Smoking hot Sharks skate south to take on L.A.

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Smoking hot Sharks skate south to take on L.A.

March 24, 2011

SHARKS (43-23-8) vs.
LOS ANGELES (41-26-6)

Coverage begins at 7 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The San Jose Sharks can still realistically finish as high as second in the Western Conference, but that's not completely in their control.

Their fate in the Pacific Division certainly is.

Riding a four-game winning streak and with a three-point cushion atop the Pacific, the Sharks play their final eight games against division rivals beginning with Thursday night's stop at Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Kings.

RELATED: NHL conference standings

San Jose (43-23-8) saw its six-point division lead on March 3 shrink to three after a 1-2-2 stretch, but it's starting to hit its stride once again.

Though the division lead remains at three over Phoenix, the Sharks are starting to make up ground on second-place Detroit. San Jose, which trailed the Red Wings by four points and had played one more game through March 14, is now just one point back and has played an equal number of games as Detroit.

But while the Sharks won't get another head-to-head crack at the Central Division leaders, they can pull away from rest of the Pacific - or leave themselves rather vulnerable - over the season's final weeks. Thursday's 6-3 win over Calgary was San Jose's last non-division contest.

REWIND: Marleau, Mitchell each tally twice in win over Flames

The Sharks have totaled 20 goals during their four-game winning streak with four apiece from Patrick Marleau and Torrey Mitchell. Joe Pavelski has totaled 11 points.

"It's great to have everybody contribute," Marleau said. "We'll need more of that coming down the stretch. It's the way we're built and it's the way things should happen. Everybody should have fun scoring goals."

Finishing up against the division should work in the Sharks' favor. They're 9-3-4 versus Pacific foes.

The Kings (41-26-6) haven't faced San Jose since Jan. 26 - when they improved to 2-2-0 in the season series with a shootout victory - but coach Terry Murray has seen enough to know San Jose is clicking when it counts.

RELATED: Spotlight on the L.A. Kings

"They seem to be coming to their time right now, where it is their opportunity to put it all together," Murray told the Kings' official website. "They've got a lot of experience, world-class players, a top line, a good back end, and they're just making the big push and they know how to do it right now."

San Jose isn't the only team coming in off a win against the Flames. Los Angeles defeated Calgary 2-1 in a shootout Monday after opening a five-game homestand with losses to St. Louis and Anaheim.

The Kings are in a three-way tie for fifth place with Chicago and Nashville - one point ahead of Anaheim, two in front of Dallas and three more than Calgary.

"Every point we get, whether it's one point or two points, it helps build a resume to make the playoffs," said goaltender Jonathan Quick, who improved to 8-0 in shootouts. "We're just trying to get two points every time we're out. We got two points and that's all that matters."

The win came at a cost, though. Second-leading scorer Justin Williams left with a dislocated shoulder, an injury that will keep him out at least three weeks.

Swedish forward Oscar Moller was called up Wednesday from Manchester of the AHL.

The loss of Williams, who has 22 goals and 35 assists, could hurt an offense that's already struggling. Los Angeles has totaled 20 goals in 10 games this month, and leading scorer Anze Kopitar has had a hand in more than half of those.

The Sharks have scored with the man advantage in eight straight games (9 for 27), though they've also given up eight power-play goals during that stretch.

Curry bounces back in blowout, wins point guard battle with Irving

Curry bounces back in blowout, wins point guard battle with Irving

OAKLAND -- No one among the Warriors had a deeper desire to beat the Cavaliers than Stephen Curry, and his performance Monday gave every indication that he wanted it as badly as he needed it.

And after losing the point-guard battle to Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving in four successive games, all Warriors losses, it was past time for Curry as the back-to-back MVP to stand up and make a statement.

His response was impressive: 20 points (7-of-20 shooting), 11 assists, four steals and a 126-91 rout by the Warriors. He was plus-23 over 31 minutes.

