NBA Gameday: Warriors host Magic looking to extend conference lead

NBA Gameday: Warriors host Magic looking to extend conference lead

OAKLAND -- Seeking further proof that they climbing out of their slump, the Warriors will try to win their second straight game when they face Orlando Thursday night Oracle Arena.

With a victory over the Magic, or a Clippers loss at Denver, the Warriors would clinch their third consecutive Pacific Division championship.

The Warriors (53-14) are coming off a too-close-for-comfort 106-104 win over the 76ers on Tuesday that snapped their first three-game losing streak under coach Steve Kerr. They overcame a 16-point deficit in the final 14 minutes.

Orlando (24-44) has struggled all season under coach Frank Vogel, in his first year with the teams. The Magic is 9-26 over the last 35 games and has not won consecutive games since December.

BETTING LINE

Warriors by 14

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Zaza Pachulia vs. Nikola Vucevic: Pachulia was so frustrated with his last game that he kicked a chair when leaving the floor. He needs a bounce back game. The Warriors would like for it to come against Vucevic, a talented offensive player who returned to the lineup last week in two games is averaging 21.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. His 29 double-doubles rank seventh among centers. The 7-footer has added the 3-point shot to his repertoire, making 3-of-3 Monday at Sacramento.

INJURY REPORT

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

Magic: G Jodie Meeks (R thumb surgery recovery) is listed as questionable.

LAST 10

Warriors: 5-5. Magic: 3-7.

SERIES HISTORY

The Warriors have won the last seven meetings, including the first this season, a 118-98 victory on Jan. 22 at Amway Center.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

STEPHEN CURRY: Curry’s fourth-quarter output in the win over the 76ers was his most impressive 12 minutes, in terms of shooting, in quite some time. He scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-5 beyond the arc. Of his previous 84 shots from deep, only 20 went in. Has the game’s best long-distance shooter returned to form? Or was this a one-quarter aberration?

GET TO 110: Though the Warriors still lead the NBA in scoring (116.1 per game), they have declined of late, averaging 99.5 points over their last six games. The Magic, however, rank last in the league (99.9) and have exceeded 110 points only twice in the last 11 games, losing both times.

THE LOCAL KID: Magic forward Aaron Gordon, a San Jose native, is among the most exciting players in the league. He can be erratic, but his spectacular athleticism often leads to fantastic highlights. He’ll want to put on a show for the 60 or so family and friends at Oracle. The Warriors will need to crowd him and cut off access to the rim.

Forget 'could' or 'should' -- the NBA Finals 'must' go seven games

Forget 'could' or 'should' -- the NBA Finals 'must' go seven games

This may not sit well with many Warrior fans and their concept of manifest destiny, but the NBA Finals has to go seven games.

Not “could,” or “should,” but “must.” In other words, it should scare the hell out of every basketball fan interested enough to care.

Sure, the joy of wearing a $35 T-shirt that says “Fo, Fo, Fo, Fo” (hat/tip to the estate of Moses Malone) is its own reward. And yes, being to lord your favorite team’s superiority in a convincing victory will make you the smug, obnoxious fan you’ve always wanted to be. And unquestionably not having to take a second trip to Cleveland or a third trip to Oakland is easy on the body as well as the budget.

But the hell with all that. A seventh game is the one true thing that makes being a human being worthwhile, and better still, a seventh game that ends in overtime elevates us all as a species. Even Ottawa Senators fans who watched their team miss out on a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final in two overtimes Thursday night feel like they got their money’s worth.

And you can’t get a better deal than that.

For the record, this is not a prediction, nor is it attached to a preference for one team over another. I am rooting neither for Warriors nor Cavaliers. I’m rooting for volume. If this is the series everybody thinks it ought to be, then there ought to be so much of it that everyone should feel like they just binge-Thanksgivinged.

Only 19 Finals have gone to a seventh game, and only five in the last 30 years. But given how much discussion has been generated over the last one, in 2016, why would this series not benefit from a reprise?

Besides, until Game 7 a year ago, the series was wildly disjointed and even nonsensical; the margins of victory were 15, 33, 30, 11, 15 and 14. The 2015 series, which the Warriors won in six games, was at least more fascinating game to game (margins of 8, 2, 5, 21, 13 and 8), but the lingering memory and defining nature of those 13 games is Game 7. A weird series turned into an excellent one because Game 7 cures all other evils – a broken date, a broken heart, a broken femur, a broken computer just as you’re ready to hit “send.” All of it.

So that’s what this needs – especially after all the time the two fan bases have been asked to watch their teams sit idle because of the lack of games. Twenty-one total days between series for each team has worn even the most tortured narratives thin, and the only way the league can make it up to them is to provide a seventh game.

And when we say “provide,” we mean it in that totally-above-board, non-game-fixing way.

So should the Warriors hammer the Cavs with their superior firepower and depth and defense, while it may satisfy you, it will only serve to mark a disappointing end to what has been a disappointing postseason. And should the Cavs do the same with their superior James and Irving and Thompson, the reaction will be the same. The winners get a parade and a ring, and everyone else feels slightly jobbed.

So let the drama begin, and let it linger. You haven’t got anything better to do anyway. The Bay Area baseball teams are struggling as a daily work condition, the Indians have the second worst home record in baseball, the Browns and 49ers are horrific and the Raiders are looking to leave. Plus, we’ve got the Kings.

So with all due acknowledgement to whatever your petty needs might be, this must go seven games. In fact, it should be like the 1957 Finals between Boston and St. Louis, in which the Celtics beat the Hawks, 125-123 in double overtime for their first championship in what became North America’s most enduring sports dynasty.

After all, most games we call “epic” aren’t, but if this new rivalry is to be the equal of all those others, the way is clear, and it won’t be done by in-game pundits or off-day analytics. It will be done in Oakland June 18 – after midnight on the East Coast, just make sure everyone across the land is pot-committed to the game.

Anything short of that will feel like a bit ordering a steak and getting a sandwich. You get to eat. You just won’t remember it as readily.

LeBron doesn't want to discuss Warriors yet: 'They cause a lot of stress'

LeBron doesn't want to discuss Warriors yet: 'They cause a lot of stress'

On Thursday night, the Cavs beat the Celtics 135-102 to punch a ticket to their third straight NBA Finals.

LeBron James racked up 35 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals in 35 minutes.

After the win, he was asked about the challenge of facing the Warriors.

"I'm gonna be honest -- I'm not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State," LeBron told reporters. "It's too stressful and I'm not stressed right now. I'm very happy about our accomplishment ... they've been the best team in our league the last three years and then they added an MVP.

"That's all I can get you right now because I'm happy and I don't want to be stressed."

On Christmas Day, the Cavs erased a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and Kyrie Irving hit the game-winner with 3.4 seconds remaining.

On MLK Day, Golden State jumped on the Cavs early -- leading 37-22 at the end of the first quarter and 78-49 at the half -- en route to a 126-91 victory.

For the first time in NBA history, the same two teams are facing off in the Finals for the third straight year.

Cleveland boasts a postsesaon record of 12-1.

Golden State is the only team ever to enter the Finals with a record of 12-0.

"They cause a lot of stress," LeBron added. "And I'll get to that point when we start to prepare for them."

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller