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9:45AM

Warriors’ Kerr: ‘We deserved to lose’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — So the greatest team in NBA history, or least what many forecasters told us it either would be or should be, lays another egg on another opening night. Well, one down and 79 to go.

Yes, after ceremonies, speeches and the dispensing of the little ornaments that athletes say drive them more than money — championship rings — Tuesday evening became a bummer for the Golden State Warriors.

Ahead by 17 points late in the second quarter, giving the all-too-confident fans exactly what they wanted, the Dubs lost Draymond Green, their lead and the game, 122-121, to the all-too-eager Houston Rockets.

Not that the Dubs, despite every publication from Boston to Beijing predicting they were a lock for a second straight title and third in four years, were going to go undefeated. But they did want to start things off a little better than this.

That the game came down to a last-second shot by Kevin Durant, which he made but the red light glowing under the backboard properly negated, was not the issue.

You’re up by 17 before the first half ends, you’re supposed to win.

Especially after the stories that the Warriors were far and away the best team in the NBA and that everyone else was merely play for exercise, particularly in the Western Conference. “The Warriors and 14 other guys,” was the headline in the New York Times.

One of those “guys” is the Rockets, with that nemesis James Harden. He scored 27, and with Green, the league’s defensive MVP, out of the game because of a leg injury incurred in the first half, Harden was throwing up those jumpers when he wasn’t throwing down those dunks.

The big problem, according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, was their lack of proper condition, a byproduct of their eight-day trip to and from China where, adored by the fans over there, the Dubs helped promote basketball internationally but not their own well being.

“It didn’t surprise me,” he said of his team’s inability to stay in front of the Rockets. The Warriors, who had only a few days of what would have been the normal training camp, were gassed.

“Our lack of conditioning was apparent,” said Kerr. ”We deserved to lose. They outplayed us. We had control of the game most of the way, (but) it never felt like were executing or defending at a high level. I just thought we looked tired.

“I don’t think we are in good enough shape yet to play a 48-minute game against a great team.”

Not with Green bruising his knee. Not with Houston getting 43 rebounds to 41 for the Warriors.

Kerr said Green, who played around 12 minutes in the second half, tweaked his left knee. “He was our best player tonight. He brought most of the energy. He had an incredible dive for the loose ball in front of our bench. He had so many great hustle plays. When you are lacking conditioning, like we are right now, you have to have your high-energy guys out there.

“As soon as he went out, things went south for us. We just couldn’t get any traction.”

What they did get was a huge first half, 8 of 9 and 20 points from the guy they signed this summer as a free agent, Nick Young, who calls himself “Swaggy P.” He finished with 23, one more than Steph Curry, three more than Durant.

“Nick was great,” affirmed Kerr.

The Warriors still may be great, but after winning a title and then receiving so many endorsements for this season, the danger is complacency. Sometimes, teams believe they are as good as people tell them they are.

And everyone’s been telling the Warriors they are not just good but fantastic.

"We will keep our edge,” promised Kerr before the game. ”We have a lot of depth. On nights that we don’t have the motivation or the energy, we have a lot of guys to go to who should be able to help us in that capacity,”

They couldn’t on Tuesday night. There were ceremonies, but in the end there was no jubilation.

8:52PM

Raiders' defense hasn’t been good for a month

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The season is coming apart, shredding, disintegrating. To think a month ago they — we — were talking about the Raiders going to the Super Bowl. What a laugh. What a mistake.

Four losses in a row now for Oakland. On Thursday they play the Kansas City Chiefs, who finally lost their first game Sunday, the same day the Raiders dropped their fourth in a row. Nobody this side of the ’72 Dolphins wins them all — and K.C. usually owns Oakland.

What the Raiders own is a 2-4 record. Which is exactly that of the Los Angeles (yes, I keep wanting to refer to them as San Diego) Chargers, who edged Oakland 17-16 on Sunday, on a field goal by Nick Novak with 0:00 on the clock at the Coliseum.

The time remaining is irrelevant. The Raiders' inability to move the ball when necessary, or to halt the Chargers when necessary, is very relevant.

