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9:08AM

Warriors historic but can’t get a Sunday playoff slot

By Art Spander

They’re not the Knicks, or the Celtics. Or the Lakers. They’re merely the best team in pro basketball, the team that on a historic Wednesday night set a record for the most wins ever in an NBA season. Yet, perhaps because of their geographical location, or maybe because they still aren’t taken seriously, the Warriors do not get respect due a champion.

Moments after the W’s crushed the Memphis Grizzlies, 125-104, at the Oracle, head coach Steve Kerr learned they would be opening the playoffs Saturday afternoon, which is known as the worst possible viewing period on TV. And as a onetime commentator, Kerr was well aware of the slight.

“I always thought the Sunday time slot was the coveted TV slot,” Kerr remarked. “But maybe that’s changed, because two years in a row we’re playing Saturday afternoon. So very little time to prepare. But obviously, the same goes for Houston.”

But Houston isn’t the defending NBA champion. Houston didn’t finish a regular season with 73 wins (73-9) breaking the record of 72 set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, on which Kerr and Michael Jordan played. The Warriors, who won all three games from Houston during the regular season, are the attraction — but apparently not that much of an attraction.

Unless it’s the Lakers, the people in the NBA, at ESPN, at TBS, have little regard for franchises in the Pacific time zone. The folks in Brentwood and Beverly Hills are sophisticated. Up north? Have you seen those people parading on Market Street or Telegraph?

Of course, when and where should be inconsequential when compared to who and what, and the who and what of the NBA are the Warriors and what they’ve done. So, Kobe Bryant’s farewell was classic Hollywood. He scored 60 in a game that meant nothing except that it was a last hurrah. But Steph Curry scored 46 for the Warriors — and set a season mark of 402 three-pointers, after hitting 10 of 19 attempts — in a game that for the 19,596 spectators, the 175th straight sellout, meant everything.

It likewise meant a great deal to the Warriors players. And so, as they’ve done so often this season, they grabbed it early, building a 20-point lead before the second quarter was done.

“I told our guys I never in a million years would have guessed that record would be broken,” said Kerr. “I thought it was like DiMaggio’s hit streak, really, and I was wrong.”

That’s because his players treat basketball for what it essentially is, a game. They play with élan, with joy. They’re like high school kids out for a good time as well as for wins, and throughout they’ve had both.

“But I will say the same thing now I said 20 years ago,” Kerr offered. “I don’t think this will ever be broken. Somebody’s got to go 74-8, and I don’t see it. I hope our fans aren’t expecting that next year.”

Right now they’re expecting a second straight championship. For good reason. The Warriors play fearless, if not exactly flawless, basketball. They can shoot you to bits — they were 52 percent on field goals and 42 percent (20 of 47) on three-pointers. They can play effective defense, which experts will tell you is where games are won. And they have the confidence born of success.

There was no possibility the Warriors were going to lose last night. By the early part of the third quarter, the only way the W’s were going to lose was to hit two balls into the water on the 12th hole. OK, an obscure analogy, but we’re not that far removed from the Masters.

When asked if with Steph’s and the team’s numbers — Curry didn’t get off the bench in the fourth period — this was as close to perfection as imaginable, Klay Thompson gave a flip answer that was as close to perfection as possible.

“If I would have shot 25 more threes and got to 300, yes,” quipped Thomson, who scored 16, “but I’m amazed by Steph, especially as a shooter. To get to 400 threes in a season, that’s hard to put into words. That’s hard to do ... so congrats to Steph and the 14 other guys in the locker room. We fought hard and didn’t take a night off all year.”

Someone asked Curry the difference between the 2016 Warriors and the 1996 Bulls — not that he would know, since he wasn’t even out of elementary school 20 years ago. 

“I think the game has evolved a lot,” said Curry, “but we have a certain identity of how we play.”

Which by the Bay is considered state-of-the-art but elsewhere isn’t good enough to get them a Sunday spot in the opening round of the playoffs.

