Oakland's Lillard top rookie

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Oakland's Lillard top rookie

The buzzer-beating, game-winning 3 Damian Lillard made over Ryan Anderson and the New Orleans Hornets won’t change the current state of the Rookie of the Year race much, but only because the Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard already was lapping the field.

While No. 1 pick Anthony Davis was the overwhelming choice in a preseason survey of NBA general managers – who don’t always personally fill out the survey, I’m told – to win the award, a direct poll of a half-dozen assistant coaches and scouts – the ones who do the detailed advance reports on opponents, including player evaluations – has Lillard as a heavy favorite at the season’s quarter-pole.
 

Davis, of course, has made only 10 appearances and six starts this season due to a concussion and then a sprained left ankle, but Lillard, the sixth overall pick, has been so impressive that several pollsters believe Lillard may not relinquish his lead even once Davis is healthy and rolling.
 

“Poise and pace,” said one Eastern Conference assistant coach when asked what impressed him most about Lillard. “He does not get too rattled when things are going bad and when they are good he appears to keep the same focus. He shoots it well and makes good passes, but the poise and pace, while obscure, are more important to his success. He is not afraid of the big moment, either. Which is big.”
 

The talent evaluators were asked to give their top seven rookies and Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes made five of six lists but the highest ranking he received was fourth overall. The one scout who left him out of his top seven had Barnes as eighth. The consensus magnificent seven: Lillard; Davis; Terrence Ross (Toronto, SG, 8th pick); Kyle Singler (Detroit, SF, 2011 33rd pick);  Dion Waiters (Cleveland, SG, 4th); Barnes (Golden State, SF, 7th) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte, SF, 2nd).
 

Also receiving votes were Pistons center Andre Drummond, the ninth pick; Mavericks small forward Jae Crowder; Timberwolves point guard Alexey Shved, who played six years with CSKA Moscow before signing as a free agent with Minnesota last summer; and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, a Lithuanian power forward drafted fifth last season who stayed overseas because of a prohibitive buy-out clause in his existing contract.
 

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, the third pick, and Kings power forward and fifth overall pick Thomas Robinson were the most glaring absentees from anyone’s top seven list, although there are extenuating circumstances for Beal: He’s played all season without a bona fide point guard, third-string AJ Price and free-agent pick-up Shaun Livingston filling in for injured John Wall. Robinson could argue that he hasn’t played with a legitimate point guard this season, either, but he also hasn’t been able to get past Jason Thompson, who the Kings signed to a five-year contract extension last summer, and veteran Chuck Hayes, in the rotation on most nights.
 

If there’s one other notable missing name, it’s Hornets guard Austin Rivers, who was third on the GM survey behind Davis (76.7 percent) and Lillard (20 percent) with 3.3 percent.
 “Rivers has not really caught on to the NBA game yet,” said one Northwest Division assistant coach. “He’s still trying to find where he fits. He seems to be a very good right-handed driver but he’s not really spacing the floor with his shot yet.”

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- Those following the Warriors and their effort to rage through the playoffs should put away those thoughts and hopes that Steve Kerr will return to full-time coaching later this week or sometime before the NBA Finals.

Forget about it, unless you know something he doesn’t.

And if you do, he wants to hear what you have to say.

Don’t get it wrong: Kerr wants to coach, would love to coach. That’s why, even as he feels like hell, he’s hanging around the team like a languid groupie. He wants to be with the Warriors in the heat of battle because they’re his team, within the culture he instilled, and he would like nothing more to get another chance to win The Finals.

But because the procedure he underwent more than two weeks ago at Duke Spine Center did not deliver the relief he’d hoped for, Kerr knows he’s not up to the task and, therefore, continues to operate as sort of a associate head coach to acting head coach Mike Brown.

“Mike is doing great,” Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com late Monday night, after the Warriors clinched a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a 129-115 Game 4 win over the Spurs. “He’s such a wonderful human being. He’s so unselfish and team-oriented. I’m proud of him and the job he’s doing, along with the rest of the staff. I wish I could be out there with them. And maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see.

“He’s a great partner. And we’re in this together, obviously, but he’s got to make decisions with the staff without me. He’s done a great job of navigating the games. We’re undefeated, so he’s doing something right.”

Kerr can only help from the perimeter. The demands of the job require the coach be able to function at near-peak levels, particularly before and during a game, and he simply can’t. He knows there will be times, all too often, when the discomfort becomes unbearable to such a degree he hardly can think straight.

The agony is visible. The players see it. The staff sees it. Brown sees it, feels it and hears it. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of Kerr’s best friends -- as well as a good friend of Brown -- was able to see it during the Western Conference Finals.

“I've spoken with Steve and Mike; we're friends,” Popovich said two hours before Game 4. “We've known each other a long time. But as far as Steve's concerned, it's just a crap situation.

“You know, he's done a phenomenal job. And when you're going through that pain every day and that frustration of not being able to do what you want to do, it's hard to enjoy it at the fullest level. So I feel badly for him all the time but hopeful that stuff will get figured out.”

Nobody wants that more than Kerr, who has tried nearly everything any respectable specialist has recommended. So far, there has been no miracle.

