NBA Gameday: Curry aims to pass Kobe, punch Warriors' ticket to Finals

NBA Gameday: Curry aims to pass Kobe, punch Warriors' ticket to Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- When the Warriors take the floor Monday for Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, they’ll be staring not only into the faces of the San Antonio Spurs but also at the prospect of history.

With a 3-0 series lead, the Warriors will attempt to become the first team in NBA history to begin a postseason with 12 wins in a row and three consecutive four-game sweeps.

A victory also would send the Warriors to the NBA Finals for the third time in as many seasons.

The Spurs, reeling with the loss of All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, are trying to avoid being swept for the first time since 2010.

Warriors by 11.5

JaVale McGee & Co. vs. LaMarcus Aldridge: McGee roasted Aldridge and anyone else the Spurs put in the paint in the first half of Game 3. Aldridge put up little defense and didn’t hurt the Warriors on offense. From McGee to David West to Draymond Green to Kevin Durant, the Warriors never let Aldridge get comfortable on the block. Forcing him to shoot jumpers is the plan, and it has been working. If Aldridge can’t deliver a monster game, the Spurs are done.

Warriors: F Andre Iguodala (L knee soreness) is listed as probable but expected to play. C Zaza Pachulia (R heel contusion) was listed as questionable and ruled out 90 minutes before tip-off. F Kevon Looney (L hip strain) is listed as doubtful.

Spurs: F Kawhi Leonard (L ankle sprain) was listed as doubtful and officially ruled out by Gregg Popovich less than two hours before tip-off. G Tony Parker (L quadriceps tendon rupture) is listed as out.

The Warriors finished the regular season with a 67-15 record to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason. They swept four games from Portland in the first round, and then swept four games from Utah in the conference semifinals.

The Spurs (61-21) earned the No. 2 overall seed. They defeated Memphis in six games in the first round, and then defeated Houston in six games in the conference semifinals.

Prior to winning the first three games of the series, the Warriors lost two of three to San Antonio in the regular season. In the three seasons since Steve Kerr took over as coach, the Warriors are 8-5 against the Spurs, postseason included. The teams last met in the playoffs in the 2012-13 conference semifinals, with San Antonio winning in six games.

THE START: In each of the first two Game 4s this postseason, the Warriors have opened up double-digit leads within five minutes and led by no fewer than 22 points after one quarter. The exhibited a merciless closeout mentality. They will try to do the same here. Will the Spurs allow it?

THE GRIME GAME: With each team accusing the other of dirty play, it’ll be interesting to see how players conduct themselves in a potential closeout game. The Spurs want to extend the series in hopes of getting Leonard back. The Warriors want to end it and tend to their various aches and pains. Will the team keep it clean?

STEPH STALKING KOBE: Stephen Curry enters the game with 290 made 3-pointers in playoff games, ranking sixth on the all-time list. He needs three more triples to surpass Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (292) and move into fifth place.

With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship


With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship

This has been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors – I mean, trying being a relative term here – but especially for those Warriors who were here in 2014-15 and watching the Houston Rockets have that very season.
Fortunately for them, they are channeling most of their energies in escaping the injury list, but the fact remains the same. Houston is playing better, may well BE better, and is showing no signs of slowing to enjoy the view in the rear-view mirror.
This isn’t just the way they beat Portland in Portland Tuesday night, but they way they have gone 30-3 – which is 29 more versions of the way they beat Portland Tuesday. They are not a direct comp with that Warriors team except at the macro level, which is that they are the ones whose players know how they fit with each other, and they are the ones who have one more effective player than everyone else.
And they’re the ones fielding the full team when everyone else is dented and belching blue smoke.
The Warriors won their two championships for many reasons, but one that bears repeating is the fact they finished fourth from the bottom in man-games lost to injury – in other words, they were healthy when all those around them are not.
Now they look like tired and creaky and spare-part-y, and as much as people have tried to hitch their wagons to the secret stopgap of the week – this week’s winner, Quinn Cook – they are getting karma’d the hard way this year. The player who has played the most games is Nick Young, who was hailed as an excellent 10th man when he was signed, and their top four players (Harrison Barnes being the pre-Kevin Durant) have gone from missing 10 games in 2015 to 21 to 33 to 46.
This may seem normal given that this has been a worse year for injuries in the NBA than last year, but timing matters too. James Harden’s last missed game was March 11 (before that January 15), Chris Paul’s was December 28, and Clint Capela has missed one game since December 29. Houston’s run began on January 8.
Coincidence? No. The reason Houston is better? Also no. There are plenty of other metrics that show that pretty clearly, including those pesky standings. The best team has the best record, as it did in the last three seasons (exempting, of course, that troublesome June in 2016), so live with it. 
Can this change? Yes. It’s March 21, and lots of things can happen to any team, most of them bad. But the difference is this – Houston needs as few of those things to happen as possible, and the Warriors need several of them. That hasn’t been true before. One-seeds have won eight of the last 10 titles for a reason, and the Warriors have been inspirational frontrunners.
But now they have to punch uphill, and they can’t even start punching until their injury list shortens to a manageable – oh, let’s say five; don’t want to peak too soon.
And then let’s see how long it takes for them to get up to speed, both physically and as a unit. It is not inconceivable that they could run out of time before they run out of problems.
The point is, Houston is showing just how hard this is going to be for the Warriors, and if Golden State does win anyway, it will be their best championship because it will be the hardest. Not their most fun, mind you, but legacies are built on degree of difficulty.
Anyway, they no longer have a choice. They’re coming off the pace, or they’re not arriving at all.

