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10:17AM

And now one that’s big for the Dubs, Cleveland

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — It’s the Cavaliers next. Thank heavens. Cleveland here at Oracle Arena. A game like the one on Christmas Day that means something and at the same time means very little. 

On Monday, Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration, the two best teams in basketball, the Dubs and Cavs, the last two champions, might give us what we get so infrequently when the Warriors are on the court, a game of importance.

That’s not to say Thursday night’s 127-107 home-court win over the Detroit Pistons should be diminished. Hey, the idea is you go out to win every time, isn’t it? And with the league’s best record, 34-6, the Warriors have more than met that standard.

But until the playoffs, which don’t start for another three months — can anybody wait? — for a quality team such as the Dubs, and the Cavs, most nights are repetitive. A slow start, a rally, and with rare exception (you will admit that when you’ve dropped only six games out of 40 that losing is an exception) a victory by a considerable margin.

You check the box score — Kevin Durant had 25 points, Steph Curry 24 and Klay Thompson, healthy again, 23 — and that’s it. Oh yeah, the Warriors also had 39 assists, the 27th time they’ve had at least 30; no other team has done it more than eight. Otherwise, you think ahead. Even if you’re Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

“It’s a great rivalry game,” said Kerr of Cavs-Dubs. “Everybody who follows the NBA looks forward to it. It’s much anticipated, good for us, good for the league and good for basketball.”

For that observation, we’ll say good for Steve Kerr. He worked in TV for a long while. He knows sport is just another form of show business, that every game is not like every other and, as we’ve so delightfully found out with the Warriors, every team is not like every other.

The Warriors and Cavaliers are box office. Once fans came to Warriors games to see the opponents, Magic Johnson or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers, Michael Jordan and the Bulls, the Celtics of Bill Russell and then Larry Bird. But now the draw is the Warriors. An intrasquad scrimmage would fill the seats. A game against the squad that stole the title is can’t-miss stuff.

A guy who did miss Thursday night was Draymond Green, 0-for-4 on his field goal attempts, as if to prove again there is more to the sport than scoring. Green played his usual outstanding defense and recorded 13 assists and nine rebounds.

“He’s got a little Dennis Rodman,” said Kerr, who played with Rodman on the Bulls. “He makes a huge impact, especially with guys on our team. Maybe not as crazy as Dennis, but the competitive desire is similar. He wanted to get under people’s skin. Draymond wants to dominate a game — one of those guys who just wants to win.

“He’s a unique player. He’s about 6-5 and guarding 7-footers. His passing ability is so important for us, but it’s his defensive versatility that makes us go.”

Green said he’s not as interested in winning against the Cavaliers as in the Warriors playing well. “We want to get better,” said Draymond. “If we get better we’ll win. But nobody’s going to hit the panic button whoever wins or loses Monday.”

For Kerr, it’s a quest for victory and improvement.

“I’d like to see both,” said the coach. “We always try to focus on the process and keep getting better. That’s what it’s all about, continuing on with the work in progress. We made a good step (Thursday night), and hopefully against Cleveland we’ll play well.”

They’ll play well. So will Cleveland. That’s what we want and what we need.

9:59AM

Durant gets his props and his points

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The man was marveling about Kevin Durant’s brilliance. “He’s such a super efficient player,” was the observation. “He scores from all over the place. Watching a talent like that is just so special.”

As is the talent of the man talking, Stephen Curry.

They say only another athlete truly understands the skills and demands of a sport, the qualities that separate him or her from the rest. And so when Curry, who awes so many of us, himself is in awe — well, then we have a better idea of the level that Durant has reached.

And why the Warriors were so eager to sign him as a free agent, to join Curry and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Yes, the Dubs won a ninth straight home game Wednesday night, defeating the “how did they stay so close for so long” Portland Trail Blazers (answer: C.J. McCollum), 125-117, at Oracle Arena.

The Blazers didn’t have Damian Lillard, the Oakland kid, out with a sore left ankle. And yet for a while there, late in the second quarter, Portland was in front by eight, mostly because McCollum, who scored 26 of his total 35 before halftime, couldn’t be stopped.

But as expected (yes, these Warrior games have a familiar theme), the Dubs found a way — “In the second half, our defense picked up,” said a satisfied coach Steve Kerr — and extended their league-best record to 31-5.

Curry, with 35 of his own, and Durant's 30 were a couple of the reasons. And Draymond, with 11 assists and nine points, despite missing minutes because of foul trouble, was another reason.

Kerr echoed Curry about Durant. Or maybe Curry echoed Kerr. Either way, both offered respect and high praise for a man who simply plays basketball as it is meant to be played, never forcing a shot or a pass but working within the system and with his teammates. 

