Warriors

Steph Curry faces long odds to be NBA MVP again, even if he deserves it

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AP

Steph Curry faces long odds to be NBA MVP again, even if he deserves it

The Warriors return from the All-Star break to host the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night, beginning a stretch of the final 25 regular-season games leading into the playoffs.

Those 25 games represent Steph Curry's final chance to convince the powers that be that he is the NBA's Most Valuable Player for a third time.

He certainly has a case. But for a variety of reasons, let's just get this out of the way now:

Barring an extended stretch that would seem insane even for Curry, it's just not happening this year.

It's no fault of Curry's own. He's in the midst of arguably his second-best season ever, behind only his unanimous MVP campaign of 2015-16.

That season, Curry averaged 30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game on 50.4 percent shooting from the field, 45.4 percent from 3-point range and 90.8 percent from the free-throw line.

So far this season, Curry is averaging 28.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per contest on 48.8 percent shooting from the field, 44.4 percent from beyond the arc and 92.2 percent from the charity stripe. And that's after shooting uncharacteristically poorly over Golden State's final four games before the break.

Curry leads all NBA players in average plus-minus (plus-9.7 points per game). He ranks first among all qualifying players in offensive rating (120.1 points per 100 possessions) and first among all qualifying guards in true shooting percentage (66.0 percent). 

Perhaps nothing clarifies Curry's value quite like his importance to his own team. The Warriors (41-16) hold the best record in the Western Conference, but Golden State is just 5-6 this season in games its star point guard has missed.

[RELATED: Outsider Observations: Dubs face questions down backstretch]

Really, the main reason Curry won't win a third MVP this year has nothing to do with him. It has everything to do with who is around him, and who isn't around the other main contenders for the award.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Milwaukee Bucks this season, who just happen to hold the league's best record at 43-14.

James Harden leads the league in scoring, and has totaled at least 30 points in every Houston Rockets game since Dec. 13.

Paul George sits behind Harden and just ahead of Curry with an average of 28.7 points per contest (second in the NBA), and the Oklahoma City Thunder star arguably has been the best two-way player in the NBA this season.

Assuming each of those three players are the most valuable on their respective teams, that would make the Robin to their Batman a combination of Khris Middleton, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, respectively.

Two of those running mates were All-Stars. The one that wasn't -- Paul -- probably would have been if not for missing 22 games because of injury.

Still, none of those guys are Kevin Durant, who was named MVP of the NBA All-Star Game.

Nor do any of Curry's main competitors have a supporting cast with the likes of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins.

[RELATED: Curry sneaks in odd phrases at All-Star for Jimmy Fallon]

That's not Curry's fault, but to think it won't matter in voters' minds is just being naive. The Warriors don't have the record advantage they've enjoyed in years past, so that's one less argument in his favor. Voters also seem to enjoy "spreading the love," so to speak.

So, yes, barring something insane, Curry almost certainly will have to wait at least another year to add a third MVP trophy to his loaded shelves. Perhaps if the Warriors' roster makeup significantly changes this offseason -- Durant surely will play a role -- he'll have a better shot at it next year.

Then again, if anyone is capable of something insane, it's the guy who became the first person ever to get all the MVP voters to agree on something.

Kevin Durant shows his MVP self in Warriors' Game 3 win vs. Clippers

Kevin Durant shows his MVP self in Warriors' Game 3 win vs. Clippers

LOS ANGELES – Kevin Durant strolled into the interview room late Thursday night and made a reasonably good effort to downplay his scintillating performance, which wiped away three days of misery and reflection for the Warriors.

“I’ve been here for 12 years,” he said, referring to his NBA career. “I’m 30. I don’ t need to show nobody nothing at this point.”

He didn’t need to, but he did it anyway.

“Coach Kerr came up with some plays for me at the start of the game,” he said.

OK. Probably so.

“We were just more patient tonight, to sum it up,” he said.

Well, yes, they were.

But the Warriors also were more purposeful and insanely intense early, with Durant setting the tone, treating Staples Center as his personal playpen, with him having all the fun and needing only one fantastic half to bury the gritty Clippers and their “gimmicky” defenses into a deep, dark dungeon from which even they will have a devil of a time escaping.

For this tip-to-buzzer 132-105 victory that gives the Warriors a 2-1 series lead, Durant was as much the architect as coach Steve Kerr or any member of his staff. Durant punished the Clippers with his scoring, zapping the pest that is Patrick Beverley, and then finished them with the other elements of his game.

“He came out super aggressive, in kill mode,” Draymond Green said. “That was all the difference for us. We took control of the game right there in the first quarter and never lost control of it.”

Scoring 38 points – 27 in the first half on 10-of-15 shooting – and adding seven assists, four rebounds, one steal and one block, Durant didn’t do it all, but he did more than enough to bring his teammates along for the wonderful ride.