“He was making shots, it’s as simple as that,” Irving said. “In transition, off pick-and-rolls, doing what he does and that makes him a great player.”

Irving’s response: 17 points (6-of-19 shooting), two assists and a game-high-tying (with teammate LeBron James) six turnovers. Irving was minus-12 over 29 minutes.

“Steph was great,” coach Steve Kerr said. “A phenomenal first half, I think he had 10 assists. His energy was great and he set the tone. He put a lot of pressure on the defense.”

Curry has been playing with renewed vigor lately, his mentality changing shortly after the Warriors on Christmas Day in Cleveland blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, taking a 109-108 loss. Curry took only 11 shots, scoring 15 points.

He was particularly good in the first half, scoring 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, with 10 assists and three steals. Curry clearly came to destroy.

“It was a great way to start, just a foot on the gas pedal,” Curry said.

Curry’s game, along with the victory, may silence some of the narrative suggesting the Cavaliers have his number. Though he was displeased with one aspect of his game, Curry happily accepted the outcome. Or that Irving hadn't caught up to him.

“I obviously wanted to play well; I didn’t want to walk off the floor with anything more than what I think is a solid, aggressive game,” he said. “I didn’t shoot the ball as well as I wanted to. Some shots I normally make didn’t go down.

But I can live with that knowing I took care of the other stuff I was supposed to do on the floor. Really, what was all in my head was that I definitely wanted to leave this arena tonight with a solid performance and obviously get the win.”

Durant gets personal with stuffing of LeBron, stops any momentum for Cavs

Durant gets personal with stuffing of LeBron, stops any momentum for Cavs

OAKLAND -- There was a single play Monday night that delighted Warriors fans more than any other in a 126-91 win over the Cavaliers, and it was not any of five 3-point bombs dropped by Oracle Arena favorite Stephen Curry.

Nor was it the high-velocity collision between Draymond Green and LeBron James, which resulted in Green being assessed with a Flagrant Foul 1 and the Warriors cranking up their intensity to another level.

No, the most satisfying play of all was on defense, and it was made by offensive wizard Kevin Durant, who sent a resounding message to the Cavaliers and, moreover, to James, Cleveland’s superstar forward.

With 9:48 left in the third quarter and James driving in for a dunk, Durant responded by rising up and cleanly stuffing the shot, sending James sprawling helplessly to the floor as the Warriors gained possession and raced the other way.

“That block at the rim was definitely great,” Draymond Green said. “If LeBron dunks on him right there, the momentum swings, he’s excited and everything can possibly swing. Yeah, he made a stand. Got a big block for us and we got off to the races. That puts momentum completely in our favor.”

With the crowd pumping up the volume, the Warriors, already in control, finished the job. And don’t think Durant isn’t aware of the effect such a play has.

“Yeah, especially when you’re at home, when you get a block against anybody, the crowd is into the game and they really enjoy that,” he said. “Around the league now, in every arena, fans are starting to respect defense. They can sense that it’s a momentum shift when you get a big block or a huge steal or a block.”

It also put momentum, on a personal level, in Durant’s favor. Despite the fact that Curry has won the last two MVP awards, it’s widely believed that James and Durant are the top two players in the NBA.

James has three championship rings, while Durant has none. James has four MVP awards, to one for Durant. When the two met in the 2012 NBA Finals, when Durant was with the Thunder and James with the Heat, Miami won in five games.

Durant, who entered the league four years after James, is at the point in his career that he believes he’s ready for anything James may have. Furthermore, since coming to the Warriors last summer, Durant clearly embraces the opportunity to beat James.

Durant posted 36 points and 15 rebounds when the teams met in Cleveland on Christmas Day, and posted 21 points, six rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals on Monday. KD, on an individual basis, is now 2-0 this season against LeBron.

“Guarding one of the best players in the league, and somebody that can score in different ways and impact the game from different ways, whether it’s in transition or the pick-and-roll or (isolation), I just tried to stay locked in and relied on my teammates,” Durant said.