“I thought Kevin was great,” Kerr said. “We had to change our rotation with Draymond’s foul trouble, so we played (Durant) the whole third quarter, which we normally don’t do. It was a typical Kevin night, some of everything. “

As in five rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals, along with the 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting.

“We are getting used to it,” added Kerr. “He’s such an efficient offensive player. Thirty points on 16 shots. He seems to do this every night.”

Efficient. Curry said the same thing, with an adjective. “Kevin is super efficient.”

At 6-foot-9, Durant is not the huge presence of a 7-foot Andrew Bogut, someone who was, in basketball lingo, a rim protector, someone who jammed up the middle. So the Warriors found a different method.

“It’s not as traditional as it has been the last couple of years with Festus (Ezeli, now with the Blazers) and Bogut,” said Kerr. “It’s more guard-oriented. But KD comes in here and blocks a lot of shots, and so does Draymond. We have a lot of long, rangy guys to challenge shots.”

They didn’t do much challenging of McCollum in the first half. He was 10 of 19. But after intermission, he was just 3-of-12. “Just got more physical,” said Kerr. “The first half I felt he was getting anywhere he wanted. In the second half, we ran him off routes. Just a little quicker and more alert.”

Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player the past two seasons (Durant was the MVP three seasons ago) has been knocked of late either for not taking shots or missing them. On Wednesday night, he connected on a quick three-pointer but had only (only?) nine points playing the full 12 minutes of the opening quarter. Eventually he would go 12-of-25, if only 5-of-13 on three-point attempts.

“It was a little more aggressive game,” said Curry. “The way they defended, I got a lot of shots off the pick-and-roll. Still, obviously I missed some easy ones. So I need to continue to be aggressive.

“There was a purposeful kind of focus for us. We’re at home. We have to take care of home court.”

They’ve done it, with the help of Kevin Durant taking care of everything.

9:30AM

No competition for Warriors; bring on the Cavs

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Cleveland will be there at the end of the week, Christmas Day. That should be interesting, thank heavens. A good opponent on the road. As opposed to these exhibitions against mediocre opponents at home.

No suspense, no competition. And, of course, no problem.

The fans love it. The way Alabama fans love their football. Routs. “Oh, Curry missed a jumper? Oh my goodness. What’s wrong?”

It’s a good thing the Warriors went scoreless — yes, not a single point — in the first three and half minutes, or this one might have been a mismatch. As it was Tuesday night, the Dubs managed to squeeze past the Utah Jazz, 104-74.

As compared to Saturday night, when they beat Portland by 45 points. It’s not a story when the Warriors win, just when they lose, which they’ve done only four times in 29 games.

Maybe the stat of this game was two, as in Warriors turnovers in the first half. If you don’t throw away the ball, sooner or later you’re going to throw it in the hoop. “With the weapons this team has,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “it is just a matter of time until we score.”

The crowd at this eight millionth straight sellout at Oracle (OK, I exaggerated a wee bit, it was only the 203rd in a row) was hardly kept in suspense, other than in the opening few minutes when neither team could make anything and the game appeared head for a 0-0 final. (As I said, I exaggerate, but it was only 4-2 Dubs six minutes into the game.)

So the highlight (and even Kerr agreed) was some kid out of the stands, Patrick Nudanu of Oakland, making a half-court shot during a break in the third quarter that earned him $5,000. Well that, and a dunk at the end of a full-court sprint by Draymond Green that ended up with the ball in the net and Green holding on to the rim to keep himself from crashing halfway to Berkeley. The NBA is less concerned about safety than rules, however, and holding the rim is an automatic technical.

“I don’t get it,” Kerr said of the T. “Dray was going a million miles an hour. It was about safety. The way he was flying in, he was going to break his neck if he let go.”

He didn’t and, as in most games this season, neither did the Warriors. Now they’ll head, in order, to Brooklyn, Detroit and, on the Noel, the Cavs on the edge of Lake Erie.

It will be the first game between the Warriors and Cavaliers since Cleveland beat the Dubs in the closing seconds of Game 7 of last season’s NBA final to wrench away the title. It will be a big one, certainly, but December is not June. At the least, the game shouldn’t be as one-sided as most involving the Warriors.

“They’re unique on a lot of levels,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, “and (Draymond) is unique. I compared him to Magic Johnson a while ago, and he’s got that kind of feel for the game.”

What Draymond felt Tuesday night, when he had 11 rebounds, 15 points and four assists, was that the Warriors defense kept them in position until the offense, as expected, heated up. “It says a lot about our team," Green said, "when we can’t even make a layup the first few minutes and then do what we’re able to do.”

What teammate Steph Curry did, after his slow start, was connect on eight of 18 (4 of 9 on threes) for 25 points. Kevin Durant added 11, and Klay Thompson scored 22.

