NBA Gameday: Red hot Bucks pose serious challenge to Warriors

NBA Gameday: Red hot Bucks pose serious challenge to Warriors

OAKLAND -- The Warriors continue their quest to right the ship Saturday night, when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors (54-14) entered the week having lost three consecutive games but have responded by coming home and winning two in a row to push their record to 4-4 in March.

The Bucks (34-34), however, pose a serious challenge. Despite a season-ending injury to Jabari Parker, Miwaukee has moved squarely into playoff position, winning eight of its last nine, including a Clippers-Lakers sweep this week in Los Angeles.

BETTING LINE

Warriors by 11

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Draymond Green & Co. vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo: With Kevin Durant out and no other natural matchup for the 6-foot-11 Greek Freak, the Warriors will rely on defense by committee. They want to do everything possible to keep Antetokounmpo out of transition, where he is devastating, and force him to shoot jump shots. He is among a handful of young players capable of dominating the game at both ends. The Warriors will send, in no particular order, Green, Matt Barnes, Andre Iguodala and possibly James Michael McAdoo toward Antetokounmpo.

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: F Kevin Durant (L knee sprain, bone bruise) is listed as out. C Damian Jones and F Kevon Looney are on assignment with Santa Cruz of the NBA Development League.

Bucks: F Michael Beasley (L knee hyperextension) and F Jabari Parker (L knee surgery) are listed as out.

LAST 10

Warriors: 5-5. Bucks: 8-2.

SERIES HISTORY

The Warriors have won six of the last seven meetings, including a 124-121 victory on Nov. 19 in Milwaukee.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

SPLASHING: While Klay Thompson and Green have returned to customary form, Stephen Curry continues to search for his 3-point-shooting groove. A career 43.6-percent shooter from deep, he has not reached that level in any of the past 10 games, a period during which he shot 26 percent.

SAVVY AND SCRAP VS. FRISKY LENGTH: While the Warriors like to play “small” as often as possible, the Bucks are among the tallest teams in the league; the starters average 6-foot-8. Knowing the defensive capability of that length has created problems for them in the past, the Warriors realize they must take care of the ball while also winning the hustle game.

THE MARKSMANSHIP: Formerly a team that couldn’t shoot straight, the Bucks have built a solid offense with capable shooters, most notably forward Khris Middleton, who returned from injury and has replaced Parker in the starting line. The Bucks are shooting 47.7 percent from the field, ranking behind only the Warriors (49.1). Milwaukee is 5-23 when outshot by opponents.

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.

What they're saying: Warriors start postseason 12-0, head to Finals

What they're saying: Warriors start postseason 12-0, head to Finals

After beating the Spurs 129-115, the Warriors are headed back to the NBA Finals. Here's what they are saying...

Respect 👊

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