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Steve Kerr details what Jordan Bell's injury means for Kevon Looney

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AP

Steve Kerr details what Jordan Bell's injury means for Kevon Looney

For the first three months of this season, the Warriors carried six players capable of playing at center or, as they refer to it, “big.” It seemed excessive for a team that likes to use small lineups.

But with one of the six, Jordan Bell, spraining his left ankle Wednesday night in Chicago, that depth is now an asset.

Bell will be reevaluated in two weeks. But with the sprain severe enough to cause inflammation, it’s realistic to consider he may be out until after the Feb. 15-21 All-Star break.

“There’s no structural damage is the main thing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters Friday after practice in Chicago. “He’s young guy who heals quickly so, hopefully, this is best-case scenario.”

[WARRIORS OUTSIDERS PODCAST: Assistant GM Kirk Lacob says the Warriors are 'Kevon believers']

What does this mean for the Warriors?

It means, first and foremost, more floor time for Kevon Looney.

The Warriors are down to Looney and four other “bigs”: Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee. With McGee still likely trade bait -- the deadline is Feb. 8 -- it’s possible Damian Jones may return from G-League Santa Cruz.

With Pachulia the usual starter and West generally slotted to open the second and fourth quarters, Looney, Green and McGee, in that order, will be most impacted by Bell’s absence.

“It thrusts Kevon into that role full-time until JB gets back,” Kerr said. “They’ve sort of gone back and forth all year. I’m really happy with both of them. But they’ve been in and out of the lineup.

“This will mean that Kevon will see consistent minutes over the next couple weeks.”

Looney, who entered the game Wednesday when Bell was hurt 24 seconds after tipoff, played a career-high 30 minute. Though his individual numbers didn’t sparkle -- 2 points, four rebounds, one assist -- he was, as usual, subtly effective. He finished plus-33.

Because he’s fundamentally sound and rarely makes mistakes, Looney’s playing time has increased of late. Averaging less than 10 minutes a game for most of the season, he has averaged 21.5 over the last four games. His minutes, still based largely on matchups, should fall somewhere between 10 and 20 per game.

Looney has been particularly adept at executing the defensive switches that is the basis of the Warriors defense. Though not a superior athlete, certainly not at the level of Bell, Looney is smart and clever, with a knack for anticipation.

“We believe in him,” Kerr said. “He’s a really good fit for what we try to do defensively. He’s a good passer. He keeps things simple. He’s just got to keep playing.”

Green’s minutes at the 5 have been curtailed due to such factors as him missing seven games, Bell’s arrival and West’s effectiveness. Of the top eight lineups used by the Warriors, Green is the big in only one of them, the so-called Death Lineup: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Green.

That unit has, according to NBA.com stats, played a total of 61 minutes and is the team’s third-most effective. Though the coaching staff is mindful of the physical demands placed on Green at the 5, his minutes there could temporarily rise.

McGee’s situation is less certain. Though he filled an important role last season as a “vertical spacer,” he was essentially replaced this season by Bell. On 13 occasions, McGee has either been a DNP-CD or inactive. He played fewer minutes over the past month than Looney has in the past week.

Bell’s injury increases McGee’s value to the Warriors, but only slightly. He’s the only legitimate 7-foot “big” on the roster and can be useful against some of the more traditional centers.

When the Warriors internally ask themselves what can McGee do that Jones can’t, there isn’t much there.

Bell will be missed because he’s the most athletic “big” on the roster and the best option against athletic or non-traditional centers. He might have been in the starting lineup Saturday in Houston to counter frisky Rockets center Clint Capela.

Bell, however, played a total of six minutes against the Rockets on Jan. 4. Pachulia played 14. West played 12. Looney played 15 and his plus-13 was tops among the team’s primary big men.

It’s no lock Looney will start Saturday, but expect to see plenty of him then and beyond.

Raiders mailbag: Bowman’s future, Mack extension and more

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USATSI

Raiders mailbag: Bowman’s future, Mack extension and more

The Raiders offseason slowed down some after new head coach Jon Gruden assembled his staff. That crew holed up in the team’s Alameda complex, save a brief break to move to the East Bay, devising schemes and strategy for the offseason.

There are players to cut, others to re-sign and new guys to add in free agency and the NFL draft. Roster turnover is coming, as it often does with new staffs, and those queries dominated questions submitted for the first edition of what will be a weekly Monday Raiders mailbag. We’ll delve into five topics each week as we move through the offseason, which will pick up pace at the NFL combine.

Q: I would love to keep Bowman. If so, do we draft an ILB in the first round? (Tony Dale, Facebook)
A: There were lots of questions about NaVorro, so I’ll start with him. The former 49ers linebacker is a few weeks from unrestricted free agency following a 10-game stint in Silver and Black. Bowman stabilized the interior defense and, while he wasn’t the All-Pro of old, he proved a quality run player, on-field leader and sure tackler.

Here’s what we know regarding a possible return: Bowman said in January he wants to play in a Jon Gruden regime. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said a few weeks later he hopes the Raiders can get him back. General manager Reggie McKenzie was open to the prospect while meeting with the press in November.

Those are positive signs aiming toward a reunion, assuming, of course, dollars make sense (see what I did there?) for both sides.

Re-signing Bowman won’t impact Raiders draft strategy. Bowman is nearly 30, and might not be around long if he does return. The Raiders could also draft a top linebacker like Georgia’s Roquan Smith in the top 10 and play him alongside Bowman on the weakside, which might be Smith’s best position. Tremaine Edmunds has middle linebacker size but could play anywhere. Despite attractive options atop the draft, McKenzie hasn’t shown a willingness to select a linebacker high. Might Gruden influence that prospect? Time will tell. Retaining Bowman, however, doesn’t alleviate the need to add young linebacker talent.

