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.

Rookie Alen Smailagic eager to prove he's ready for the Warriors, NBA

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USATSI

Rookie Alen Smailagic eager to prove he's ready for the Warriors, NBA

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have a timetable for the development of Alen Smailagic that seems reasonable for the 18-year-old rookie from Serbia.

Give him two years, and maybe he’ll be ready.

But if you bring that timetable to Smailagic, he pounces and swats it into the fourth row.

“I don’t think so, that it’s going to take me two or three or four years,” he said Monday after a news conference introducing the team’s rookies. “I think I’m going to do good this year. I already told them that I don’t want to just wear the jersey. I really want to play.”

He gets points for confidence. Smailagic (pronounced Smile-a-GEECH) sees the Warriors trying to fill a roster with a plethora of openings and visualizes himself pulling on his jersey, No. 6, and jogging onto the floor at Chase Center next October.

The Warriors, after all, could use a skilled 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward/center that plays hard and has a high basketball IQ. Smailagic flashed those assets last season, while playing 818 minutes, spread out over 47 games, for the team’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

That that he accomplished that as the youngest player in G League history persuaded the NBA Warriors, fearing another team may come after their secret stash, to move up and use the first of two second-round picks (39th overall) to select him. Because Smailagic was 17 at the time of the 2018 NBA Draft, he was ineligible to be chosen. To play pro ball in America, the G League was his only option.

“They didn’t disrespect me because of my age,” Smailagic said of his experience in Santa Cruz. “They really wanted me to play and they reacted to me like I’m a professional.”

Though Smailagic was projected to go late in the second round, somewhere between pick Nos. 50 and 60, the Warriors heard enough from Santa Cruz coach Aaron Miles and general manager Kent Lacob that they didn’t want to risk losing him.

Indeed, there is a firm belief within the organization that he has considerable potential, perhaps enough to be a starter, if not a true impact player. That potential, however, is years away.

“He’s going to be a player in the league,” one Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday. “He can be really good if his body continues to mature. There is no question about his desire or his skill.

“But I think he’s a couple years away.”

If Smailagic can make the roster as a two-way player -- a distinct possibility -- that would be a triumph for someone much more uncertain about his command of English than his game, and whose previous experience was in the European junior leagues.

Smailagic, nicknamed Smiley for obvious reasons, says as he grew and gravitated toward basketball, he studied Warriors superstar Kevin Durant -- “He’s really tall and he can jump, he can dribble, he can shoot. He can do everything” -- and also Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica, another native of Serbia.

Asked if he cared to pattern himself after Durant or Bjelica or anyone else, Smailagic wasted no time replying.

“No. I didn’t have that kind of mindset, because I want to play how I play.” 

Warriors' Jordan Poole hopes to make immediate impact in Golden State

Warriors' Jordan Poole hopes to make immediate impact in Golden State

OAKLAND -- The Warriors' newest first-round pick Jordan Poole found himself in rare circumstances Monday afternoon. 

With injuries to Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Poole became the first Golden State first-round pick in half a decade to join a team that wasn't a prohibitive title favorite. Particularly given the notable absences on Golden State's roster, Poole hopes to make an immediate impact in his rookie season. 

"It's an amazing organization, I'm just coming in and I know only so little about the entire situation," Poole said during his introductory press conference Monday. "Hopefully, we can find a way to bring everybody back."

Poole -- who the Warriors took 28th overall in last week's NBA draft -- joins Golden State as the franchise ponders its own uncertain future. In the next week, their two top free-agent targets -- Durant and Thompson -- will decide if they'll re-sign with the team. However, both will be expected to sit out most, if not all, of the 2019-20 season with major rehabilitation timetables. The absence of both players, who averaged nearly 47 points per game combined, will leave opportunities for Poole. 

Throughout his collegiate career, Poole proved to be a capable scorer. In his sophomore season at Michigan, he averaged 12.8 points per game, shooting a team-high 37 percent from 3-point range. With the Warriors, Poole believes he can help overcome Golden State's supplemental scoring woes.

"I wouldn't feel pressure," Poole said. "I feel like scoring is a strength of mine and it's something has gotten me to this level and it's upgraded me as an individual so I think that's another reason why they've wanted me here." 

"I have a really good opportunity obviously with Klay out ... but just coming in learning, whether it's in practice and summer league and being a sponge and taking everything in," Poole added. "The opportunity will present itself, but being able to feel like I can make an impact and if there's an opportunity I'm definitely going to try to take it."

Minutes into Poole's press conference, Warriors general manager Bob Myers pointed out the makeshift stage was just under Draymond Green's basket at the practice facility, then gestured across the way to point out Stephen Curry's post-practice basket. The message was simple: Work hard and you will be rewarded. 

“We’ll give you every chance to meet all of your goals and expectations. But most of it is going to be because of the work you put in,” Myers said. 

While a competent scorer, Poole's defense was maligned during his college career. With a habit of ball-watching and poor closeouts, Poole will need to follow a strict learning curve to get on the floor under head coach Steve Kerr. "I think that I know that personally and obviously everyone else knows that as well," Poole admitted. "But it's an improvement that I plan on making. I've made it from high school to freshman year to sophomore year. That just comes with time and physically and your body. I'm still learning my body but it's something I'm working on a lot. Being able to be a two-way player offensively and defensively."

The Warriors are doing their part to make sure Poole is groomed. Just after the rookie was drafted, Green texted Myers conveying his approval of the pick. A week later, Poole walked into Rakuten Performance Center to find that his locker was right next to the former Defensive Player of the Year. Additionally, during the press conference, Poole cited Curry as a player he'd model his game after. In the coming months, it will be Curry, alongside Green, who will mentor the guard as he tries to make a mark in his rookie season.

[RELATED: No shortage of similarities between Draymond, Paschall]

"I think it's a huge compliment that I'm around some of the best offensive players, if not the best offensive players in the game," Poole said. "Night in, night out just practicing against Steph and Klay, being able to just find ways to challenge them and being able to have that experience in practice going throughout the season, it grows. So I think I'm just extremely blessed to be in the situation I'm in."