Warriors, Cavs will be remembered for final seven games, not first eight

Warriors, Cavs will be remembered for final seven games, not first eight

And now, to sound like every six-year-old in history, “When is Christmas?”

Well, Christmas is still June 1, as it has been seemingly since this NBA season started. It is the day The Finals begin, and it still looks the same way – like Dubs-Cavs 3: The Reckoning.

Golden State did Monday as Cleveland did Sunday – sweep its second consecutive pretender to the throne, in this case the Utah Jazz, 121-95. The game was nail-bitey only because Utah did not lie down and humbly accept its evisceration after a miserable start, which is pretty much how the series played out. Utah won far more admiration for its obstinacy than a team that led for only 11 minutes in an entire series, but obstinacy alone isn’t enough.

Ask any Memphis Grizzly.

The Warriors and Cavaliers are the second pair of teams to win their first two series in sweeps in the same year since Detroit (Boston and Milwaukee) and the Los Angeles Lakers (Portland and Seattle) in 1989. In fact, the Lakers swept their next series as well, against Phoenix, before getting swept by the Pistons, so there’s your momentum lecture right there.

Beyond that, there was nothing particularly unusual about the Warriors’ eighth consecutive playoff victory. Chastened by their mildly irksome performance in Game 3 of this now-extinguished Western Conference semifinal, they grabbed a quick lead, widened it and by the end of the first quarter made it so large that the Jazz could not alter their fate no matter how hard they tried.

In other words, they came, they saw, they took a knee. As expected. As the Portlands did before them.

And now the Warriors wait again, perhaps as many as nine more days if Houston and San Antonio take each other to seven games as the Jazz did with the Los Angeles Clippers.

That’s a game every four days for more than a month, and if you use the R-word (rust), you’re probably just an inevitability denier. And no, one should not infer from that last phrase that I believe Dubs-Cavs 3.0 is inevitable. I do infer that it is the only Final anyone outside the tight NBA circle will accept.

The box score Monday night explains anything you needed explaining from Saturday night. Stephen Curry became the night’s Kevin Durant just as Durant because Saturday’s Curry. Draymond Green did the things Draymond Green (17/10/11 in 35 minutes) does better than anyone else, and the Warriors simply eroded Utah’s will to stay alive. For the series, the Jazz held the lead for 11 minutes (plus 10 seconds; let’s not cheat the lads) in Game 3, and those 11 minutes are the only minutes the Warriors have trailed in the last five games.

That statistic is really useful as soon as the NBA goes to a lap money system. Until then, the task for the nation is to accept that these playoffs have been a triumph of the undercards while the two acknowledged heavyweights plow through their tasks with sub-optimal resistance. Utah won hearts and minds but lost every game by double digits; Golden State has won seven of their eight games by 10 or more. In the meantime, Indiana gave Cleveland the hardest time mathematically speaking of any series loser,

Being swept by a total of 14 points.

And what that means as the nation awaits the two conference finals is . . . nothing, really. Golden State measures itself by Cleveland and Cleveland by Golden State, and history measures them against each other. After all, they have both won exactly as many championships as the Seattle SuperSonics, Rochester Royals, Syracuse Nationals and St. Louis Hawks, just to name four defunct franchises, but they are acknowledged as the titans in a land of average-sized folks.

That is, unless we have lost sight of the fact that Houston and Boston and San Antonio and Washington are better than Toronto and Utah, and better than Indiana and Portland.  And that the only team to win three consecutive series by sweeps and that no parade route shall be booked before its time. The winner will be remembered for the last seven games more than the first eight, and the loser will be chastened to learn that the team they fell to is a frightful machine.

If that’s your idea of a good time, and you won’t know that until the middle of June. Someone’s patience will be rewarded, but for now, resistance seems to be futile. Ad Christmas isn't even here yet.

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.