Sharks may be hot, but hockey spits on momentum

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Sharks may be hot, but hockey spits on momentum

The first few days of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are spent going through the handy-dandy record book looking for historical hints to lead one through the early traps.

It is a useless exercise, though. There is nothing more immediate and less history-based than the Stanley Cup. Even regular season form is often a lie, even if recent looks through the playoff brackets show us that seven-seeds, just to pick something the Sharks are, go down almost three-quarters of the time.

But there is one thing that is actually a real nag for San Jose the penalty kill. No team has been this bad killing shorthanded situations and made the playoffs in 15 years; in 1997, both the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens made the playoffs despite being the worst penalty killers in the league. Before that, the 94 Sharks managed a similar feat.

Thus, while Todd McLellan has already trained the boys to play the underdog card as though they had a deck full of them, the truth is that this is the biggest reason they are underdogs. They stink when the other team has more players.

And with St. Louis having the best home record in the league, and with officials having a hard time resisting the charms of the home team as a general rule, the Sharks will be underdogs until they can reconcile these two facts:

1. They play shorthanded fewer than any other team.

2. They give up the 12th most goals when shorthanded.

Thats fairly awful, and on details like this against a highly disciplined and organized team like St. Louis, the Sharks will either have to cure themselves of something that has afflicted them all year long, or take the pipe quickly and quietly.

San Jose won seven of its last nine games to save itself from golf, and St. Louis lost nine of its final 13 to blow the Presidents Trophy, so momentum presumably is with the Sharks.

But no sport spits on momentum quite like hockey. Every game is different, and wildly so; perhaps you should break down the Sharks-Kings series from last spring for verification of this truth.

This series, rather, will break down on the details, because St. Louis under Ken Hitchcock is all about details and his team is more devoted to them than anyone else in the West. Vancouver wins with speed and improvisation. Phoenix wins with a relentless grinding noise. Nashville wins with the best goalie (Pekka Rinne) and the two best defensemen (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter). Detroit wins on muscle memory.

But San Jose wins by the skin of its incisors, mastering the art of timely inconsistency and the adrenaline of desperation. The Sharks have a power play worthy of the name, a strong top six and a slowly improving third and fourth lines.

But they have done this without any form or sense to their season. Their best advertisement is that they failed to fail, and that they got it right enough often enough at the last possible minute.

And winning teams spot the weakness for which losing teams cannot compensate.

Are the Sharks doomed? No. Those 97 Rangers beat Florida (New York was a five-seed, in case youre asking) and New Jersey (the one-seed) before going down to Philadelphia. And those 94 Sharks popped Detroit as an eight-seed before being schooled by Toronto (when Toronto didnt stink).

But the betting man doesnt like these odds. The betting man may worry that St. Louis hasnt got enough experience on this stage, but he doesnt like the Sharks for more tangible reasons. The betting man would pass on this series entirely.

You, the non-betting fan, cant pass, though. Youre in, come hell or 5-on-3s. Just dont be surprised when the reward for finishing seventh is the traditional one a keychain and a hearty Thanks for playing our game.

Green: Wins over Cavs, OKC and Rockets 'our best week of the season'

Green: Wins over Cavs, OKC and Rockets 'our best week of the season'

It may have helped that they had been at home for roughly three weeks.

It surely was to their benefit that the NBA schedule provided three days without a game before they confronted perhaps one of the most rigorous weeks of the season.

The Warriors, however, still had to do the work. They still had to finish.

They still had to beat the team that had roughed them up 22 days earlier, and then squelch another squad coming into Oracle Arena on a wave of emotion and, finally, take to the road and get back at a team that handed them a loss in Oakland.

Done, done and done. And in such a fashion that forward Draymond Green referred to it as “our best week of the season.”

In putting away the Rockets 125-108 on Friday in Houston, the Warriors closed out the traditional worker’s week with a 3-0 record against three teams they could see in the postseason. They’d already routed the defending champion Cavaliers 126-91 on Monday and struck down the Thunder 121-101 on Wednesday.

“It’s three good teams in a row,” Kevin Durant told reporters in Houston. “We definitely wanted to come out and make a nice statement, and I think we did that.

