Legitimate tests await Warriors in Oklahoma City, Dallas

Legitimate tests await Warriors in Oklahoma City, Dallas

The Warriors left town Sunday grateful they had rediscovered the impact and importance of defense.

Maybe they’re back to being the team favored to win the NBA Finals. Maybe.

There can be no certainty before Monday night, when the Warriors enter the ear-splitting cave called Chesapeake Energy Arena to face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With the exception of the opening minutes of their rout of the Bucks on Saturday night, the Warriors over the last three games played nine impressive quarters during which their defense was by turns effective to devastating.

“That’s kind of what we’ve been talking about this entire time,” Draymond Green said. “We have to get into a groove defensively and everything else will take care of itself after that.”

Those wins, however, were against the 76ers, the Magic and the Bucks. Philadelphia and Orlando are light years away from contending in the Eastern Conference, and Milwaukee is fighting like hell in hopes of simply getting in.

The Sixers gave the Warriors fits for three quarters, taking a 12-point lead into the fourth before Green whacked his teammates awake with his defense and led them to the comeback victory.

Orlando is abominable, surrendering 21 turnovers -- for 36 points -- that were as much about its sloppiness than it was the Warriors defense.

The Bucks were on the second night of a back-to-back, following an emotionally charged victory over the Lakers the previous night in Los Angeles.

These victories were somewhat preordained and may be fool’s gold. Indeed, whether the Warriors have completed the mental and physical adjustments required to beat quality teams without Kevin Durant remains uncertain.

The Warriors often talk about how “defense travels.” Neither the defense nor the offense went with them on their last road trip, the most treacherous of the season. If they bring it this time, they’ll be fine against Russell Westbrook and Co., as well as against the Mavericks on Tuesday night in Dallas.

“I’m actually going to show them a map, show them how close it is from Oklahoma City to Dallas, so we shouldn’t be intimidated by the geography,” Kerr said, referring to the roughly 205-mile distance.

Fatigue, as well as the time needed to absorb the jolt of losing Durant, surely played a factor in the poor performances earlier this month. The fatigue surely faded with a week at home, playing every other day. And much of the bold self-assurance lost with Durant’s absence can be regained if Curry starts cooking, as he was Saturday.

Having Durant with them on the road also should provide an emotional lift.

That’s the intrigue of these next two days, for they are consequential enough, particularly the game against the Thunder, to tell us where the Warriors stand as they enter the final 22 days of the regular season.

At the point of the season when most every team is scrambling, OKC’s five-game win streak is the longest currently active. Westbrook is on a mission and he’ll want to make a statement against the team he considers his primary nemesis.

The Warriors, based on their work last week, believe they’ll be ready.

“It’s a direct reflection of our defense,” Curry said.

“We’re getting into the open court a lot more,” he added. “The morale is better when you’re not taking the ball out of the basket every possession. For the most part, we’ve done a good job of staying away from fouling too much so we can keep the pace of the game up. We’re being a lot smarter with the ball and taking care of it when we do have half-court opportunities to find an open guy, keep the ball moving, create flow. And we obviously have to knock down open shots when we get them.”

Sounds good. Worked well, too. But this Warriors recovery won’t feel complete unless the defense make trip to Oklahoma and Texas.

Mullin sees potential Warriors-Cavs trilogy Finals going six games, but...

Mullin sees potential Warriors-Cavs trilogy Finals going six games, but...

As the defending champion Cavaliers are one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals, the consensus is they will meet the Warriors there and, moreover, that Part III of the trilogy promises to be the most compelling yet.

Chris Mullin is not so sure.

The Hall of Fame forward and current St. John's head coach, a guest Wednesday on the NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors Insider Podcast, perceives a reasonable chance of sweeping the series.

“I’m going on the record saying 4-2, just because maybe I want to see six games,” Mullin said. “I would not be surprised if it’s 4-1 or 4-zero. I think they’re that good.”

Recalling how the Warriors started sluggishly after a one-week layoff ahead of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, Mullin conceded there could be some rust but probably not enough to invite a loss.

“I don’t want to lay any . . . pressure, but the Warriors, to me, this team that we’re watching is going to go down in history as one of the best teams of all time,” he said. “I believe that. I think they will stay together and that’s we’re probably going to see four Hall of Fame players that have played together and have dominated and become a dynasty. That’s what we’re going to look back on.