“He had a different mindset tonight than he had the other night,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He set a tone right away. Our guys loved it. His teammates were excited about the way he started the game. That was infectious, carried over to our defense too.”

There have been times when Durant seemed less than fully engaged, maybe lounging in a corner on offense or failing to hustle back on defense. Not in Game 3. He played at MVP level, with high energy and visible passion and flame beneath his feet.

He also was the center of the most fervent overall team spirit seen from the Warriors in recent weeks, even as they were closing the season winning eight of their last games. Durant didn’t just produce, he also was a galvanizing emotional presence.

This is the full Durant, the KD the Clippers didn’t want to see and the dude he implied he would be when he resorted to third-person reference to remind one and all of his elite status.

“He made those statements with confidence, you know?” Clippers guard Lou Williams said. “He plays at a high level. We expected that. The only thing I’m disappointed about is he announced himself before he even got here. We didn’t come prepared.”

There likely was no preparation that might have helped Los Angeles. Beverley, such an irritant in the first two games, was rendered an irrelevant speck of futility. JaMychal Green, bigger and stronger, tried defending Durant and got burned for his effort; the only notable remnant of their matchup was the double technical fouls assessed after they got too gabby with each other for referee Jason Phillips.

Durant can shrug it off if he likes. It is, after all, no better than dozens of games he has played during his career.

[RELATED: Watch KD's huge block on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander]

But this came under broad audience surveillance after Durant played below his standard in Games 1 and 2, leaving so many fans and maybe some teammates and coaches on the edge of their seats wondering how he would approach Game 3.

Durant approached it with a vengeance, by showing the Clippers they can’t stop him and reminding everyone else why the Warriors brought him to the Bay Area. And, yes, why several teams would love to bring truckloads of cash his way when he becomes a free agent in July.

Warriors find the focus that's eluded them in clobbering of Clippers

Warriors find the focus that's eluded them in clobbering of Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- For much of the regular season, the Warriors had an internal battle with complacency as they strove for their third straight NBA title. 

Routine winning streaks would be followed by curious losses on their home floor, causing worry among many observers if the Golden Dynasty was showing signs of rust. 

Complacency reared its ugly head Monday night when the champs squandered the biggest postseason lead in NBA history. On Thursday, they tore apart the Clippers, winning Game 3 132-105, once again with a goal of finding the consistent championship energy that's eluded them. 

"High energy, high focus," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "Tried to set the tone early in the first six minutes."

The Warriors -- like they've done each game this series -- got out to a big early lead, going up 41-24 by the end of the first quarter. Kevin Durant, who had more turnovers than shot attempts in Game 2, scored 38 points, adding seven assists and four rebounds. As Durant flexed his powers, the Warriors locked down defensively, holding the Clippers to just 37.2 percent from the field and 21.9 percent from 3-point range. 

More importantly, after giving the ball away a combined 33 times through the first two games of the series, Golden State had just 12 turnovers Thursday evening. 

"Just smart basketball," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Simple plays. No halfcourt lobs. No wild passes. It was just taking what the defense gave us, hitting singles, just continuing to play."

This season, the Warriors haven't had a problem flexing their champion-level ability; however, sustaining the necessary energy proved to be a problem. Following a 10-1 start, the Warriors finished the month of November 7-7 as internal strife threatened to end the season before it could really get going. Following the All-Star break, embarrassing home losses to the Boston Celtics and lottery-bound Phoenix Suns left many curious. 

"The reality of it is, human nature, sometimes just happens, regardless of how much you fight against it," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "It's never because you don't want to be there. Sometimes during the regular season, I think every team goes where you just don't want to be there." 

Golden State's latest sleepwalking act came in the second half of Game 2, when the Warriors squandered a 31-point lead, letting the Clippers pull off the biggest comeback in NBA history on their home floor. The loss shocked most around the NBA world and gave the latest example of how complacency has been the team's most challenging opponent all year long.  

"I think everybody in the arena kind of relaxed just a split second. I just think everybody felt like we had that game in hand because we had a 30-point lead," Durant said. "I mean that hasn't happened in 30 years so its kind of natural for anybody to relax, even at home. But the players can't do that and I think that was a small lesson that we can learn from but our focus has been on point since late March, with the exception of like six minutes last game." 

[RELATED: KD sends loud message, unleashes MVP form in Game 3 win]

On Thursday, the Warriors again found themselves up 31 points midway through the third quarter, roughly the same time of the game they held advantage two days before. The coincidence prompted assistant coach Jarron Collins to tell Kerr, "it's 31" during the timeout. Luckily for the Warriors, deja vu was not in store for the champs. 

"We just keep challenging the guys, reminding of what's at stake. Sunday is the next one," Kerr said. "We can take control of the series if we can get that one. If we don't, we're in a tough spot." 

"We just got to lock in and play the next one. But I liked our approach tonight," Kerr added. "I like our chances."