The Raider locker room was full of platitudes. You’ve heard them all. We’re going to keep fighting. We just to correct the little things. We need to take care of the details. We’re better than that.

Derek Carr, starting once more at quarterback, made that last observation. Then after a moment, he suggested, “Maybe we’re not.”

Never mind the qualification. They’re not.

The Raiders have gone from the top, all the preseason predictions, the early season self-assurance, to the bottom. They started out making plays. Now they’re making errors.

Now they can’t get the first down on third and short. Now they can’t stop the other team on third and short. Or long.

Carr, who missed the last two games with a lower back injury, wants to take the blame, and a couple times he was at fault, overthrowing a ball that was intercepted two minutes into the game and then missing Marshawn Lynch early in the third quarter, the ball bouncing off Lynch’s outstretched hands and being picked off by Hayes Pullard on the San Diego 11-yard-line early in the third quarter.

Still, how to do you stick it to one man, if the most important man, when you have the ball almost 11 minutes of the third quarter and score zero points? Or when the Chargers move 78 yards on 11 plays in four minutes for that final, painful field goal?

The Raiders' defense hasn’t been any good for a month now. “Comes down to the end,” said Oakland coach Jack Del Rio. “Which team makes the plays. We had our chances.”

And squandered them, which is what losing teams do, or they wouldn’t be losing teams.

The best player on the field for the Raiders was the punter, Marquette King. He kicked four times and averaged 55 yards. Fantastic. And of little consequence when you can’t keep the other guys from running or passing.         

Well, make that passing. The Chargers rushed for only 80 yards. They threw for 268. Philip Rivers, their quarterback, kept connecting on third and short. And third and not-so-short. Rivers sure is over the hill, isn’t he?

“You get them pinned back,” said Del Rio of King’s punting effectiveness, "we have to get a stop. We didn’t get it done. They milked it.

“They won the game. They earned it. So we’re on a short week.”

Up next are the Chiefs on Thursday night, three days after a defeat. The Chiefs, who inevitably find a way to beat Oakland. Or is it Oakland that beats Oakland?

Hard to knock Del Rio for going for it on fourth and two on the Chargers 41 in the fourth quarter, even if the Raiders couldn’t get the two yards. All that great punting wasn’t worth much, so might as well gamble.

Asked what’s missing from the offense, Del Rio wouldn’t deal in specifics. “Just productivity,” he answered. Well, no kidding. If you can’t gain two yards on fourth down, can’t score a point when you’re controlling the ball most of the third quarter, you definitely are not productive.

On the last offensive series, before King punted 58 yards (whoopee), the Raiders had an illegal formation penalty followed by three go-nowhere plays, including the hook and lateral.

“We’re working hard,” said Del Rio. Our team is a proud team.”

Right now, however, it is not a very good team.

8:27PM

Mickelson, man of the past, talks about the future

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — It’s the past that makes us think of Phil Mickelson, the Masters triumphs, the battles with Tiger Woods, the win in the Tucson Open when he was a 20-year-old student at Arizona State. But for Phil and the golfer who beat him Sunday in the Safeway Open, the talk was of the future.

Even though at 47 Mickelson seemingly is near the end of his career on the regular PGA Tour.

Even though he hasn’t won since 2015.

Phil tied for third in the Safeway. The winner for a second straight year was Brendan Steele, at 15-under-par 273. Tony Finau was a shot back. Mickelson and Chesson Hadley were two more behind, at 276.

Two days ago, Mickelson made a bold forecast. He promised he would win. Maybe here, at Silverado Country Club. Maybe in China, where in two weeks he’ll make his next start, at a tournament where he’s twice finished first.

Steele, a southern Californian as is Mickelson, seconded the motion.

“He’s very close,” Steele said of Mickelson, with whom he plays frequently. “He’s been playing really well. I think the only thing that’s holding him back is missing a few fairways here and there.”

Which is what Phil did on the front nine on Sunday, shooting one-over 37. And then, after a run on the back nine, what he did on the little (370-yard) 17th, making a bogey after a birdie at 16 and before a closing birdie at 18.

Missing fairways has always been Mickelson’s weakness, as if a golfer who’s won five majors and 42 tournaments overall can be said to have a weakness. 

