Warriors

Pau Gasol's lofty praise for Warriors: 'In all my years in the league...'

Pau Gasol's lofty praise for Warriors: 'In all my years in the league...'

The Warriors are NBA Finals bound for the third straight year.

Following their Game 4 victory over the Spurs on Monday night, Pau Gasol opened up about the Western Conference champions.

“They’re in a groove,” Gasol told Courtney Cronin of the Bay Area News Group. “They know what it takes to win and obviously they’ve been champions, they’ve established records that have never been set before and they’re on a path to get another championship.

"In all my years in the league, they’re playing at the highest level right now.”

Gasol entered the NBA as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2001 draft.

He won championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010.

The Warriors are the first team in NBA history to enter the Finals with a record of 12-0.

Their average margin of victory in the playoffs is 16.3 points.

Warriors center Jordan Bell ideal starter while DeMarcus Cousins gets healthy

Warriors center Jordan Bell ideal starter while DeMarcus Cousins gets healthy

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have indicated that, until DeMarcus Cousins is available, they plan to stay with the center-by-committee system installed two seasons ago. To generate continuity, though, they’ll need a regular starter.

If length and athleticism are the priorities, third-year 7-footer Damian Jones has the edge.

If reliability and technique are crucial, they’ll look to 6-9 Kevon Looney, who is entering his fourth season.

If sheer talent is the primary factor, it likely will be 6-9 Jordan Bell, coming off a rookie season that was by turns spectacular and disappointing.

“As long as we get it done,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday after practice, “it doesn’t matter to me.”

“But if somebody takes it, that’s great.”

With the NBA being a talent-first league, Bell would seem to enter training camp with a lead. He is as athletic as Jones with more court awareness, and far more athletic than Looney and also has broader skills. No center on the roster has more energy than Bell.

Then there is this: The Warriors visualize Bell as the ideal matchup for Clint Capela in Houston, the team considered most likely to deny the Warriors a fifth consecutive trip to The Finals.

Bell acquitted himself well when the teams met in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The confidence gained from that series vaulted the University of Oregon product to a higher level when the Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals, where he was terrific.

“The Western Conference Finals was the most competitive basketball I’ve ever played,” Bell recalled. “I’ve never had to experience any competition that was that tough, where literally every single play counts.”

Bell’s says he’s a “way better basketball player” than he was as a rookie, yet his fate likely will rest on his ability to achieve consistency. He worked on that during the summer and believes that, along with the experiences of his rookie season, should be of benefit in Year 2.

Bell talks about being a better pro, defining it as “showing up on time, not making rookie mistakes. I know what the schedule is now, so I should know exactly where to be and what time to be there. And what’s expected of me.”

That’s largely a result of veteran influence. David West, now retired, was in his ear. So was Draymond Green. And there was a one-on-one conversation with Kevin Durant last April, as the team flew home from Indiana, that proved profound.

Though Kerr was impressed by Bell’s work over the summer -- he praised his hoops intellect and passing, and even gave him the green light to fire midrange jumpers -- there still is much to prove.

“He understands now how hard he has to work,” Kerr said. “It’s hard for a rookie to come in and understand what being a pro means.

“But he gets it now. I think he’s more committed than ever. He’s got to be more consistent as a player, but that starts on the practice floor every day.”

Matchups will be a factor in determining a starter. Changing the starting lineup on a regular basis requires constant adjustment for the other four starters, all of whom are All-Stars. While they’re wise enough to do that, that approach isn’t particularly sustainable.

The likely expectation is that Jones will fill the role vacated by JaVale McGee, playing 10-15 minutes off the bench along with spot starts. Looney probably will remain in a similar role, playing significant minutes some nights and not at all on others, based on the opponent.

Bell, however, is the most versatile. He offers some of what the Warriors would get from Jones and Looney. Bell is prepared to start, but hardly fixated on it.

“I want to be the guy who finishes, not the guy who starts,” he said. “That’s what I’m going for.”

Kevin Durant: 'I still gotta get better' at one thing in particular

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USATI

Kevin Durant: 'I still gotta get better' at one thing in particular

Kevin Durant is ...

... really good at basketball.

I promise.

But that doesn't mean he has mastered every aspect of the game.

"I still gotta get better at setting screens and moving off the ball a little bit, but I'm glad I still got some room to grow in that area," Durant told Greg Papa on Bonta Hill on 95.7 The Game. "I played a lot of pickup ball this summer -- moreso than I ever played -- and that's something I thought about running up into screens.

"I'm like, 'Let me hit this guy now.' Whereas before, I was slipping out of screens trying to get me a shot."

[RELATED: Steph Curry's summer the best of his career, 'trajectory is still going up']

Durant is absolutely right.

It's well documented how Steph Curry does a fantastic job of setting picks (particularly back screens). In many instances, two defenders stay attached to Curry, and a teammate gets a wide open shot or dunk.

It's probably safe to assume that the Warriors' coaching staff has been talking to Durant about becoming a better screener over the past two seasons. And it sounds like he's ready to make it happen.

"It's only gonna help our team," Durant added.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller