Bulls

The delightful arrogance of the Golden State Warriors

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The delightful arrogance of the Golden State Warriors

"The WHAT? How?” asked Stephen Curry, almost incredulously but with a hint of a smile as he finished his media session at the United Center Wednesday, slightly surprised but a little intrigued at where the conversation was going.

The NBA’s reigning MVP and odds-on favorite for a repeat was given an observation, that his team, the champion Golden State Warriors, was the cockiest team in the NBA.

“Does “cocky” have a good connotation?” The Best Shooter Ever fired back to CSNChicago.com, already knowing the answer.

Of course it doesn’t, particularly for African-American athletes in society where everything is under the microscope, but when Curry pulls up from the end paint of an opposing team’s logo to confidently swish a 3-pointer, the word “cocky” can float around in one’s head.

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Curry, when elaborating, slightly relented.

“I would call it “extreme confidence”,” he said. “People I’ve talked to when it comes to the mental aspect of the game, coaches, great minds of the game, they always talk about the great line between confidence and cockiness.”

Curry read the list like a basketball rolodex, champions in different ways, from different eras and perspectives — Don Nelson; Davidson coach Bob McKillop, the man who allowed Curry to blossom when he couldn’t get scholarship offers from the major schools; Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who led Curry’s pre-draft workout with the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2009; Curry's current coach Steve Kerr; and the Greatest of All-Time, Michael Jordan.

“Cockiness almost to me makes you feel invincible and it’s a trap,” Curry said. “We’re confident to the fact that we know if we play the way we’re supposed to play, we should win most of our games and be the best team in the league. But we’re not invincible, where we can show up, psyche a team out, play any way we want to and come out with victories like it’s not, we won’t cheat the game like that.”

At 38-4 and nipping on the heels of historical proportions by way of challenging the 1996 Chicago Bulls for the most wins in a single season, it shows the Warriors aren’t cheating the game, but there’s something more to it than a dogged dedication to the pursuit of excellence, or at least it appears to be something more, visually.

Curry doesn’t deny there’s a mental edge they have that all champions acquire through greatness, where a team can take the air out of the other team before the ball is tipped, and no deficit is insurmountable.

“We might impose our will and throw a big haymaker punch early and eliminate any hope,” Curry said. “But for the most part this season and majority of last year we were getting everybody’s best shot.”

Curry often leaves his flicked right hand in the air when long triples swish harmlessly into the net, and when he beats you for a backdoor cut to finish with a left-handed layup, it’s held in the air, almost letting everyone know it was the off-hand that did you in.

In a game where such displays used to be met with a good shot that lands one to kiss the hardwood, no one dare challenge the Warriors — because the league isn’t like that anymore and they take full advantage.

“I’ll take that, if that’s what they call us,” said Draymond Green, the man whose versatility and toughness makes the Warriors just as special as Curry’s unlimited shooting range makes them dangerous.

His snarl, bred from his days in Saginaw, Mich. and Michigan State University, is the perfect counterpoint to Curry’s child-like smile.

“(But) No. I think everybody has confidence in themselves. If you don’t you can’t win. You gotta believe in yourself. We’ve been real confident.”

When asked if the Warriors have more motivation for validation due to wanting to shut up a vocal segment who believe they had some fortuitous bounces go their way through the Western Conference trek to The Finals, such as the then-champion San Antonio Spurs being eliminated in Round 1, Green just shrugged.

“Hmm? We’re gonna have our attitude regardless of what people say,” Green said. “Ain’t nobody softening us up or making us tougher. What they say isn’t gonna make us play harder, what they don’t say ain’t gonna make us play soft. We hold ourselves to a standard. We don’t need what other people say to make us move either way.”

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But when you look at it, from Green’s constant verbals to Curry launching from anywhere to their outright dismissal of competition, the word “arrogant” would be tagged to just about any other champion in recent memory.

Somehow, they’ve magically escaped that perception thus far.

“They’re confident,” a Hall of Famer told CSNChicago.com “If they weren’t champions, they would be arrogant because of their false belief of superiority. However, because you’re a champion your superiority is validated. When you’re the champion, arrogance and superiority are brothers.”

Partially, it’s because Curry is so easy to like and absorb. It doesn’t seem like it, but he’s a long and lanky 6-foot-3, although he’s treated as if he’s Muggsy Bogues height-wise.

And on the day it was announced his jersey was the best-selling in the league, he tried to explain.

“I’m not sure. The main thing I think about, I guess, is stature and the way I play,” Curry said. “It’s something that most people who play the game of basketball, go to the YMCA, city leagues and stuff, everybody wants to shoot. It’s something you want to work on, to have that creativity with the dribbling and stuff.”

It’s not that he strays away from controversy, as he spoke out about gun violence in a PSA that aired on Christmas Day, and made the hilarious comment about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ visitor locker room before their meeting Monday, saying “Obviously, walking in that locker room, it’ll be good memories. Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne."

But Curry hasn’t caught any criticism — and nor should he — especially when he backs up the harmless comment with a destruction of the Cavaliers where their once 40-point lead was only matched by the distance from which Curry was trying to shoot, almost as challenge to himself.

“We stick with the preparation for how we get ourselves ready for those games,” Curry said. “Nobody takes days off, nobody cheats shootarounds and practices. Once that changes, your identity changes. You can’t allow your success to make you forget how you got there. That’s what we’re pretty good at, is staying within ourselves.

“Yeah, Draymond is gonna talk. He’s gonna play hard, get into it with somebody. I’m gonna have confidence shooting all over the floor, Klay is gonna have that look ‘no matter where I touch the ball, it’s going up and it’s going in’. That’s who we are but how we prepare for those games, there’s gotta be consistency there.”

Opinion varies on Golden State’s “confidence or cockiness”, depending on who you ask.

“They’re confident,” one league executive texted.

“They’re cocky because they’re confident,” another league executive texted.

“They’re both,” said a retired player from a championship team of the last decade.

“They’re confident,” a player from an opposing team said. “They took a lot of (stuff) from this summer from a lot of people, and other teams. ‘Cocky’ is LeBron saying Miami would win eight rings. They’re 38-4, they’re like Drake on his ‘back to back’ diss track.”

The player was referring to the popular rapper who took an unwilling rival to task a few months back, putting out consecutive songs that had the music world buzzing as much as it laughed at a lack of response—similar to what Golden State appears to be doing to the rest of the NBA at large.

But whether confidence or cocky, Andre Iguodala said it doesn’t come from an individual standpoint, but a collective — which could explain how the Warriors come at you in waves.

“I’m not a cocky guy, I don’t think I’m all-world but my teammates think that of me,” said Iguodala, who comes off the bench but could be their most important player. “So when I get it going, they’re behind me. When Steph shoots, we feel the same thing. When Klay shoots, we think it’s going in. We have confidence and we’re trying to have fun within the game.”

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When Iguodala talks, it sounds like he’s describing a cocky team but he makes the point to draw the line, to a degree.

“I like using the word confidence,” he said. “We have that belief in each other so strongly. When we went through tough times people said we’re not that good. Confidence is fragile, especially when dealing with the media.

“Confidence is fragile if you’re a fragile being. So in order for us to combat that, we always support one another, we always (give) positive feedback (to) one another.”

When Iguodala was playing for the 76ers early in his career, he ran across his share of teams that he described as “cocky”. He wouldn’t name them but said: “There were teams, but none of them were championship teams. That’s why I stay away from that, you gotta be humble and have your confidence.”

When asked why he wouldn’t name them, the veteran smiled and said, “They’re Irrelevant, they just didn’t win. They weren’t winners.”

Sometimes arrogance is good for the soul.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”