What he can do is get the ball into the cup, putting, chipping, blasting, and in golf there’s nothing more important.

You can recover from a shot into the trees. You can’t recover from missing three-footers.

Mickelson shot a two-over 70 the final day of this Safeway, his only round of the week out of the 60s, a score that was a shot worse than those of Steele and Finau.

“When I’ve been home with him,” said Steele, “he’s had good results. He’s trending in the right direction ... I don’t see any reason why he can’t be competitive for a really long time. I’ve always said I think Phil can win at Augusta well into his mid-50s, he knows the course so well. I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon.”

Mickelson won’t slow down over the next two weeks. He will stop, going east to attend parents day at Brown University in Providence, R.I, where the eldest of the Mickelson children, Amanda, is a freshman. Then we will see what happens on the course.

“The game has come back,” he insisted, “and my focus is much better.”

One of the problems for relatively older athletes is a loss of concentration. They perform well for a while, say an inning or two, a set or two, a round or two, and then they fall apart.

The oldest golfer to win a major was Julius Boros, 48, who took the PGA Championship back in the 1960s. Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at 46 in 1986. Subsequently he would return, get in contention and then make bogies.

Silverado played tough Sunday. There was a stiff wind, and the pins were on raised areas of the greens. Mickelson said he liked the challenge and also believed correctly that none of the leaders, including Steele, would get far ahead.

“It was fun to be in the mix,” he said, sounding like a rookie. “It was fun to have a chance.”

The optimism grows from the results.

“It’s just easy to see the ball starting on the right line,” he said. “Iron play’s back, distance control, putting. I’m staying (in the) present and hitting shots.”

What he most wants to hit after four years is the winner’s circle.

1:32PM

The fans still chant for John Daly

By Art Spander

NAPA,  Calif. — His game? Well, John Daly made the cut in a regular PGA Tour event for the first time in two years, didn’t he? His fame? Just listen to those fans. “Daly, Daly, Daly,” they chanted as he walked out of the scoring trailer.

They love him. Still and always. At age 52, perhaps more curiosity than competitor, although since he will play all four rounds at the Safeway Open — and people such as Keegan Bradley and D.A. Points will not — John is far from a relic.

He was given an exemption. He gave the sponsors an attraction.

Daly and Phil Mickelson were the most recognizable golfers in the field at Silverado Country Club. Phil, four back of first-place Tyler Duncan with a round to go, has an outside chance for a win. John has a great chance to keep the crowd engaged.

We know the pain he’s put others through, put himself through, the alcoholism, the domestic spats, It wasn’t that long ago down in Winston-Salem when sheriffs brought him in, although they didn’t charge him. Here, sheriffs from Napa County serve as his protection on course.

Can’t be too careful with your stars. And for better or worse, with that tempestuous history, with those garish (and copyrighted) Loudmouth trousers, with golf still seeking to expand its audience in these post-Tiger days, Daly remains a star.

He may be a regular on the Champions (seniors) Tour. He may have been at the other end of the Saturday groupings, with Ted Potter Jr. and Martin Piller last off the 10th tee. No matter. He was John Daly, winner of the 1991 PGA Championship and the 1995 British Open — and with his reputation and personality, the common man’s links hero.

Grip it and rip it. That was the Daly mantra. Isn’t that what every golfer tries to do? Not a lot of grace or subtlety. Just like John.

“People were awesome,” said Daly about his trip around the course. He shot a one-under 71, his second straight sub-par round, and is at a cumulative two-under 214.

“I got a lot of offers to have a beer.”

John is the guy next door, except this guy next score can hit the ball more than 300 yards and, when things go right, display a putting touch that belies his size (uhm, is 320 pounds a fair estimation?) and helped him birdie the 18th hole Friday to make the cut on the number, one-under 143.

He’s never been qualified or chosen to make America’s Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup teams, which in the selection process may be more intent than oversight. Golf people have not taken kindly to Daly’s lifestyle — although they love the way he brings in spectators.

Daly is a cottage industry. His web site advertises “Daly’s Deals,” offering everything from those flowered trousers to Smith’s Workwear flannel shirts to trucker caps with the slogan “Grip it N Rip it” that cost $19.99. That’s a deal?

