Raiders

No big deal, but the Spurs have won 20 straight

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No big deal, but the Spurs have won 20 straight

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Tony Parker has found balance in his role as a scoring point guard. Two more wins, and the San Antonio Spurs will find themselves playing for another NBA championship. Parker had 34 points and eight assists, Manu Ginobili added 20 points and the Spurs stayed perfect in the playoffs with a 120-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night. The Spurs set an NBA record with their 20th consecutive victory bridging the regular season and the playoffs. They came in sharing the longest such streak with the 2000-01 Lakers, who won 19 straight before losing to Philadelphia in the first game of the finals. Those Lakers went on to win the championship and Parker's performance is yet another reason to think the Spurs will do the same. Guided by their All-Star point guard, San Antonio shredded Oklahoma City's defense with pinpoint passes for three quarters. The Spurs were shooting 63 percent from the field and 64 percent from 3-point range at one point in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 22 points in the second half. Parker went 16 for 21 from the field, including a 3-pointer. "Tony's been great all year," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's been really focused the entire season." Parker had his highest scoring average since 2008-09 (18.3 points), but he also averaged 7.7 assists in the regular season, a career high. In his 11th season, Parker finally feels comfortable knowing when his demanding coach wants him to pass and when to shoot. "It's always been a battle my whole career," Parker said, "when you're a scoring point guard and Pop wants you to score, then he wants you to pass, and he wants you to score, and he wants you to pass. You go back and forth. "It's always been the biggest room for me to improve, to find a happy middle between scoring and passing, and find that good balance," Parker said. "I think, over the years, I got better at it." The Thunder made a late surge to get within six points, but Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan helped San Antonio finish off the Thunder for a 2-0 lead heading into Game 3 Thursday night in Oklahoma City. "First, we've got to worry about Game 3," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. "Regardless of what's going on with this last game or the next game, we've got to worry about Game 3 and come in with the same mindset and try to get a win." Kevin Durant had 31 points, Westbrook had 27 points and eight assists and James Harden rebounded from a rough Game 1 to score 30 for the Thunder, who have lost two straight for the first time since early April. Oklahoma City dropped to 15-4 in games after losses this season. "There are no moral victories for us," Durant said. "We were down. We dug ourselves a hole. We did what we normally do, which is fight all game, and we lost." San Antonio picked up where it left off from the 39-point fourth quarter that turned Game 1 on Sunday. With sharp passes and hot shooting, the Spurs jumped to a 19-9 lead after the Thunder missed six of their first seven shots and had three turnovers in the first 4 minutes. The Spurs shot 52 percent (12 for 23) in the opening quarter and led 28-22. Durant was on the bench at the start of the second quarter, and Parker and the Spurs put together a 14-4 spurt to stretch the gap to 13 points. Westbrook hammered Parker's arm on a drive and he crumpled to the court. That didn't faze Parker, who scored the Spurs' next seven points to keep San Antonio rolling. The Spurs shot 58 percent (22 of 38) and had 13 assists in the first half. They also cut down their turnovers, committing only six in the first half after giving away 14 in the first two quarters of Game 1. "You never go out and say, We're going to start out fast,'" Popovich said. "You don't know what is going to happen. You just want your team to be aggressive. Good teams are aggressive and it is, it's a matter of making shots or not making shots." The Spurs resumed picking apart Oklahoma City's defense with precision passes after the break, scoring on five straight possessions. The biggest cheer from the crowd came after Ginobili flipped a behind-the-back pass to Parker in the corner for another 3 and the lead ballooned to 78-58. Late in the third quarter, the Thunder began intentionally fouling Tiago Splitter, a 32 percent free-throw shooter during the playoffs. That backfired, too. Splitter went 5 for 10 over a 54-second span before Popovich replaced him with Duncan, and Oklahoma City trailed by the same margin -- 16 -- that it did when Brooks called for the "Hack-a-Splitter" strategy. It may not have showed on the scoreboard, but the Spurs seemed to lose their edge after that. "There's a reason why you do it, to kill the rhythm," Parker said. "I think it got us out of our rhythm." Parker returned with 10:58 left and San Antonio leading 92-78, but he was shaky on offense for the first time. Gary Neal promptly curled around a screen and swished a 3-pointer, the Spurs' 10th of the game. Parker, Ginobili and Duncan were on the court together at the 8-minute mark, after the Thunder cut the deficit to eight. Ginobili's floater in the lane was only the Spurs' third field goal of the fourth quarter and put San Antonio up 99-89. The Thunder had the deficit down to six with just over 5 minutes remaining. The Spurs missed 12 of 15 shots during one stretch, but Parker hit an off-balance, high-arcing jumper with 3:39 left for a 107-96 lead and San Antonio controlled the game from there. At least now, the Thunder get to return home, where they are 5-0 in the playoffs. But only 14 teams in NBA playoff history have overcome 2-0 deficits to win series, and the Spurs show no signs of letting the Thunder back in it. Notes: The Spurs' winning streak is the longest in the NBA overall since the Houston Rockets won 22 straight between Jan. 29-March 18, 2008, all in the regular season. ... The Thunder are the first team to reach 100 points against San Antonio in the postseason. ... Kawhi Leonard scored 18 points, including three 3-pointers for the Spurs. ... Duncan blocked four shots to tie Hakeem Olajuwon for second in career blocks in the postseason (472). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the leader (476). ... Oklahoma City's Derek Fisher went 2 for 11 from the field after scoring 13 points in Game 1.

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

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USATSI

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

Jordan Bell: Rookie year with Warriors 'like being a freshman all over again'

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AP

Jordan Bell: Rookie year with Warriors 'like being a freshman all over again'

Warriors rookie Jordan Bell made an instant impact for the team this season. But as of late, his playing time has dwindled. In four of the Warriors' last five games, Bell has been inactive. 

“It's just the life of a rookie,” Bell said to The Athletic. “That's what Steve Kerr always tells me. It's not because I'm playing bad. Just gotta be professional about it and stay ready. It's like being a freshman all over again.”

While Bell wants to be on the court with his teammates, what he appreciates most from Steve Kerr is his communication. Kerr is always honest about when he won't play Bell and he keeps the former Oregon Duck encouraged. 

“He talks to me about it every time he sees me,” Bell said. “Lets me know I'm not going to be active. Keep doing what you're doing, you're doing good. But it still f------ sucks. You're playing well and it doesn't mean anything because you're younger. It sucks, but you got to be professional about it.”

Bell has played in 12 of the Warriors' 18 games this season. The 22-year-old is averaging 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game over 8.3 minutes per game. 

The Warriors bought the 38th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft from the Chicago Bulls and selected Bell. On Friday night, the Warriors, and perhaps Bell, play the Bulls for the first time this season.