Kerr said, as might be appropriate during the holidays, that the Warriors have become a team of joy. They laugh with each other and at each other, reaching a comfort level that required time to achieve with the addition of Durant.

“The other game,” said Kerr about Portland, “Klay took about 17 steps and wasn’t called for traveling. Our team started motioning for traveling and laughing at each other.”

Most of the games have been figurative laughers. Now it’s on the road again and a battle against Cleveland. He who laughs last ... you know the rest, even if now we don’t know much more.

9:43AM

Kerr gets a ‘moment of joy’ for Craig Sager

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Steve Kerr is special. But you already knew that. He’s a great coach, of course. That’s a given. One year, his Warriors win the NBA championship. The next, they set a record for victories. What really counts is that he knows how to act, knows what to say.

He is measured, perceptive, logical and — as we learned again Tuesday night, when the Warriors (yawn) won again, defeating the New York Knicks 103-90 to improve their record to 23-4 — understanding.

What his Warriors did, moving the ball brilliantly (36 assists on the first 36 Warriors field goals, eventually 41 of 45), playing efficient defense (the Knicks shot 41 percent), was impressive.

No less impressive than the remarks of their head coach.

Kerr used to be an announcer, an analyst for TNT. After he had been a three-point specialist, most notably on the Chicago Bulls. Kerr’s TV career made him teammates with Craig Sager, as surely as Kerr’s NBA career made him teammates with Michael Jordan.

Sager died Tuesday, age 65, after a gallant fight against leukemia. His partner of eight years, Kerr, was not going to allow us to forget how much Sager meant to him and certainly, because of Sager’s national presence and good-humor enthusiasm, how much he meant to pro basketball.

During the second half of what quickly, as so often happens for the Warriors, had become a non-competitive game, Kerr told the audience for TNT, which conveniently was doing the telecast, that what was taking place on the court was secondary to the loss of Sager.

That came after an unusual tribute at Oracle Arena before tipoff. Holding a public address microphone, as warm-ups were concluding, Kerr asked both the Knicks and Warriors to stand near him. Then, surprising all, for Sager’s memory Kerr requested not silence but “a moment of joy.” Oracle erupted in an explosion of cheers and applause from players and fans.

Later, after expressing displeasure with the Warriors’ play — “I didn’t think there was much purpose to anything we did,” Kerr insisted — he again referred to Sager.

“We all know we make a big deal about playing basketball for a living,” said Kerr. “We are lucky to do so. It’s entertainment, a game, and it brings a lot of joy to people. But that’s all it is, a game.

“We lost somebody very important in our lives. The players know Craig so well from being interviewed. Craig’s death far outweighs anything that happens in the gym.”

Earlier Kerr had been asked about the Cleveland Cavaliers, as Cavs coach Tyrone Lue had left their three stars, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, in Cleveland when the Cavs came to Memphis for the second night of back-to-back games against the Grizzlies.

The question wasn’t so much conceding a loss — and yes, the Grizzlies won — but about preventing the fans in Memphis the chance to watch in person the players they hoped to see, especially LeBron. Athletes get injured, certainly, and miss games, but not even permitting them in the same city, simply to rest them for the future, would seem another issue completely.

The smaller the lineup, 11 men in football, nine in baseball, five in basketball, the more significant is each player.  Additionally, in basketball one man can play offense and defense, rebound and shoot, do it all.

Entertainment, Kerr correctly called it. Built on a star system, something created in Hollywood nearly 100 years ago. People who don’t know opera line up for Placido Domingo. He’s the attraction, the way LeBron is the attraction. And then LeBron is a no-show.

“I did this two years ago in Denver,” conceded Kerr about the situation. “I rested our guys. We were in the midst of seven games in 11 days. I felt bad about it afterwards. I got a lot of emails from people that had come all over the place and driven a couple hundred miles and bought tickets to come see Steph (Curry). And they didn’t get to see him.

“I understand both sides. As a coach your responsibility is to keep your players healthy, and there are times when guys need a night off. I know the popular thing is that they make millions of dollars, and they should be able to play every night. But what if you play them and they get hurt?”

Nobody got hurt Tuesday, Curry scored only eight — he was 3 of 14 — and Klay Thompson had 25. An uneventful night, except for Kerr’s call for a moment of joy and the boisterous response. We’ll remember that for a long while.

10:39AM

S.F. Examiner: Bay Area legend receives due credit

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

Yes, Holy Toledo! What else would we say? What else could we say? Except that those who vote on the Ford Frick Award for broadcasting excellence, a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, got it right at last.

They’ve chosen the late — to add great, would re redundant — Bill King.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

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