A musician of sorts, singer and guitar player, Daly the other night took part in one of the concerts that in the evening follow the golf at the Safeway. “Someone said they thought I was pretty good,” confessed Daly.

His golf used to be very good, and when he was younger it was hard not to muse about Daly, who at one time had such a great future. Now it's hard not to wonder, had he kept his life in order, what might have been.

That’s a game so many of us play, speculation. And true, Daly possibly could have done much, much more. Still, he’s playing golf effectively enough to make the cut against people a generation younger and hear appreciative fans chant, “Daly, Daly, Daiy.”

That’s no small achievement for big John.

 

9:22PM

Maverick in 'the coolest office in the world'

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — The issue is less one of ambition than it is of inevitability. Greatness must not be denied. Which is why a half century ago, the big guy from Ohio — Jack Nicklaus, by name — turned pro despite proclaimed intentions of remaining amateur, selling insurance and playing golf for the joy and glory of it.

Which is why Maverick McNealy, who also had so many reasons to stay amateur, made that 180-degree turn you just knew was coming. And, with KPMG on his cap (like Phil Mickelson) and Under Armour as his attire (like Jordan Spieth), suddenly was playing as a pro.

Nicklaus, arguably the greatest player of all time (yes, Tiger Woods supporters will be allowed to disagree), idolized Bobby Jones, who as an amateur in 1930 won the Grand Slam.

So, thought Jack, maybe he could repeat the accomplishment. But the Grand Slam — the U.S. and British Opens and U.S. and British amateurs — has changed, with the PGA Championship and Masters replacing the two amateurs.

Golf also has changed. Like baseball, football, soccer, basketball and hockey, only the very best find room at the top. Nicklaus couldn’t stay amateur if he wanted to conquer the sport. Nor, five and a half decades later, could McNealy, the young star (age 21) from Stanford.

The Safeway Open this week at Silverado Country Club is McNealy’s first tournament since becoming a pro, though not his first pro tournament, since he has competed in the U.S. and British Opens and several other events. Two rounds in after Friday, McNealy is doing well enough, five-under par 68-71—139, seven back of the leader, Tyler Duncan.

McNealy had been high on the leader board, seven under par after his 16th hole, the 350-yard 8th since he played the back nine first. But he botched the drive and after taking a penalty shot for an unplayable lie and five more shots including two putts, McNealy had a triple-bogey 7. Stirred but not shaken, he birdied the par-5 ninth.

“I made a mess of No. 8,” agreed McNealy, “but I did a good job of staying level and not getting out of my rhythm. And it paid off with a good birdie on the last hole.”

The kid is very much under control, even if an occasional shot might not be. Asked if in the 80-degree weather on a course surrounded by vineyards and history he was having a good time, McNealy quickly responded, “Yeah, this is the coolest office in the world.”

It was 46 years ago, 1971, when another golfer from Stanford made his pro debut at Silverado, which is located some 80 miles north of the campus.

Tom Watson had earned his PGA Tour playing card — something McNealy hasn’t had the chance to do — a few days earlier in Florida, then zoomed back to California to enter what was called the Kaiser International Open. Watson made the cut and in the following years, winning five British Opens, two Masters and the ’82 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, made his mark.

Watson’s father went to Stanford. So did McNealy’s, as a graduate student in the M.B.A. program. From there Scott McNealy became a dot-com billionaire with Sun Microsystems. He also became a fine golfer, down to a 3-handicap, if not as fine as his eldest son.

In late 2016 and early 2017, Maverick was No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. In 2015 he became the third from Stanford, along with Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers, to win the Haskins Award, presented annually to the best male collegiate golfer in the country.

So many trophies. Now so many expectations.

Asked what he learned as a collegian that will carry him to success as a pro, he said, “I think there’s so much you learn about yourself from being in those situations. I played some of my best rounds ever when the heat is on in the final round.

“Obviously these guys are really good. But being in the mix in tournaments is something I’m very familiar with from college.”

But in a sense he’s graduated, to playing the very best, the pros. It was inevitable.