Warriors

Damian Lillard denies saying Warriors 'due,' but confident in Blazers' chances

Damian Lillard denies saying Warriors 'due,' but confident in Blazers' chances

SAN FRANCISCO -- Eyebrows were raised Monday morning when a quote from Damian Lillard started circulating in which the Portland Trail Blazers star supposedly told a Denver Nuggets ball boy that the Warriors were "due" to be beaten in the playoffs.

Later Monday, Lillard adamantly denied saying that during his first media availability for the Western Conference finals bout with the Dubs. 

"I didn't say that, for one," Lillard said. "He was ear hustling on a conversation that I was having with someone and I wasn't even talking about the Warriors. That's unprofessional and I was disappointed by that just because you don't try to ear hustle and then quote me as saying something that I didn't say, especially when you're standing right next to me and you could have just asked me."

Just because he didn't say that doesn't mean he has doubts his team can compete with and dethrone the Warriors.

The Blazers split the season series with the Warriors this season, and are 4-3 against the two-time defending NBA champions in the past two seasons, including Lillard's game-winning shot at Oracle Arena in December.

Needless to say, Lillard likes the Blazers' chances in their first conference finals since 2000.

"I'm really confident," Lillard said. "Like Casey said, we split the season series with them. We've won on their floor and on our floor. So, I think that shows we know we are capable of winning. We know we are capable of beating them. We just have to go out there and do it. Put it on the floor." 

The Blazers will face an uphill battle starting Tuesday night in Game 1 at Oracle Arena. 

Without Jusuf Nurkic and potentially Rodney Hood, the Blazers will have to rely heavily on Lillard and fellow backcourt star CJ McCollum to carry the load against the Warriors.

While the chips might be stacked against the Blazers, Lillard isn't scared of the Warriors, who play a similar style to Portland. 

"Yeah, I think we match up pretty well with them," Lillard said. "Our last series was against guys like Paul Millsap and (Nikola) Jokic. Huge bodies in the paint. They gave us a lot of trouble on the glass. They threw it on the block and was just a handful. We had to double-team and put ourselves out of position to rebound the ball. So, they gave us a lot of trouble with their size.

"I think with Golden State they are much more of a perimeter-oriented team. They do a lot of screening and cutting and shooting a lot of threes and stuff like that. Not really throwing the ball to the block. So, I think it's a much better matchup for us." 

Entering the playoffs, few thought the Blazers could make it out of Round 1, but Lillard blowtorched Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in Round 1. A grueling seven-game series with the Nuggets ended Sunday when McCollum dropped 37 to book a date with the Warriors.

{RELATED: Expect fireworks in Dubs-Blazers matchup in West final]

Now, Lillard, an Oakland native, gets his shot at the NBA's king.

They might be underdogs, but they've got a chance.. That's all Lillard needs.

NBA rumors: Warriors' Steph Curry targeting March 1 return to lineup

NBA rumors: Warriors' Steph Curry targeting March 1 return to lineup

Steph Curry reportedly is targeting a March 1 return. 

The two-time MVP has not played since breaking his left hand on Oct. 30, and The Athletic's Marcus Thompson has "been told" that Curry hopes to play on March 1 at Chase Center against the Washington Wizards, though the date is not "set in stone."

Curry told Warriors broadcasters Bob Fitzgerald and Kelenna Azubuike during Golden State's win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday that he has had "no setbacks" rehabbing his broken hand. 

"Rehab is going great, every day is tough,” Curry said Saturday. “When you're hurt, and we've all been there in some way shape or form, its a grind, every day kind of being monotonous with the little strength workouts you have to do, and you understanding that it takes time and patience to get back to 100 percent.”

[RELATED: Poole shows even more progress in Dubs' win over Magic]

Curry is traveling to road games with the Warriors, and the 30-year-old has impressed his teammates and coaches during individual shooting drills. Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the "Posted Up" podcast earlier this month that there was an "excellent chance" Curry would return in March. He'll be re-evaluated Feb. 1, and NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke wrote last week that a minutes restriction is possible as Curry "gets his wind back."

Before Curry is re-evaluated, though, he reportedly already has a timeline in mind. 

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

SAN FRANCISCO -- With four seconds left in the third quarter of the Warriors' 190-95 win over Magic on Saturday, Jordan Poole ran full speed to the right-wing with a bucket on his mind. 

Sprinting alongside teammate Omari Spellman, Poole received a pass from the big man, pump faked, took a dribble and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer, pushing the Warriors lead to 11. 

Walking to the bench, Poole had both arms in the air, and was yelling "Yeahhhh" towards the crowd. Similar plays have been the norm for Poole over the last week as he gradually digs himself out a bad start to his rookie season. 

"He's starting to figure out where his spots are," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Where his spots are and his comfort zone and how to impact a game." 

Remnants of Poole's improvement were on display early Saturday night. After Golden State went down 13-0 four and a half minutes into the contest, Poole scored 11 first-quarter points, helping Golden State take a 28-25 lead by the end of the period. Poole totaled 21 points for the game, including four 3-pointers, providing another example of his evolution. In his past three outings, Poole is averaging 16 points on 45 percent from the field. 

Such stretches are uncommon considering the start of Poole's career. During his first 29 games -- with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out of the lineup -- he shot just 25 percent, prompting a demotion to the G League. While his shot was ineffective, it was his propensity to not give all-out effort that drew ire of the coaching staff. On his way down to Santa Cruz, Kerr gave him a player that he'd like Poole to use a blueprint for success: Pelicans guard JJ Redick. More specifically, the shooter's habit of constant movement on the defensive end, complimented by his shooting ability. 

Poole followed suit during his G League stint, averaging 26 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals in three games. The performance has carried over back to the NBA, as he's making 42 percent of his 3-pointers over his last three games. But he showed his  growth six minutes into the third quarter Saturday, when he fought through two screens, moved his feet on Magic guard Evan Fournier before stripping the guard, causing a fast break on the other end, prompting praise from his coach and teammates along the way.  

"He's doing better on defense, handling the ball and making plays," Kerr said. "The game is so fast at this level. Everything happens much faster, so whether you are defending somebody or having to get over a screen or leave a rotation or if you have the ball and you are trying to make a pass, everything just happens quicker than you are used to. I think the time in Santa Cruz helped him gain more confidence and maybe the game has slowed down a bit ... He just looks more confident and comfortable."

"I think his approach has been better," teammate D'Angelo Russell added. "I think that's what's contributed to him successfully on the court. Not just worrying about his shots but his demeanor, his approach is business-like."

Poole's progression comes as the Warriors are in transition. As he works towards a long-term role, organizational cornerstones Curry and Thompson are working their way back from injuries, while Russell -- an All-Star guard -- is giving 20-year old daily lessons on how to be a pro.

[RELATED: Paschall regains form after tough stretch]

"I'm like a kid in the candy store, especially being able to have Steph, Klay and [Russell]," Poole said on Warriors Postgame Live. "I'm in awe every day. You wouldn't want to be in any other situation." 

As Poole celebrated his buzzer-beater, Curry sat on a makeshift stage, soaking in the rookie's latest step as a pro, leaving compliments along the way. 

"The way that he's fought through his early-season struggles and gone down to Santa Cruz, really able to work on his game, see the floor, get his rhythm and shoot the ball the way he's been doing the last few games," Curry said during NBC Sports Bay Area's broadcast. "That's what an NBA player is made of. It's not going to be pretty but you got to keep coming back to try and make it work."