs. It’s that they expect to win the series and realize they’ll need to be better should they advance.

“We have been in a decent rhythm,” Draymond Green said, referring mostly to the offense. “There is still another level we can get to and I have no doubt in my mind that we will get to that level.

“But, as bad as we were playing (to close the regular season), to kind of get to where we are is pretty solid. It’s still the first round, so . . . if you can still win and not be clicking and peaking at that time, that’s great. And I don’t think we are. It has been solid. We’ve been able to find a decent rhythm, but there are some things that we can clean up on that side of the ball and we will.”

That level is most easily reached when all four All-Stars are in the starting lineup. That can’t happen until Durant is healed -- he says he’s fine -- and Curry returns and vets Andre Iguodala, David West and Livingston are in their customary roles.

The Warriors likely win Game 4 even if Livingston joins Curry in street clothes on Sunday. Game 4 of the Pelicans-Blazers series is set for Saturday in New Orleans. Wins this weekend or early next week would have Warriors-Pelicans tipping off in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on April 28 or 29.

As Thompson indicated, the Warriors would like as much time as possible to heal and prepare. The way the Pelicans have been rolling, they’re going to need it.

Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings

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USATSI

Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings

The murmurs have already started. Teams are lining up for a potential run at one of the game’s best players. We aren’t talking about LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul George, who all have early termination clauses in their contracts this summer. That trio will dominate the news July 1 when the NBA’s free agency period begins. 

There is another player who has an ability to change the course of a franchise and the way things are heading, who might become one of the biggest trade targets in recent league history. 

No one really knows the entire story about what is going on with Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs have their side and Leonard’s team likely has a different version. What is known is that the 26-year-old small forward was cleared by San Antonio’s medical staff to resume game action a few months back. 

Leonard returned to the court for a nine-game stretch during December and early January. And then he shut it down again. 

The two-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Players of the Year has been diagnosed with tendinopathy in his right quadricep. He’s bounced back and forth between San Antonio and New York City all season, having his injury evaluated and re-evaluated by both the Spurs and his own medical team.

Where the Spurs go from here is anyone’s guess. They have the best two-way player in the game and he has made the decision on his own not to play. 

A season ago, San Antonio rattled off a 61-win season before falling to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They made additions in the summer to make another run, but without Leonard, they didn’t stand a chance.

To make matters worse, the Spurs roster is aging quickly. Manu Ginobili turns 41 in July. Pau Gasol is almost 38 and Tony Parker will be 36 soon and in the last year of his contract. Six players in their rotation are 30 or older and the clock is ticking.

Leonard’s decision wiped out any chance of winning a ring for the Spurs. It also threw away one of the few seasons left for a couple of his teammates.

For the last four decades, San Antonio has been the model NBA franchise. They don’t get into situations like this. And now they have to make one of the most difficult decisions a team has to make. 

To complicate matters, Leonard has two years left on his five-year, $94 million deal he signed in 2015. The final year is a player option worth $21.3 million and it’s very unlikely that Leonard will exercise that option.

Why is this of interest to the Sacramento Kings? It might not be, but that won’t stop fans from turning to the trade machine to find a way to land Leonard in purple and black.

Anytime a player of this ilk comes available, it’s within every team’s best interest to at least make a call. It’s possible the Spurs would turn the Kings down three seconds into the conversation. Then again, they might listen.

While San Antonio is going to want a star in return for Leonard, that isn’t the way these things usually work out. The question then becomes, do the Kings have the assets to acquire Leonard?

It’s very possible that the Spurs can get more than what the Kings would be willing to offer. Sacramento has a group of young players, two or three of which might draw interest. They also have a top seven pick in the upcoming draft.

Due to the Stepien Rule, the Kings can’t trade their draft pick prior to the 2018 NBA Draft. League rules prohibit teams from trading draft picks in back-to-back seasons and Sacramento has already given up their 2019 pick in a salary dump in the summer of 2015. 

The Kings can make a selection for another team and consummate a deal once the new season begins in July, so there is still an opportunity to include the pick in player form. 

San Antonio would likely ask for multiple young players, as well as the Kings’ 2018 selection. Sacramento also has cap space and a few veterans on expiring contracts to make the dollars and cents work. 

Whether the Kings could come up with the pieces to make a deal work is debatable. The real question is, should they try and chase Leonard if he becomes available? 

The simple answer is no. 

No, the Kings shouldn’t offer up a top 10 pick and two or three of their young core to acquire one of the game’s best players. 

Take all of the issues that Leonard has had this season and throw them out the window. At 100 percent health, the risk is still too much for a team like the Kings to take.

It’s about the contract and it’s about the talent that you would have to give up. The Los Angeles Lakers might be able to absorb the risk of trading for Leonard. They would likely have to give up Kyle Kuzma and plenty more to make something happen. But they would also have a fighting chance of retaining Leonard once he opts out of his current deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Kings fans will reach deep on this, bringing up that Chris Webber made the decision to stick around in Sacramento back in 2001, inking a seven-year, $122 million deal. 

Not only were those different times, but the Kings’ franchise was on a roll. Webber was the best player on one of the best teams in the league. He was also surrounded by quality teammates, many of who remain extremely close more than a decade later.

Leonard would come to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. It is also a franchise that would have to give up plenty of assets to acquire him. He wouldn’t make the Kings an instant success and although the team would have plenty of money in the summer of 2019 to not only pay Leonard, but add a few more pieces, the risk would never be worth the reward.

If the team truly believes that Leonard is an option, they might as well draft a high quality player in 2018, develop the current talent base, make a move or two to improve the roster and then chase the All-Star wing a summer later when they have upwards of $70 million to throw around.

It’s a fun conversation, but one that can only lead to ruin for a team like the Kings. The best chance to turn things around for Sacramento is to stay the current course and continue to develop the players on the roster. 

If the team can begin to build something, landing the right player and then keeping them around will happen for the Kings.