Q: Any word on Mack contract talks? (Andre Analla, Facebook)
A: Not at this moment, but an extension is expected later this offseason. The Raiders exercised Mack’s fifth-year option, worth $13.8 million, for 2018. Mack would be an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but franchise tags would get applied before he received that designation. Let’s put it plain: There’s zero chance edge rusher Khalil Mack will walk out the front door.

I don’t think it’ll get to that. I believe a long-term, massive-money extension’s coming down the pike. McKenzie budgeted for it. Mack has earned it, and has the talent, drive and work ethic required to sustain elite-level play.

The Raiders could’ve worked a way to extend Mack last year, but the fifth-year option bought some time and allowed McKenzie to award quarterback Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson with big-time raises. Mack wasn’t necessarily thrilled to wait, but he knows it’s his turn now, and the market has gone up. Oh, and don’t expect a hometown discount. If I’m Mack, I don’t risk injury in a single training camp practice until a new accord is done. It’s time to pay up, and the Raiders know it.

Q: Who goes and who stays before Free Agency begins in your opinion? (Richard Sablan, Twitter)
A:
This has been the primary Raiders topic recently, especially after David Amerson was released earlier this month, and signed with Kansas City on Friday.

The Raiders essentially have team options on several veterans under contract, without guaranteed money left on their deals. That group includes running back Marshawn Lynch, receiver Michael Crabtree, cornerback Sean Smith, edge rusher Bruce Irvin and tight end Jared Cook, among others.

Uncertainty reigns in the aforementioned group. Gruden told Bay Area News Group he hoped to work with Lynch and Crabtree next season. Don’t take that as a guarantee either guy returns or as Gruden blowing smoke. The Raiders will evaluate how to best spend their salary cap space, and where roster upgrades can be made. If coveted players become available, attitudes could change.

Smith seems like a clear cut, considering his $8.25 million base salary and the fact he’s facing felony counts of assault and battery.

The Raiders like Irvin a great deal. He can play strong-side linebacker and move to the front on passing downs or play on the line every down. Even if the Raiders want him to lower an $8 million base salary, Irvin will certainly balk at that. He has 15 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in two years with the Raiders. His salary fits that production level. The Raiders need more off the edge, and a draft pick could add depth and possibly replace Irvin down the line. They still need him now, in a big way.

Cook was the Raiders’ leading receiver last season, and could’ve had more production and targets. Reports have surfaced that the Raiders might look to pay less at that position or move on from someone who caused some tension in the locker room. That would be a surprising move, and create yet another hole on a team with plenty of needs already.

Q: With a guy like (Jamize) Olawale on the roster, would you be surprised if we don’t go RB in the top 3 (rounds), and do you see him with a larger role next year? (Alexander Singh, Facebook)
A:
There’s no secret Gruden loves versatile fullbacks. Jamize Olawale counts as one. He can catch passes out of the backfield, protect the quarterback and fight for tough yards. He also has more speed in space than one might think. Olawale had some big catches in 2016, but was an offensive afterthought under 2017 coordinator Todd Downing.

Olawale could earn a larger role in 2018, and the fullback could thrive under Gruden. Lynch could as well, if he remains with the club.

The Raiders could use a still primary back for the future, especially after Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington struggled some through sophomore seasons. There are other, more pressing needs to take up a high draft pick over another rusher. If Lynch moves on, however, anything could happen. The Raiders would need help right away.

Q: Is the 2018 right tackle on the roster, or do they bring in someone new? (Terry Heffern, Twitter)
A:
That will depend on offensive line coach Tom Cable’s evaluation of this group. We can all agree Marshall Newhouse struggled at times, giving up eight sacks and 30 other pressures in 16 games last season. David Sharpe and Jylan Ware are reserve tackles, but neither player was a replacement option last year. They could be with rapid development. Can’t see the Raiders spending big on another offensive lineman, considering the other four starters are so expensive. A free agent Cable trusts may be an option, or the respected coach could try and get more out of Newhouse and scheme help his way.

Burns leaves Sharks win early in third period

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AP

Burns leaves Sharks win early in third period

The Sharks are already down two of their five leading scorers. They skated to a 5-2 win against the Dallas Stars on Sunday without Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, although the latter participated in the morning skate. 

Now, they could also be without their leading scorer. 

Defenseman Brent Burns skated his final shift against Dallas early in the third period, and did not return. Head coach Peter DeBoer did not have an update on Burns' status, but told reporters after the game that it was related to the same ailment that caused Burns to leave practice early on Saturday.

San Jose's largely tread water since Thornton went down, going 6-5-1 since Jan. 25, including two wins in two games without Hertl. Losing the reigning Norris Trophy winner, however, may prove to be one injury too many. 

Burns has paced the Sharks with 50 points (10 goals, 40 assists), and was ninth in the league in average ice time (25:22) entering Sunday. San Jose is currently carrying Tim Heed as its seventh defenseman, but Heed has only played in one game since Jan. 13. 

DeBoer told reporters that he expected Burns would travel on San Jose's upcoming four-game road trip. Defenseman Justin Braun, as well as captain Joe Pavelski, told reporters after Sunday's win that they were confident Burns would not miss any time.

"He'll be fine," Braun said. "He's just dealing with something, but he'll be fine. He's that way -- he won't miss a game."