“We always can get better. We can’t relax against Orlando, Miami and Charlotte, teams that can creep up on you and have been playing well lately.”

The Magic, Heat and Hornets -- all dreadful to mediocre -- are the kinds of teams that force the Warriors to compete. They don’t stir the senses like the Cavs or the Thunder or the Rockets, three teams with credentials that demand attention from a Warriors team that sometimes cruises against lesser competition.

So this week was not just about winning games. These weren’t just wins, they were emphatic statements, profound evidence that the team remodeled last summer around the addition of Durant is coming together in the heart of the season.

The defense was tight, with Cleveland shooting 35.2 percent, OKC 42.2 percent and Houston 20.0 percent from beyond the arc, which is the only place that matters for the Rockets.

The Warriors resorted to one of their signature turbocharged third quarters to separate from the Rockets. Shooting 61.9 percent and scoring 9 points off Houston turnovers, the Warriors outscored Houston 37-22 in the third, stretching a five-point halftime lead to 20 going into the fourth quarter.

The Warriors now have an NBA-best differential of plus-250 points in the third quarter this season.

“It’s just something that we put an emphasis on,” Green said. “Coming out and getting off to a good start in the second half. Not coming out flat and giving another team life or letting them go on a run and then trying to make it up. And once we go on our run, we can get rolling pretty well and make it tough on other teams.”

That was the case this week, as the Warriors topped 50 percent from the field in all three victories.

Durant scored 32 points against Houston and averaged 31 points over the last three games. Stephen Curry put in 24 points and averaged 22.7 for the week. Green, meanwhile, averaged 12.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 3.7 blocks.

“It was our best week of the season because we’ve gotten better each time we’ve stepped on the floor this week,” Green said. “And that’s what’s most important. It’s not about blasting these three teams. It’s about getting better, and trying to reach our end goal. In order to do that, you have to get better each and every time you step on the floor.

“We did that these three games, so that’s the most important thing. That’s why it’s been a good week, not because of the margin of the wins that we had.”

Instant Replay: Warriors ground Rockets, run win streak to six games

Instant Replay: Warriors ground Rockets, run win streak to six games

BOX SCORE

The Warriors avenged yet another loss Friday night, rolling into Houston and laying a 125-108 beating on the Rockets at Toyota Center.

All five Warriors starters scored in double figures, with Kevin Durant totaling 32 points to lead the way. Stephen Curry finished with 24 points, Klay Thompson with 16, Draymond Green with 15 and Zaza Pachulia added 10.

The Warriors (37-6) suffocated Houston’s high-powered offense, which is predicated on 3-point shooting, holding the Rockets to 20 percent (7-of-35) beyond the arc. The Warriors forced 15 turnovers, off which they scored 19 points.

Backup center Clint Capela scored 22 points to lead Houston (33-13). MVP candidate James Harden was held to 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including 0-of-5 from 3-point distance.

Having beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, the Warriors this week evened the ledger against two elite teams. They lost to Houston on Dec. 1 in Oakland, 132-127, in double overtime that accounted for one of only three losses at Oracle Arena.

STANDOUT PERFORMER

The entire starting lineup played well, but Durant proved too much for anything the Rockets threw at him.

Durant’s line: 32 points (12-of-19 shooting from the field, including 2-of-7 from deep, 6-of-7 from the line), seven assists, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He played 34 minutes and was plus-25 for the game.

TURNING POINT

After Houston trimmed their lead to five (64-59) with 11:39 remaining in the third quarter, the Warriors responded with a 23-8 run, punctuated by a 28-foot 3-pointer by Curry to go up 87-67 with 5:58 left in the quarter.

The Warriors led by 20 entering the fourth quarter, and the Rockets got no closer than 15 over the final 12 minutes.

INJURY UPDATE

Warriors: C/F David West (L thumb fracture) was listed as out.

Rockets: F Ryan Anderson (flu) was listed as questionable but upgraded to available. He was in the starting lineup, but played only nine minutes before leaving for good.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Warriors return to action Sunday in Orlando, where they face the Magic at Amway Center. Tipoff is scheduled for noon Pacific.