Warriors

Warriors embrace playing second fiddle to Kobe for one final night

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AP

Warriors embrace playing second fiddle to Kobe for one final night

OAKLAND -- The NBA’s No. 1 road attraction will be reduced to fine print on the marquee Monday night in Los Angeles.

Sure, the house will be packed when the Warriors invade Staples Center. It’s the hottest ticket in the league this season, a gala evening that undoubtedly will receive Hollywood embellishments, searchlights for sure and maybe even a red carpet.

It’s Kobe Bryant Night at Staples Center. Both of the legend’s jersey numbers, 24 and 8, are being retired. So while the Warriors are there for the business of defeating the current Lakers, they’ll also be carrying memories of the past.

Win or lose, they will have a chance to enjoy the halftime ceremony. Lakers president Jeanie Buss extended the invitation Saturday, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr plans to accept it.

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Said Nick Young, a former teammate Bryant with the Lakers, of witnessing the ceremony: “That would be dope.”

Most of the Warriors have competed against Bryant, though Kevin Durant and Young have closer associations. Bryant and Durant over time formed a relationship as members of the league’s unofficial superstar club.

Durant has a particularly bittersweet memory from his rookie season with the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007-08, the year Bryant captured his only MVP award.

The Lakers took a 123-121 victory in overtime in Seattle and Durant’s memory of Bryant’s evening -- 48 points, 44 field-goal attempts, game-winning shot -- were perfect. Yet Durant came away feeling he had learned a more valuable lesson.

“It was my first taste of fourth-quarter basketball in the NBA, and (Bryant) fouled me all of the way up until I got the ball,” Durant recalled. “It was a blatant foul, and the referee just stared at him, looked at him, and didn’t call it. I was like, that’s what happens when you’re Kobe and you can do that stuff.

“It was a level I knew I had to get to, and that’s what made me realize that there’s certain players on different levels, and that you have to wait to get to that point. It made me realize it early with Kobe. So it was a great early lesson for me.”

Young, who spent three seasons as Bryant’s teammate in LA, recalled Bryant’s pointed jabs at teammates, unwillingness to tolerate fools and a semi-playful side of the man nicknamed Mamba.

After Bryant’s memorable final game -- a 60-point performance in a 101-96 win over the Jazz on April 13, 2016 -- Young approached Bryant with a pair shoes in hopes of getting an autograph. They were the wrong brand.

Kobe was a Nike guy, Young came with Adidas.

Bryant flipped the shoes into the trash bin.

“That’s Kobe,” Young said, grinning. “I knew something like that was going to happen if I went to him with some Adidas.

“But he did sign some Nikes that I had. And I have that stat sheet.”

Durant, having joined the MVP club in 2014, saw his relationship evolve to the point where they were dinner companions on Bryant’s last trip to Oklahoma City in 2016.

“The stuff we were talking about was next level, just what he wanted to do when he was done playing, his visions as a businessman, how he wanted to leave his mark as a basketball ambassador,” Durant recalled. “There was so much we talked about, and it made me appreciate his intelligent mind.”

Bryant retired as the league’s No. 3 all-time scorer (33,643 points), just ahead of Michael Jordan (32,292) but behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928). Bryant is a five-time NBA champion who was selected for 18 All-Star games. He is a lock to enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

And now, 20 months after he retired, his jerseys will be raised into the rafters at Staples Center.

“Kobe is obviously one of my favorite players, one of the best players to play this game,” Young said. “I know I had a chance to play with him, so I would want to see his number go up there.”

For one night, as a retired legend gets top billing, the Warriors don’t mind merely blending into the scenery.

With lofty win total unlikely this year, here's a number the Warriors can chase

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AP

With lofty win total unlikely this year, here's a number the Warriors can chase

OAKLAND -- Getting to 73 wins is impossible for the Warriors, and the pursuit of it never entered their minds.

Reaching 69 wins, their average in three seasons under coach Steve Kerr, is highly improbable.

Even winning 67 games, the lowest total under Kerr, is extremely unlikely.

There is, however, a number the Warriors are aiming for that also happens to be within their grasp -- but only if they can fight through the regular-season malaise and break an unhealthy tendency.

They can get to 35 victories at Oracle Arena. Currently 16-6 at home, the Warriors would have to go 19-0 to reach 35, and it’s possible insofar as they are less than two years removed from posting an NBA-record 54 consecutive wins at home.

