Nikola Jokic will be barometer for DeMarcus Cousins' playoff readiness

Nikola Jokic will be barometer for DeMarcus Cousins' playoff readiness

OAKLAND -- DeMarcus Cousins has 18 games to make his case for consistent minutes in the postseason. His opening argument begins Friday night at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors face the Denver Nuggets.

It’s a crucial game for both teams, as the Warriors have a one-game lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference and are pursuing the No. 1 overall seed.

It’s a statement game for Cousins, who will be the primary defender on Nikola Jokic, Denver’s 7-foot big man who is concluding the best season by any center in the conference and perhaps the entire NBA.

Because his skills are so comprehensive, Jokic is the perfect opponent to test the defense of an individual (Cousins) and team (the Warriors). He orchestrates much of Denver’s offense; he is tied for fifth in the NBA in assists (7.7) per game and can score at every level, shooting 50.5 percent overall and 32.1 percent from deep.

He’ll be the most challenging opponent Cousins has seen since in five weeks -- since facing 76ers big man Joel Embiid on Jan. 31 -- and can provide an accurate indication of how far Boogie, who made his Warriors debut on Jan. 18, has progressed.

Cousins has been a frequent scapegoat for the Warriors’ many defensive weaknesses. Some of the criticism is deserved, much of it not. He can be slow to rotate, resulting in reaching, which is a quick ticket to foul trouble. He is coming off a yearlong layoff to recover from a severe injury.

He also doesn’t get a lot of help. The Warriors’ defensive statistics have been similar with (108.6 rating) or without Cousins (108.9).

“Our defense has been horse---t no matter who’s in there,” Draymond Green, who also can expect to see plenty of Jokic, conceded this week.

In the wake of being routed 128-95 by the Celtics on Tuesday, coach Steve Kerr mentioned pick-and-roll coverage while citing a need to “simplify” the defense.

“The details defensively always matter, and then the competitive desire on top of that,” said Kerr, singling out pick-and-roll coverage. “If you put all that together, you’ve got a good formula. We’ve got enough defensive-minded players to get it done. We’ll get it done.”

Green said he would make it his personal mission to catalyze the defense, which this season is No. 16 in the league, 15th since Cousins was activated. The Warriors will need to be better, collectively and individually, to succeed in the postseason.

Warriors-Nuggets is about as “postseason” as it gets in March. They could face each other in May, and there is no question Cousins will want to log as many minutes as possible against as many opponents as possible.

[RELATED: Ask Kerith: What's Bogut's fit with Boogie, on Warriors?]

The only potential playoff opponent against whom Cousins can expect a reduced role is Houston, where 6-10 center Clint Capela relies on quickness and athleticism.

Most of the others, including Jokic, tend to fall into the category of “classic” centers, big bodies that rely largely on physicality and finesse.

Cousins is on trial for a new contract. He wants to shine, and doing that in a marquee game against an All-Star center would be, for him and for the Warriors, about as good as it can get at this stage of the season.

Why Steve Kerr called Dragan Bender's Warriors debut 'really positive'

Why Steve Kerr called Dragan Bender's Warriors debut 'really positive'

Dragan Bender had a solid debut in a Warriors uniform Sunday night.

The 22-year-old recorded six points, five rebounds, three assists and one block in Golden State's 115-101 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

He went 2-for-5 from 3-point range and was plus-one in 20 minutes off the bench.

"It seems like Dragan picks things up really easily ... did a good job last night of recognizing what we were trying to run," coach Steve Kerr told reporters after Monday's practice. "I'm excited about him. He's a really talented player and he could be a good fit for us.

"He's just gotta get comfortable. And it's not an easy thing to do coming in this late in the season. But he's doing a good job."

So what does he have to do to stay with the Dubs beyond his current 10-day contract?

"Just gotta compete and play the role we want him to play, which is pick-and-pop," Kerr said. "Defend his position and understand our schemes. The early look is really positive. He has a good feel for the game.

"We're gonna give him every opportunity."

Bender has five more games -- Tuesday vs. the Sacramento Kings, Thursday vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, Saturday at the Phoenix Suns, Sunday vs. the Washington Wizards and Tuesday at the Denver Nuggets -- to prove his worth.