 

10:23PM

Newsday (N.Y.): Golden State MSG-bound as they chase Bulls’ 72-win season

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. — The funny thing with the Golden State Warriors is that they love the funny things, the joke video clips, the needling by their coaches. Basketball, even at the highest level, the NBA, is a game to them, a chance to live it up, laugh it up and maybe because of those two factors win, win, win.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Newsday. All rights reserved.

10:16AM

S.F. Examiner: Curry, Panthers converge in greatness

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

The jersey is in a safe. “And I won’t tell you where the safe is,” said Stephen Curry, playing a figurative game of keep-away with the skill he plays the actual game of basketball. The jersey is that of the Carolina Panthers, Curry’s other team. At the moment, maybe his primary team.

“I’ve had it for a while,” said Curry. It’s the Panthers’ white jersey, with blue and black numbers and edging, the same as they wore Sunday in mauling the Arizona Cardinals, 49-14.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

9:22AM

Warriors got what they wanted: 16th straight win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — They wanted it, and they said as much. No false modesty, no “it doesn’t matter that much,” which in truth it doesn’t — but at the same time it does.

The record, 16 straight wins to open an NBA season, is just another notch on the gunslinger’s belt, another verification that the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are a very special team.

But we knew that already, didn’t we? They won the championship last season, and that’s the ultimate goal in any sport, and now they’re focused on trying to do it again. But the playoffs are months away, so what they’ve accomplished in the first 16 games of the 82 on the regular schedule is a guidepost to their greatness.

And the way it happened Tuesday night at the Oracle, with a 111-77 victory, similarly was a verification of the decline and fall of their once superior, once proud opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers, who along with the Celtics were one of two great franchises of the '70s, '80s, '90s and early 2000s. The Lakers of West and Baylor, Magic and Kareem, Shaq and Kobe. The Lakers, who once, during the 1971-72 season, set an even more impressive record, winning 33 in a row. The Lakers, who forever and a day owned the Warriors.

But it’s all different now. The Warriors have taken control of pro basketball, so much so that ESPN and TNT continue to revise their schedules to show the Warriors, to show Steph Curry, who scored a game-high 24 points, to show Draymond Green, who had 12 points the first quarter and 18 overall.

The Warriors, once the punching bag (they won only 17 games in 2000-01), once the laughing stock, now are the class of the league, must-see basketball, the “New Showtime,” while the Lakers, the old Showtime, have gone the other way, almost to oblivion.

They are 2-12, which would be awful even if it weren’t matched up against 16-0. And inevitably, sadly, Kobe Bryant, 39 and losing the battle both to the men guarding him and Father Time, is only a shadow of what we knew. In this historic game for the W’s, Kobe also made history of a sort, going 1-for-14 from the floor (it was a 3-pointer) and ending with just four points.

But this is supposed to be about the Warriors, the wonderful, enthralling Warriors, who at game’s end shared their delight with a sellout crowd (listed at 19,596, but there might have been dozens more) by staying on court while the fans, cheering, stayed in the stands. The guys on the floor loved it. The spectators in the building loved it.

“It feels great,” said Luke Walton of the record and the reaction. As you know he’s listed as the interim coach, temporarily replacing Steve Kerr, who is recovering from spinal leaks incurred during off-season back surgery. Walton — the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton — insists this is Kerr’s team, and that’s probably accurate, but Walton is pulling the strings in this record run.

For certain, Walton — the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton — has never lost a game while a head coach, whatever the designation. For sure he’s never backed away from the idea that the record is inconsequential. It’s like a 30-foot shot. If you’re going to go after it, then get it.

“You’ve got to celebrate it,” he said of the Warriors overtaking the 15-0 starts of the ’48-49 Washington Capitals and the ’93-94 Houston Rockets. “You’re obviously a piece of history now, and we want to continue the streak. We feel like we can. But you can’t be content because it’s only November.”

Whatever the month, 16 wins without a defeat is mark of distinction, a mark that others envy and of course will try to halt, which, sooner or later, someone will. But it’s like the “A” you learn in the classroom. It always will be there no matter what occurs in the future.

Before the game, Walton said that Kerr, who sits in the locker room as a matter of medical precaution and to show Walton is the boss courtside, reminds him of four core values: enjoyment, compassion, mindfulness and competition. In other words, have a great time and win. Which is what the Warriors have done since the season started.