So Kerr forges ahead, getting his Warriors fix by being around the group. By meeting with coaches and players. By meeting with general manager Bob Myers. Kerr was with the Warriors throughout their stay in San Antonio. He was at practices and shootarounds, sometimes on the floor and sometimes sitting in the stands observing from afar.

“I need to be around the guys,” he said. “I don’t want to miss this. Just being in the locker room, being able to talk to the guys means a lot to me. I’m thrilled for them. It’s fun to see how happy they are with three straight trips to The Finals. It’s pretty incredible.”

Kerr has been with the team for at least a few hours every day since May 10, less than a week after his procedure at Duke.

Kerr’s presence has been invaluable, both physically and psychologically, according to staff and players.

“Coach just empowers everybody,” Kevin Durant said. “His message is still the same. Even when he wasn't there in the Utah series, you could still feel his presence. That's what great leaders do.”

Participation, making himself feel useful, is one form of therapy that gives Kerr a semi-satisfying break from the misery.

“He watches film, and he watches the game,” Brown said. “So he gives his perspective from where he is. He gives insight on what we should be doing going forward, what he felt we could have done better, what we did that was good. So he just gives his input, mainly. He addresses the team every once in a while. He doesn't always do that, but he'll address the team from time to time.”

There was some belief that Kerr could return to full-time coaching within a week or so after the procedure, for which he declined to provide details. Warriors CEO Joe Lacob expressed hope Kerr might return “sooner rather than later.” Had it been as successful as Kerr and the doctors hoped, he would have.

That was May 5. Kerr announced he was stepping aside on April 23. As of Wednesday, he was been on leave for a full month.

Asked if he plans to travel during the NBA Finals, Kerr said he hopes so: “It’s like a month away,” he said, exaggerating the nine-day layoff.

He’d rather say with certainty that, yes, he will be accompanying the team because, after all, he’s the head coach.

And he will say that, the moment his body tells him it’s OK to do so.

Warriors happy to be back in NBA Finals, but not ready to celebrate yet

Warriors happy to be back in NBA Finals, but not ready to celebrate yet

SAN ANTONIO — There wasn’t much of a celebration. No crackling streams of cacophonous noise from the locker room, no dancing, no singing that could be heard through the walls of the visiting team’s locker room at AT&T Center.

There were but two visible signs of achievement. They were presented with a trophy for winning the Western Conference Finals, and they wore black caps signifying their presence in the upcoming 2017 NBA Finals.

Aside from that, the Warriors, invincible over the past five weeks, were as outwardly sober as a pair of penny loafers.

“Don't get me wrong: we appreciate this opportunity,” Stephen Curry said after sweeping the Spurs with a 129-115 victory in Game 4 Monday night. “Playing in this league, you can't take anything for granted. Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it.

“We might not be jumping up and down and screaming at the top of our lungs and doing all that nonsense, but we need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in The Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

That’s what three consecutive trips to The Finals, following three fabulous regular seasons have done to the franchise that, not so long ago, the NBA barely recognized. From perennial lottery picks, and generally failing once there, to the pinnacle of the game with regularity.

The Warriors have advanced from hoping to make the playoffs to earning three straight trips to The Finals for the first time in franchise history to a mental state where anything less than a championship is bitter disappointment.

And they have been so magnificent through the first three quarters of these playoffs. The Warriors are the first team to open the postseason with three consecutive four-game sweeps and the first to post a 12-0 record at any point of the postseason.

“(Being) 12-0 is great,” Curry said, “but it doesn't mean anything going into the next series, and we have to understand that.”

The next series, The Finals, represents a major part of the equation for the Warriors. Getting back is one thing, getting back to face Cleveland would be quite another. Getting back to face Cleveland, and winning, would be nirvana.

“It's good that we're here now,” Kevin Durant said. “Obviously, we want to take that to the next series and try to be great and see what happens. But like Steph said, 12-0 really doesn't matter going into the next series. We know it's going to be a battle.”

The Warriors will take two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, away from the game to savor the most impressive start to a postseason the league has ever seen. The Finals don’t start until June 1.

That’s nine days away, so they have enough time for two haircuts, four picnics and dozen massages. A belated champagne celebration, if they desire.

But the feeling is they don’t. That they want to save such a lavish ceremony for the victory that leads to the parade and the rings. Postseason sweeps are a wondrous thing, but utterly insignificant if they don’t lead to the top.

“Like I said before, it's about winning the championship, and we're four games away from that,” Draymond Green said. “Now, if that's 4-0, great? If it's 4-3, great. It doesn't matter how you get those four wins as long as you get them, and that's our goal.”

On this night, the goal was to vanquish the Spurs, to send them home without a single victory. Done. The Warriors scored 498 points during the series, tying the 1978 76ers for the most points a team has scored in a four-game series. Curry reset his record for most 3-pointers in a four-game series with 21.

“Well, obviously it's something you're going to appreciate,” Green said of the accomplishments thus far. “You try not to take it for granted because it just doesn't happen every year where you're headed to the NBA Finals. So you appreciate it.

“But you can definitely sense a little different type of feeling where it's great and everybody's excited about it. But you just see a difference and it's still kind of a business-as-usual, we're-not-finished type of attitude, which is great.”

The Warriors are on top of the basketball world, if only for the moment. And it’s the for the moment part that they seem to fully grasp. And, for them, this is not the moment for celebration.