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

UPDATE (2:40pm PT on Tuessday): Steph Curry has been cleared for full team practices with the goal of playing this week, the Warriors announced.


The Warriors’ usual late-spring sprint toward the postseason, already slowed to a limp, deteriorated into a forlorn crawl Monday night in San Antonio as they were losing for the fourth time in six games.

Draymond Green, the only “healthy” member of the team’s All-Star quartet, left the game in the second quarter with a pelvic contusion and did not return.

Though Green said after this 89-75 loss to the Spurs that he doesn’t consider this a serious injury, it’s abundantly clear reinforcements can’t arrive soon enough.

Stephen Curry, a profoundly superior reinforcement, may return as soon as Friday.

Curry’s tender right ankle is scheduled to be reevaluated Tuesday, after which the Warriors will establish a timeline for his return. He could, according to team and league sources, be back in the lineup Friday night when the Atlanta Hawks visit Oracle Arena.

That would provide a massive injection of talent for the Warriors, who lost of three games during a four-day stretch in which they were forced to rely heavily on reserves and role players.

“We’re already shorthanded and then we lose another All-Star, the glue to our team, Draymond, at halftime,” said Quinn Cook, who in scoring 73 points over the past three games did an admirable job of trying of producing Curry-like numbers.

As good as Cook was on Monday, scoring 20 points, it’s a bit much to ask Cook to lead the Warriors past a San Antonio team fighting to extend its 20-year streak of consecutive playoff appearances.

The Warriors are built around their four All-Stars -- Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Curry and Green. They usually can withstand the loss of one, and they can often are OK missing two. But when it’s three, and possibly four, the defending champs are a home without a foundation.

As the Warriors were losing four of six games, and two of the last three, we have learned four things:

1) Cook is an NBA keeper.

The point guard from Duke, who turns 25 on Friday, has proved not only that he belongs in the league but also that he can survive in the rotation of a championship contender. He’s considerably more effective than Pat McCaw. Even if everybody were healthy, it would be hard, maybe foolish, to deny Cook minutes.

2) Kevon Looney continues to smooth the rough edges of his game.

The Warriors opened the season uncertain what they could expect from a forward that has undergone surgery on both hips. Month after month, though, he has done most everything they could have asked. He operates well in their switching defense, is effective in traffic and now he’s blocking shots and raining jumpers. At this rate, the Warriors would be delighted to have him back next season.

3) David West and Jordan Bell are in search of rhythm.

West was reliably excellent, at both ends, prior to missing five games with a cyst on his right arm. Since returning last Friday, there have been visible signs of rust. He’ll be OK in time, but at 37 likely needs another game or two to rediscover his touch.

Bell missed 14 games with a left ankle sprain, returned briefly, sustained a sprain of his right ankle and missed three more games. In the three games since his return, he has yet to look comfortable. It’s not just rust; it’s also the team around him. He’s at his best when supporting the stars. It may take him a while before he shines again.

4) Postseason minutes may be scarce for Nick Young

The Warriors hired Young to score while not embarrassing himself on defense and he has had good moments on both ends. But his inconsistency -- partly attributed to unspectacular conditioning -- grates on coaches and sometimes teammates. As much as he wants to enjoy the postseason, he’s playing his way toward an insignificant role unless injuries dictate otherwise.