Warriors

Eastern powers go all in at NBA trade deadline in pursuit of Warriors

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AP

Eastern powers go all in at NBA trade deadline in pursuit of Warriors

OAKLAND -- While much of the league spent the past few days trying to upgrade now or later, the Warriors sat tight at the trade deadline, as they’d indicated. Why make another deal after the steal of three weeks earlier?

They got their man in DeMarcus Cousins, acquired Jan. 18. It’s not possible for an NBA team to do better, or as well, without sending back present or future assets.

So the movement was left to their pursuers. Those in the Western Conference, perhaps capitulating to the widely perceived inevitable, didn’t do much. The only legitimate threat to the Warriors the last two postseasons were the Rockets last year, and they haven’t even approached that level this season,

Most of the contenders in the Eastern Conference, however, were hustling up a sweat to get at each other and, eventually, the Warriors. No fewer than four teams seem to consider the defection of LeBron James to the West as an invitation to the vacated seat atop the conference.

Have any of them improved their chances of taking the East and perhaps toppling the defending champs? Yes. Here is a look at the top four teams in the East, their recent moves and, in order, the probability percentages of becoming the next NBA champion, should the Warriors be the opponent in The Finals:

Celtics

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Boston, with good reason, was the least active of these teams, trading only guard Jabari Bird, who had not played a minute this season, to the Hawks for a second-round pick.

The Celtics are 14-4 in 2019 and currently in a third-place tie with Indiana, have won 10 of their last 11, with the only loss coming to the Warriors. Boston has beaten the Raptors and the Thunder in that stretch. The offense that struggled early has been the sixth-best in the league since Jan 1. The defense, always there, is No. 2 in the league since then. They are coming together.

More to the point, the Celtics are playoff tested. That matters. Kyrie Irving is a postseason animal and the youngsters learned so much last season.

Chance of winning it all: 35 percent.

Raptors

The Raptors, currently in second place, shuffled hard. They acquired Marc Gasol from Memphis, and were lukewarm on the move. While still very skilled, Gasol no longer is a top-5 center. He came at great cost: Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles. That’s 2.5 rotation players gone. They also rid themselves of benchwarmers Greg Monroe and Malachi Richardson for future second-round picks. OK. They shopped Kyle Lowry but he remains.

The Raptors were lightning out of the gate, champions of November, going to 20-4 on Dec. 1. Since then, they are 19-12. The offense that was so terrific for two months has since fallen behind those of the Celtics, Bucks, and 76ers. The defense had slipped just a bit.

These are the reasons Raptors GM Masai Ujiri felt the need for a significant deal. Will they work? We will see. They’re still a deep squad.

Chance of winning it all: 25 percent.

Bucks 

They added George Hill last month, sending away John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova. This week they made a couple moves that essentially amount to dealing Thon Maker for Nikola Mirotic.

That’s a lot of action for a team that has MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best record in the league -- and has won 18 of its last 21 games. Mirotic will hurt their defense, but is an elite 3-point shooter and will help on that end.

Milwaukee may well post the best record in the conference, maybe the league. That’s nice to have, but the core of this team has never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. The water gets deep. Experience matters.

Chance of winning it all: 20 percent.

76ers

They’ve been very busy. After dealing for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic on Wednesday, they added wings Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis on Thursday. They gave up two shooters (Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala), a solid defender in Wilson Chandler and the mega-mystery that is Markelle Fultz.

Harris is having a fine season and gives Philadelphia a new look. He’s much more of an offensive threat than Chandler, but also more of a defensive liability.

The 76ers have the most explosive starting five in the conference, five players capable of putting up 25 on any given night. But the chemistry is fragile and the defense has been a problem Harris won’t solve.

Chance of winning it all: 20 percent.

After a suspense-free first round of the playoffs, the next two rounds could be as good as any in the history of the NBA.

[RELATED: NBA championship odds shift after trade deadline concludes]

So credit Boston for holding tight while the other three franchises -- that have spent the past 18 years, or longer, watching The Finals -- were crossing their fingers and navigating the mad maze of phone calls, roster manipulations, salary-cap machinations, future draft picks and hypotheticals, all with the clock ticking.

As for the Warriors, there was no need to join the parade when they’re leading it.

Warriors' Willie Cauley-Stein explains origin of his mouthguard grills

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USATSI

Warriors' Willie Cauley-Stein explains origin of his mouthguard grills

When Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein smiles on the court, he puts the gold in Golden State. His teeth shine with customized mouthguards that look like grills. 

“I ain’t think it would look that good, but they looked real," Cauley-Stein described. "They fit real."

The grills are standard plastic mouthguards, embellished with extra bling created by a jeweler friend who makes specialized pieces for athletes. They’re molded in a tray, just like braces.

Cauley-Stein has been wearing a real grill since college. He keeps up the look at work with a collection of mouthguard grills in rose gold, white gold and crystal, all marked with two X’s. 

The two X’s are for a friend who passed away this summer. “His name is Rexx, two X’s, so I’m carrying that on,” Cauley-Stein explained. 

[RELATED: Slew of Warriors injuries hinders young core's development]

He also has two X’s tattooed over his left eye. Cauley-Stein’s skin is a canvas of tattoos that tell the story of his life. The gleam on his teeth gives him one more way to stand out. 

“A lotta people are like, ‘This dude doesn’t care about hoops, he’s got a freakin’ grill in his mouth!’ But it’s a mouthpiece!” he exclaimed. 

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

[RELATED: How die-hard Warriors fans can stay optimistic]

Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.