Can a team that once went 14 months without losing at Oracle summon a three-month stretch of perfection at home?

The schedule invites the possibility, but it’s still up to the Warriors and how they cope with tug of three long seasons and that tendency to float a bit in front of their home fans, two factors that have had more effect at home than on the road.

“In general, the appropriate fear we always talk about, it’s there on the road for most games and it’s not there as much at home,” Kerr conceded Monday.

Kevin Durant used different phrasing but echoed the comments of the coach.

“You tend to relax a bit when you’re at home because you’ve got your home crowd,” he acknowledged. “You’re just comfortable in that situation. You can go home and go to sleep in your own bed after the game. So you relax a bit.

“On the road, it just feels like this is the last game of your career. It just feels that way, especially when you’re playing a tough opponent and somewhere with a crowd that’s going to be really, really into it.”

Having gone 39-2, 39-2 and 36-5 over the last three seasons, the Warriors are assured of having their worst home record under Kerr. Still, 35 is not impossible.

The drop is not unanticipated, as Kerr experienced something similar as a member of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when they won three straight championships as their regular-season wins steadily dropped, from 72 to 69 to 62.

“Where it has truly been the most tangible and palpable is home games against lesser opponents,” Kerr said. “We’ve lost six. Maybe two of those are playoff teams.

“We didn’t lose those games the last the last three years. We dominated the home floor. That’s where it really shows.”

The Warriors have lost at home to the Rockets, Pistons, Kings, Nuggets, Hornets and Clippers. Only Houston is a playoff lock. Detroit, Denver and the Clippers are on the fringe of the postseason race. Charlotte is a longshot, Sacramento a no-shot.

The Warriors, in every home loss, have started drowsily or played too carelessly or were self-destructive enough to give back a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

“This is the first year in my four years where we’ve lost a lot of home games that we shouldn’t,” Kerr said. “That just points to emotional fatigue. Trying to get up for 82 games is a difficult thing, especially in Year 4 of a quest to get back to The Finals.”

Coming off a successful road trip during which they won four of five games, the Warriors this week face the Knicks, Timberwolves and Celtics -- the latter two being playoff locks.

A home sweep is difficult, of course, but hardly inconceivable. And if the Warriors can pull that off, they’d have only four remaining home games against teams fighting for a top-four playoff slot: the Thunder and Spurs twice each.

Oklahoma City appears to be getting their act together. The Spurs, while still formidable, are starting to look like a team in decline.

They’re also the two teams most likely to get the full attention of the Warriors, who began the week by sitting through video of their last three games, during which they committed numerous hideous errors.

The message: Their unforced mistakes are the surest route to defeat.

“There are key points of the year where we have to hit the reset button in terms of our priorities,” Kerr said. “Right now is one of those times. This is an important week for us. We need to take care of the ball. We need to be smart and make good decisions. If we do that, we’re really, really hard to beat.”

Former coach takes epic shot at Cavs after they gave up 148 points to OKC

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USATSI

Former coach takes epic shot at Cavs after they gave up 148 points to OKC

When it rains, it pours for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After starting the season 24-9, they have cratered. Including two losses to the Warriors and one to the Kings, the Cavs are 3-8 over their last 11 games.

During the stretch, they suffered through a four-game losing streak and nearly blew a 23-point lead against the Magic on Thursday.

But nothing was worse than what happened in front of a national TV audience on Saturday. The visiting Oklahoma City Thunder strolled into Quicken Loans Arena and hung 148 points on the defending Eastern Conference champs and won by 24 points.

Saturday's performance was so bad, former Cavs head coach David Blatt took a shot at them before coaching the Team Europe in the Turkish Basketball Super League All-Star Game in Instabul.

Asked by a sideline reporter for his thoughts on the game he was about to coach, Blatt offered this:

"Well, I don't think we're going to have any problem scoring. I'm just wondering if we're going to defend anybody. That's what I'm worried about," Blatt said.

The reporter followed up by asking for his expectation of the final score. That's when Blatt threw a haymaker at the team that fired him during the 2015-16 season despite a 30-11 record.

"Well, I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers did last night," Blatt said.

Ouch.

Unfortunately for Blatt, Team Europe lost 151-142 to Team Asia.