Warriors

Looney proves to be the perfect pro as Warriors' surprise star vs Rockets

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USATSI

Looney proves to be the perfect pro as Warriors' surprise star vs Rockets

HOUSTON -- Though each member of the Warriors’ big-man platoon adds something to the brew that has kept them atop the NBA for the better part of four seasons, it’s easy to forget, or even ignore, Kevon Looney.

He doesn’t soar above the rim, like Jordan Bell or JaVale McGee.

He doesn’t go to All-Star games like Kevin Durant or Draymond Green.

He doesn’t offer menace or metronomic production like David West.

No, Looney is about as unadorned as an NBA player can be on a championship-level squad. He’s a reliable primer-gray pickup of a player, accent on “reliable.”

Consider Thursday night in Houston, where Warriors coach Steve Kerr, to mild surprise, turned to Looney in the second quarter and liked what he saw.

“He was inactive the other night and I don’t know how many minutes he’s played over the last month,” Kerr said after a 124-114 victory over the Rockets.

“But he does his work every single day and knows the game plan and is one of the smartest players on our team,” the coach added. “And comes in, in a big setting, and just preforms beautifully.”

The timing was impeccable. Durant was unavailable. McGee was available but unused. Bell, the sensational youngster who pushed McGee to the deep end of the bench, was limited to six first-quarter minutes because he too often looked the part of the rookie he is. West opens the second and fourth quarters and almost never goes beyond that. Green was busy compiling a triple-double.

So Looney it was.

Kerr was rewarded with seven points (on 3-of-4 shooting and a free throw), a career-high-tying eight rebounds, a blocked shot and some audacious and cagey defense against skilled Houston guards who sized up Looney and presumed him exploitable when the Warriors switched on defense.

They were wrong, spectacularly so. Looney maintained defensive position, wasn’t flummoxed by quickness and, in the fourth quarter, with the game still in the balance, cleverly coaxed an offensive foul on Chris Paul.

“I was surprised,” Looney said. “I usually don’t get any calls. So when he tried to hook me, I tried to get my hands out of there so I didn’t get called for a foul and get yelled it. It went my way this time.

“It’s tough out there being on an island. But when guys are behind you talking -- I know we’ve got people like Draymond (Green) and Andre (Iguodala) behind me -- there’s a lot more confidence.”

Green was not surprised that Looney, who is 6-foot-9 but has a 7-4 wingspan, held up so well on defense.

“He’s shown all year that he can guard anyone,” Green said. “He can guard guards with his length. He can move really well laterally and, most importantly, he’s really smart.”

How effective was Looney? He was part the closing lineup, playing the final 6:30 of the game. He was plus-7 in his 15 minutes.

And this was coming after he had not played a minute in either of the last two games. Looney averaged seven minutes in December and this was just the second time in six weeks he exceeded 13 minutes.

There are reasons for that. Looney’s career seemed in jeopardy only three months ago. The Warriors, uncertain about the future of someone who has undergone surgery on both hips, declined to pick up the option for next season.

At 21, the youngest member of the Warriors, Looney responded by getting in the best shape of his life.

“He’s a pro,” Green said. “He’s earned minutes throughout the course of this year. For his option not to get picked up, for him to stay the course and play the way he’s played. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, he’s earned himself a job. To be inactive a few games ago and then come out in this game and play the way he played was huge and I’m extremely proud of him.”

Even if Looney doesn’t leave the bench Saturday when the Warriors face the Clippers in Los Angeles, he’ll always know he was on the floor when the Warriors, without Kevin Durant, finished off their primary competition in the Western Conference.

“There was really good execution down the stretch, great defense,” Kerr said. “I went in the locker room and praised everybody. I could have gone around the room individually and told every single guy ‘great game,’ but I singled out Looney. I thought it was an amazing example of what being a professional is about.”

Warriors brief: Klay Thompson on pace for best playoffs yet

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USATSI

Warriors brief: Klay Thompson on pace for best playoffs yet

When it comes to scoring, Klay Thompson is way ahead of pace of his previous playoff runs. It is clear that Klay has reached a comfort zone to start off the 2018 playoffs, scoring nearly 26 points per game on 63 percent shooting from the field and 65 percent shooting from deep. He has not scored less than 19 points through three games, and has not shot less than 50% from deep so far.

In last year's postseason, Klay struggled to find his shot. He only scored 19 points or more in four of the 17 games played, and shot 50 percent or better from three-point range in five of the 17 games. 

In the 2015-16 playoffs, Klay Thompson performed at an exceptional level. In 16 of his 24 games Klay scored 19 or more points and in 10 of the 24 games, he shot 50 percent or better from deep. 

As of now, he is far and away ahead of pace of even his stellar performance a couple years ago. It has only been three games, but so far, so great for Klay. 

It's hard to find a fault in any of Kevin Durant's play of late. His defense has jumped up a notch since the end of the regular season malaise, his rebounding numbers are consistent as usual, and he has even shared the ball with much success, averaging over six assists per game thus far in the playoffs. It takes a little nitpicking to find any issues in his game, but right now his three-point shot is just not falling. 

Deep Impact

Over the first 63 games he played in the regular season, Kevin Durant shot 43 percent from deep, which would have been a season high in long-range shooting and high atop the NBA leaderboard. However in the last eight games, including the playoffs, Durant has shot 28 percent from deep (15-of-53, to be exact). Durant really has not found any consistency with his three-point shot of late, especially if you eliminate the second half of Game 2 against San Antonio in which he made three of four attempts from deep,

Having said all of that, Durant has averaged nearly 27 points per game during that same eight-game stretch, and he has shot over 52 percent from the field in the playoffs so far. So a fair warning to the playoff challengers that lie ahead for the Warriors: Watch out for when Kevin Durant gets back into a three-point groove. 

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.