[RELATED: Ex-Dubs big Spellman dominating for Wolves' G League team]

"It's definitely not a long time, but just take it day-by-day," Bender said Monday when asked if he's feeling a sense of urgency. "See where it goes. Just enjoy the process, enjoy the experience out here."

The goal is to be in uniform when the Warriors host the Toronto Raptors next Thursday.

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Kobe Bryant gained more influence from being a 'girl dad' than basketball


Kobe Bryant gained more influence from being a 'girl dad' than basketball

LOS ANGELES – For two hours Monday, greater Los Angeles seemed to come to a silent halt, folks pausing long enough to clear the fog of mourning and gaze at TV screens set to different channels but showing the same program.

The Kobe Channel. Once again, perhaps for the last time, Kobe Bryant was uniting a region infamous for its divisions and cliques.

For a ceremony billed “A Celebration of Life,” speakers lined up to address 20,000 people inside Staples Center, along with millions of viewers in Southern California, across the country and around the world. It became apparent over the last four weeks and on this day that Kobe’s tragic death at 41 had stripped away many of his sharp edges.

But each one of those edges was softened, too, by the fact that he was living and dying alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

For as much as Kobe was admired for his unbridled bravado and ability to rise to the moment, he also had detractors. Of course, he did. It’s the lot of all superstars who dare to be so brazen in their desire to crush the spirits of foes. It what comes with trying to push teammates beyond their self-imposed limits.

A level of antipathy also is a natural outcome for a man who faces sexual assault allegations and later, after charges are dropped, acknowledges committing adultery.

That was Kobe in 2003, three years before the birth of Gianna “Gigi” Bryant. Her death was such a blow that it fractured hearts – particularly those of mothers sympathizing with Kobe’s widow, Vanessa – still cool to Kobe.

"Kobe was the MVP of girl dads,” Vanessa Bryant said. “He never left the toilet seat up. He always told the girls how beautiful and smart they are."

The phrase “girl dad,” has been uttered more frequently since Jan. 26 than perhaps the previous 100 years. Kobe used it, was proud of it and now it’s a trend.

A trend that on Monday reached Michael Jordan, a middle-age man known for ruthlessness. The tides of his tear ducts were rising as he approached the podium and as he started speaking, they were sliding down both sides of his nose, and finally over his top lip and into his mouth. But MJ continued on, and he was magnificent.

“I am inspired by what he’s done and what he shared with Vanessa and what he shared with his kids,” Jordan said near the end of his 10-minute speech. “I have daughter who is 30; I became a grandparent. And I have two twins that are 6. I can’t wait to get home to become a girl dad. And to hug them and to see the love and the smiles that they bring to us as parents.

“He taught me that, just by looking at this tonight. Looking at how he responded and reacted to the people he actually loved. These are the things that we will continue to learn about Kobe Bryant.”

Kobe’s commitment to women goes beyond his wife and their daughters, Natalia, Bianka and Capri. He was coaching Gianna’s team. He followed the WNBA. He took Gianna to Connecticut to see the UConn women’s team play.

The only coach to speak on this day was Geno Auriemma, the leader of the fabled UConn women’s basketball program. The only collegiate player to speak was University of Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu. The only active pro player to speak was Diana Taurasi, who takes particular pride in having the “White Mamba” nickname bestowed upon her by Kobe.

Kobe reached out to women athletes, making them feel special. He may have done it for himself, simply as another of the many layers of his life. He surely did it for his daughter.

“The same passion we all recognized in Kobe, obviously Gigi inherited,” Taurasi said. “Her skill was undeniable at an early age. I mean, who has a turnaround fadeaway jumper at 11?"

It was profoundly evident that the man who was sentenced to a measure of time as America’s most polarizing athlete had all these years later become a unifying force, bringing together male and female athletes. He was bond that connected a region notorious for conflicts between races, ethnic groups and neighborhoods, as well as economic disparity.

Kobe is the reason Celtics legend and Hall of Famer Bill Russell on Sunday put on a Lakers jersey, No. 24, with the name “Bryant” on the back – and wore it to a Lakers-Celtics game. In LA.

For two hours Monday, Kobe and Gianna had millions riveted to TV screens. That was the power of the man, and it gained authority through the relationship he had with his daughter, who few really knew but now is as immortalized as her father.