“There’s just a huge disparity between them and the rest of the league -- and not just the Cavaliers. But there’s a huge disparity between them and the Cavaliers. “

The Warriors defeated Cleveland in six games to win the championship in 2015, but the Cavaliers recovered from a 3-1 deficit to take the rematch last June.

Though both teams have made substantive changes, Mullin is more impressed with what the Warriors have done, including the addition of four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant to a nucleus that included All-Stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Mullin pointed out that the losses of Andrew Bogut, along with subtractions to their fabled depth and chemistry, led some to wonder if the Warriors might lose the magic of the previous two seasons. He also understands that point of view.

“But as I see it now,” he said, “I think they’re deeper and have better chemistry than they did last year when they won 73 games.”

It’s not that Mullin gives the Cavaliers, who have won 11 of 12 games in these playoffs, zero chance to win the series. It is just, in his view, very slim. “Cleveland, they’ve got really good people,” he said. “Their talent, I’m not discounting at all. LeBron and Kyrie and Kevin Love, these guys are great, great players.

“I feel like the Warriors are just a notch above everybody. I really believe that.”

 

After postponement due to HB2 law, Charlotte to host 2019 All-Star Game

After postponement due to HB2 law, Charlotte to host 2019 All-Star Game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NBA All-Star game is headed back to Charlotte in 2019, a couple of years later than anticipated.

The NBA announced that the All-Star weekend will be held Feb. 15-17 in Charlotte and the game will be played at the Spectrum Center, home of the Charlotte Hornets.

The league had selected Charlotte to host the 2017 All-Star game, but later moved the game to New Orleans because of the state law restricting the rights of LGBT people. However, a compromise was struck in March to partially erase the impact of the House Bill 2 law limiting anti-discrimination protections for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.

"While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of HB2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a release. "Additionally, it allows us to work with the leadership of the Hornets organization to apply a set of equality principles to ensure that every All-Star event will proceed with open access and anti-discrimination policies.

"All venues, hotels and businesses we work with during All-Star will adhere to these policies as well."

Despite Silver's intentions, the Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign has concerns that no protections for non-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community have been put in place by the Charlotte or the state.

"North Carolina's discriminatory law prohibits the city of Charlotte from implementing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents and visitors attending the All-Star Game. Nothing has changed that fact," said HRC senior vice president for policy and political affairs JoDee Winterhof.

The NBA is the latest sports entity to return events to North Carolina; the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference also are bringing events back to the state after changes were made to the law.

The now-repealed House Bill 2 required transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings. That's been dropped, but LGBT advocates have denounced the replacement law because state officials took no action barring sexual identity and gender discrimination in workplaces, restaurants and hotels and instead prohibited local governments from acting on their own.

Hornets owner and longtime NBA great Michael Jordan said in a release he is "thrilled" the game is coming back to Charlotte.

"We want to thank Commissioner Silver for his leadership throughout this process and for the decision to bring NBA All-Star back to Buzz City," Jordan said in the release. "All-Star Weekend is an international event that will provide a tremendous economic impact to our community while showcasing our city, our franchise and our passionate Hornets fan base to people around the world."

Jordan asked Silver to keep the city in mind for 2019 after the league moved the 2017 game - hopeful the HB2 law would eventually be repealed.

Silver honored that request.

Hornets COO and president Fred Whitfield represented the Hornets and Spectrum Center in doing whatever he could to help facilitate a resolution, spending time meeting with legislatures and other business leaders in North Carolina.

"From the very beginning I was in engaged to see if we could not only save the 2019 All-Star game, but the NCAA (basketball) regionals and the ACC Tournament, as well as concerts and events in the building," Whitfield said. "We are operators of the building and we felt like we had to get engaged to assist to get some resolution."

Even as talks to repeal HB2 stalled at times, the Hornets continued to move forward with the league's request to upgrade the arena.

The $41 million renovation - $33.5 million of which came from the City of Charlotte - is almost complete, and has included a new scoreboard, new floor and renovations to suites and hospitality areas, among other upgrades.

Charlotte previously hosted the All-Star game in 1991 at the Charlotte Coliseum, which has since been demolished.

Pete Guelli, the Hornets executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, estimates a $100 economic impact for the city, but said the reputational effect will be even bigger.

"This city has changed significantly since the last time it hosted a game 28 years ago," Guelli said, "and the opportunity to showcase that on an international stage is incalculable."