“We went by and congratulated each player,” said Walton of what took place in the locker room immediately after the close of the game. “What they did, they now are in the history books. This turned into a mini-goal a couple of games ago, and we accomplished it and now we have to make sure we don’t drop off.

“I don’t think our guys play with any pressure, to be honest. I think challenges like this, in this streak, bring out the best in them. We saw that tonight with the way the guys played.”

Beautifully, brilliantly and successfully. What else is there?

10:05AM

Warriors still perfect after an imperfect game

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — They’re going to lose one of these nights. Maybe Thursday on the road against the Clippers. Maybe Friday at home against the Chicago Bulls. Nobody goes through an NBA schedule, 82 games, unbeaten.

But so far, the Warriors, with a lot of talent and a little luck, are without a loss through 12 games.

That ties the modern-era record for the fourth-best start in recent history — no, we’re not counting the 1948-49 Washington Capitals. The ’93-94 Houston Rockets began 15-0 (as did the Caps), the ’57-58 Celtics and ’02-03 Dallas Mavericks went 14-0, while the ’82-83 Seattle SuperSonics, now the OKC Thunder, won their first 12, as have the ’15-16 Warriors.

The W’s remained perfect with an imperfect 115-110 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, and as the very perceptive Luke Walton, the anointed interim coach, so astutely pointed out after it was time to exhale, sure, it was sloppier than usual. Who cared?

We’re spoiled. We’re so used to watching the Warriors get control in the second quarter or maybe the third — all right, the OT win over the Brooklyn was the exception — that when something happens like that against the Raptors we, media and fans, are not quite sure how to act. Not that we outliers are alone.

“We’re all spoiled,” Walton agreed in wonderful candor. “Not just you (meaning the demonic critics from the fourth estate). We keep winning. Our guys are so good. That’s our style. Our guys have a special gift to make big plays, and it’s not just one or two of them.

“We weren’t happy with the way the game was turning in the second half, but we were thrilled the way we stepped up to finish it to get another win.”

Walton, of course, has done nothing but win since he was designated as the temporary replacement for Steve Kerr, who since directing the Warriors to a championship last season has, because of back surgery and complications, been unable to coach a game.

But if the administration changed, the performance is mostly unchanged.

Against Toronto, Stephen Curry had 37 points in 39 minutes, and nine assists. Klay Thompson had 19 points (but only one in the second half). The W’s shot a competent 53 percent.

However, Toronto, which chooses to play what is known as deliberate basketball and thus draws fouls, took 39 free throws and made 30, while the W’s were a mere 18 of 27 from the line. The W’s, who prefer running, which they are able to do after the opponent misses a shot, were restricted to walking. Yes, they had an 18-point lead a few seconds before halftime, but they also were tied with under six minutes left. Unnerving.

“We’d love to keep pushing up the ball,” said Walton. “We started Steph in the fourth quarter and thought we could build up our lead. But you’re going to have sloppy games like this.”

The Warriors had Andrew Bogut at center for the first time since he incurred a concussion, but they didn’t have Shaun Livingston as sub at guard — he has hip problems — and that’s why Curry had to play so long. But great teams, and we’ll include the Warriors in that category after winning a title and their first 12 games the following season, manage to succeed.

“We didn’t feel like we played great tonight,” said Bogut, the designated interviewee. “We played good in spurts. It’s a positive sign for us.”

Not that the other 11 games have been very negative.

But Curry said the Warriors expect more of themselves, and even though they finished in the right place the trip was strenuous.

“They’re good,” he said of the Raptors. “There’s a lot of talent in this league. Tough games are good to experience. But we hold ourselves to a certain standard. We didn’t put any pressure on them defensively, and when we were sloppy on a couple of pressures, they came to life.”

Asked what went wrong — a bit strong when you’re undefeated — Walton shrugged and reminded, “The first half we were phenomenal. We had 21 assists at the half with only seven turnovers.

“We are putting together nice halves and finishing games nice, but we have gotten away from the overall great game of basketball.”