Hot teams collide as Kings travel to Denver

430893.jpg

Hot teams collide as Kings travel to Denver

March 30, 2011

KINGS (21-52) vs.
DENVER (44-29)

Coverage begins at 6 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

DENVER (AP) -- The Sacramento Kings have won four straight games for the first time in nearly 16 months, the first three of which came at the end of a surprisingly successful road trip.

Considering their next stop, it seems awfully unlikely that streak will continue.

The surging Denver Nuggets look for a 10th consecutive victory at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night in the opener of a home-and-home set with Sacramento, which can make it five wins in a row for the first time in more than four years.

As Denver (44-29) looks to maintain its hold on fifth place in the Western Conference - it's currently 1 12 games ahead of No. 6 Portland - a back-to-back series with Sacramento (21-52), at first look, has to seem awfully enticing.

But lately, the Kings have looked little like a team stuck in last place in the Pacific Division. Sacramento bounced back from a 132-92 loss at Chicago on March 21 by concluding its road trip with three straight wins, then shot 53.3 percent in a 116-113 victory over Phoenix on Tuesday.

REWIND: Kings stage inspired comeback against Suns

The recent return of Tyreke Evans, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists Tuesday, has certainly played a part in the Kings' resurgence, but Marcus Thornton has been perhaps the biggest reason. He had 24 points against the Suns and has averaged 24.3 in his last six games.

"Things are coming together," coach Paul Westphal told NBA.com. "Since the trade for Marcus, our roster has been more balanced. As we get healthy and are able to sort things out, I think we are showing that there are a lot of reasons for optimism."

Sacramento hasn't won five straight since Jan. 31-Feb. 10, 2007, and it hasn't recorded four consecutive road victories since Dec. 11, 2004-Jan. 4, 2005.

Erasing those droughts Wednesday won't be easy. The Nuggets and Lakers are the only two teams who haven't lost at home since the All-Star break, but while Los Angeles has won nine straight at Staples Center by a fairly impressive 10.9 points per game, that pales in comparison to Denver's dominance.

The Nuggets won their final home game with Carmelo Anthony before the break by one point over Dallas. Since the trade, they've won their eight games at the Pepsi Center by an average of 20.4 points.

Four players with 17 points apiece - Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Chris Andersen and Al Harrington - led the way in the latest rout, 114-94 over Washington on Friday.

"We're approaching every game like it's a playoff game," point guard Raymond Felton told the Nuggets' official website. "We've got to prepare ourselves. We've got to get ready and stay focused."

One of the league's deepest teams could get a few more key contributors back Wednesday. Wilson Chandler, who sat out Friday with a lingering ankle injury, is probable, while guard Arron Afflalo, who's missed six of eight games with a strained hamstring, is a game-time decision.

Chandler averaged 11.0 points in two games versus Sacramento this season while with the Knicks, but scored a career-high 35 against the Kings on Feb. 9, 2010.

The teams, which wrap up their season series Friday at Power Balance Pavilion, have split their first two meetings, with each winning at home.

Evans had 27 points and a season-high 12 assists in Sacramento's 122-102 victory Jan. 6.

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

blach_cubs.jpg
USATSI

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

This is the NBA Finals that will define the Warriors forever

This is the NBA Finals that will define the Warriors forever

There are no more ways to extol the virtues of the Golden State Warriors without redundancy. They have owned three consecutive regular seasons and three consecutive Western Conference playoffs, and just finished savaging the last one faster than any team since the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, who didn’t have to play as many games as these Warriors did.

But now the season begins, and in the pass-fail world of the NBA Finals, this is the one that will define the Warriors for the ages.

After mugging the San Antonio Spurs, 129-115, to close out the West final in the minimum number of sanctioned events, the Warriors now wait for the resolution of Cleveland-Boston to begin the final assault on their destiny.

They did so without giving in to their occasional predilection for easing up on the throttle. They took an early lead, widened it slowly and carefully and made damned sure the Spurs never felt like they could do as the Celtics had done the night before in Cleveland. The Warriors were coldly efficient (well, okay, those 17 turnovers were bothersome but not ultimately an issue) at both ends of the floor and all points inbetween, and the result and its margin were both fair representations of the difference between the two teams.

In dispatching the Spurs, they became the first team ever to put 120 points on a Gregg Popovich-coached team three consecutive times; indeed the only time Popovich ever had one of his teams allow 120 in back-to-back games was when the 2005 team that eventually won the NBA title beat the Los Angeles Clippers and Warriors, both in overtime.

And while this series will be remembered as the one in which the Spurs had the least amount of weaponry, it will also be the one in which the Warriors will be remembered for wasting only one of the eight halves they played. It is difficult, in other words, to make the case that San Antonio would have won the series even with Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. We do know it would still be going on, but the outcome seems only slightly more in doubt in such a case.

But as this affects the Warriors, this next series will dictate all of it. Win, and they can claim a mini-dynasty. Lose, and they will damned in the court of public opinion in ways that make last year’s 3-1 memes seem downright charitable.

It is the price they pay for being very good already and then adding Kevin Durant without giving up anything of real substance. It’s the price they pay for wanting it all and then doubling down for more.

People and teams who did that are not treated kindly unless they win everything that can be won, and the Warriors are now that team – like the Yankees of lore and Patriots of today, they are the standard of both excellence and excess, and marrying the two without danger is not possible, as they learned a year ago.

But that was then, Draymond Green’s wayward hand and five minutes of 0-for-everything shooting is just history. They can adapt and avenge if not eradicate the hard lesson of 2016 and be thought of as the team they all believe themselves to be.

All they have to do is take the Celtics or Cavaliers and ender them inert. They don’t have to do it in four games; chasing numbers is a fool’s errand as they discovered last year chasing the now-meaningless 73.

They just have to do it four times, and if they play as they have, winning 12 consecutive games by an average margin of 16 points and change  against three other quality teams, they will succeed at the hardest level basketball can create. And whatever people may say of them good or ill, they will have achieved what was demanded of them by both supporter and detractor alike.

And that, to paraphrase Kevin Durant, is what they came to do. Win the thing, and not worry about the numbers -- especially not the style points.