Down 23-3 in the first quarter, the Golden State Warriors surged and overwhelmed the Spurs in San Antonio, in their second of a road back-to-back. The previous night they defeated Houston. The two nights added to a 9 game winning streak, which began immediately after their 3 losses in a row following Kevin Durant's injury. And they won those 9 without Durant.
The victory pretty much seals the number one seed in the West for the Warriors, with a 3 game spread over the Spurs with 7 games left. Thanks to continued losses by Cleveland in the past week or so, any of the West teams would have home court in the finals, including the Dubs.
This impressive if not incredible victory was actually a win for both the Warriors and Spurs because it pretty much settled the #1 seed. Had the Warriors lost, they would have been ahead by a single game, and both teams would probably have felt the need to compete for the seed. Now they both can see about resting players before the playoffs, although that will be complicated for the Dubs if Durant is ready to return for the last games of the regular season. Coach Kerr would probably want him to play with his fellow starters.
The Warriors victory in San Antonio also has to be viewed as a statement game. The Spurs surprised them with a rout at home to start the season, and their next meeting--also the second of a back-to-back on the road for the Warriors--resulted in Kerr resting his starters, and an easy Spurs victory. But the Warriors outplaying the Spurs for three quarters after giving them a 22 point advantage, in the second of another back-to-back, and without Durant, has to sow some doubts in San Antonio.
No one yet knows when Durant will return, nor how he will play. But with these nine victories against the most competitive teams in the West, the Warriors look fully capable of beating anybody with their current lineup--and Durant coming off the bench for additional defense and firepower. All of this as it looks more and more that the winner of the West playoffs will be the favorite to win it all.
It took just a week or so, the end of a grueling road trip, some rest and some work on the home court. The Golden State Warriors rattled off five straight wins, including four blowouts, the last two on back-to-back visits to competitive western teams, OKC Thunder and Dallas Mavericks. OKC and the Milwaukee Bucks were hot, until their winning streaks were crushed by the Warriors.
And they did it without Kevin Durant in the lineup.
Curry and Thompson got their shot back but other members of the team responded to the challenge and the opportunity, particularly in the Dallas win.
Meanwhile San Antonio dropped two and are 2.5 back of the Dubs after briefly being in first for the best record.
The most challenging stretch left on the Warriors' regular schedule is next week, when they play back to backs in Houston and San Antonio, and then immediately host Houston again. But it does not look like the home court in the playoffs will depend only on that game in San Antonio.
The Warriors now can be confident that they can compete and even dominate without Durant, though he seems to be healing on or ahead of schedule. On these last two games with tough opponents, their defense was stifling and their 3 point shooting awesome. They out-rebounded the Mavs. The offensive flow was back, and so was the joy.
The big news for the San Francisco Giants is the return of Barry Bonds, in an official if advisory capacity with duties that sound pretty ad hoc but the symbolism is important. Plus his baseball intelligence is extraordinary.
But other news not so great--after most of spring training passed without injury, there were a slew of them late: hamstring for Michael Morse, trying to return to the team; quad injury for Mac Williamson, and the worst, arm injury for pitcher Will Smith, requiring Tommy Johns surgery.
Update 3/11: After a one point loss in MN--with Steph Curry once again failing to hit the kind of winning shot he regularly did last year--Coach Kerr elected to rest...well, nearly everybody...in San Antonio. The Spurs were also short-handed but made easy work of the Warrior bench, which couldn't defend or score in the first half. The victory puts the Spurs a half game behind the Dubs for top seed in the West, and their second win over the Warriors this year guarantees them the tie-breaker. All of this could come back to haunt Golden State, as the Spurs pretty much prove they're deeper, and right now, better. One other fascinating aspect of this game: how do you get the attention of perverse schedule-makers that try to maximize profits at the expense of the health and long-term viability of players for the prohibitive favorite of the year? The Golden State Warriors and Coach Kerr did it very well. No one can argue with Kerr's rationale for resting his starters, but obviously the league didn't anticipate he would dare do so in such an important game. So fans in the arena and those who tuned into the mega-hyped broadcast were sorely disappointed, and that pretty much scuttles the NBA's too clever by half move of trying to squeeze the Warriors with a back to back middle of the night flight from MN to Texas, after a bizarre road trip with a home game sandwiched in. It's no guarantee anything will change, but the schedule makers may think twice before doing this next year. (Nevertheless, the Warriors will play the Spurs once more, again in San Antonio and again the second of a back-to-back.)
For most of the year the question usually asked was whether the best team in the NBA was Golden State or Cleveland. At this point in the season, neither are. The best team in the NBA at the moment is the San Antonio Spurs.
They are solid, well-coached and have been winning close games in the fourth quarter, and K. Leonard is this year's Steph Curry in terms of making the needed shot to win.
The Warriors are not where a team wants to be that expects to get deep into the playoffs and contend for the championship. The injury to Kevin Durant made them beatable, but the shooting woes of the Splash Brothers have become worrisome. They've lost three of their last five games, though they did win back to backs.
Now they fly to Minnesota for a tough game there, and then to San Antonio for only their second game with the Spurs. Both of their remaining games with the Spurs in San Antonio are back to backs. Tell me who put this schedule together.
The Warriors could catch fire at any time, and Durant could be back in time and in shape to a difference. But at the moment I'd rate the Spurs as the favorites in the West and maybe for the championship. Cleveland has built itself for the playoffs, especially against the Warriors, but is having trouble getting there. Right now the Spurs have the mo and the mojo.
The game in San Antonio on Saturday will be a good test, but it will hardly be the last. I expect the Dubs and the Spurs to see a lot of each other before it's over. Neither team right now has much idea of how they match up.
The media may not take the Spurs seriously but I'll bet the Warriors do. Cleveland better be thinking about that, too.
The Warriors were rolling, seemingly unstoppable. They came out of the All-Star break without breaking stride. Kevin Durant was out for a game with illness, the Dubs won. Steph Curry couldn't make a single 3 for an entire game, the Dubs still won. They clinched a playoff spot, either earlier than anyone ever had, or had in a long time, depending on what story you read.
Then it seemed to all come tumbling down along with Kevin Durant. His knee injury took him out of action reportedly for the rest of the regular season, at least.
The Warriors, on their last long awkward road trip through the east and midwest, lost two games in a row for the first time since late in 2015.
Fans have to hope that the season low point was in Chicago, the first entirely Durant-less game, when Curry and Thompson and everybody else was stone cold.
The season--and the playoffs-- at best got interesting. The Spurs (who host the Warriors at the end of this ridiculous trip) have more to play for now, as the top seed in the West is more imaginable. Meanwhile, the Cavs got some apparently meaningful help before the trade deadline, while the Warriors seemingly got less. How that actually plays out remains to be seen, but on paper the Cavs got a deeper bench, and nothing is more important to LeBron James than rest.
So now it's gut check, character time for the Warriors. They're still expected to beat most teams, but maybe not the elite. For the first time in a long time, they are underdogs.
Meanwhile, spring training games for the San Francisco Giants started great but soon got messy. But there's a lot of competition to make the team, and the Giants are learning more about who to watch for call-ups down the road. So far, Mark Melancon is looking like a great addition as the closer.
Back to the NBA, Baby Buss and his bro tried to take the Lakers back from Jeannie Bush and Magic Johnson, but so far have failed. A board of directors vote they are expected to lose appears to be their last chance.
Biggest news out of the NBA All Star break was the DeMarcus Cousins trade to New Orleans, and the major management shakeup at the LA Lakers.
For the Warriors, it's the Cousins trade that poses the most immediate challenge. If he can jell with his new team soon enough, the New Orleans Pelicans can make the playoffs. If the Dubs stay on top, they'd likely meet in the first round of the playoffs. With two very skilled big men, the Pelicans could create difficulties for the Warriors defense. The two teams will meet once before then, so more will be known. In the meantime, San Antonio remains the biggest challenge for the Warriors in the second half.
The Lakers finally got rid of Baby Buss who tried to make the team his own and sort of did, but not to the team's benefit. The new head of basketball operations is none other than Laker great Magic Johnson. He had an advocate in Kobe Bryant, and he is an advocate for involving Kobe in the team's future. As a member of the Lakers' extended family, first year coach Luke Walton will likely get a chance to work with the new management, that reportedly now will include Kobe's former agent as GM.
Meanwhile, MLB spring training is underway. As predicted, the SF Giants have let go both Romo and Casilla--only Kontos remains from the bullpen that won those championships. Several veteran pitchers and position players are in camp to make the team, and some likely will. Sports writers keep harping on left field but the Giants don't seem to be desperate to trade or acquire a starter. At least to start the season, one of the younger players will be out there, Parker or Williamson probably. Still there is backup experience at nearly every position, and several players will get a chance this spring to play at different positions to increase versatility off the bench, and to rest regulars in the hope of keeping them fresh and less prone to injuries for the long haul.
Photo: Steph Curry's special edition shoes, which he wore to honor President Obama at the end of his term in office.
With the NBA season nearly half over, the new Golden State Warriors are playing the best they have so far. Their convincing three in a row victories over Cleveland, Oklahoma City and at Houston featured fearsome defense and fewer turnovers to go with smart and efficient shooting.
But their challenge for the championship may still be waiting out there. They played the San Antonio Spurs the first game of the season and got blown out. They haven't seen them since, as both the Dubs and the Spurs have improved. They play them twice at San Antonio in March. That will be there final meaningful pre-playoffs test.
The likely if not near certain East winner, Cleveland, remains a challenge. In their two games, the visitor was deep into a road trip and on a back to back. Both home teams won, though Golden State was the more convincing win. Meanwhile, the Spurs just beat the Cavs in overtime, in Cleveland, even short-handed.
So the Dubs can't underestimate the Spurs. They didn't have to meet them in the playoffs last year but are much more likely to this season. The Dubs are not the automatic West team to face Cleveland.
Update: Even with a road loss to Miami, Golden State has the best record in the West, which this year means the best in basketball. The East has one team with 30 wins (Cleveland.) The West has 4 teams with 30 or more wins (and one more with 29.) Thirty wins leads the East, but it gets you fourth in the West (LA Clippers.)
And let me repeat: like last year, the Dubs are getting the publicity but the Spurs are winning, too--just 2 back in the lost column now. The first seven teams in the West are above .500 and all are capable of beating anybody. So to win the West regular season is an accomplishment with playoff payoff. But the Western Conference playoffs will be very competitive. The second half may hold some surprises--injuries can change things quick--but the Spurs look to be the chief challenger to the Dubs, and neither team can look past any other opponent in the playoffs.
"One thing my pops always told me is you never count another man's money. It's what you've got and how you take care of it. And if I'm complaining about $44 million over four years, then I've got other issues in my life." Stephen Curry