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NBA Sunday: Miami is Indeed Better

New to the blog will be a twice-monthly look at the NBA.  We’ll delve into injuries, news, the business side, fantasy hoops and other NBA entertainment. This Sunday, we debut with our first-ever rankings.
Yes, Miami is No. 1.

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15

Game #39 (12-27): Warriors 114, Bulls 97

How about this for a change of pace: the Warriors didn’t fall apart in the third quarter and pulled away in the fourth.

Warriors won the third quarter and outscored Chicago 60-44 in the second half, a detour from the trend of hot starts and third quarter meltdowns. And they did it all with virtually six players: Ellis, Maggette, Curry, Biedrins and D-Leaguers Cartier Martin and Anthony Tollilver (Devean George started and played 5:39, and Chris Hunter played 8:51 off the bench). Ellis/Maggette/Curry combined for 94 points on 34-for-71 shooting.

NELLIE: “So here we are, limited. Just about 7 and a half players, but we found a way. That’s good. As you guys know, we’ve actually been playing decently. Usually have had pretty good first halves and then the third quarter has been a problem for us. But tonight we won the third quarter and we had a big fourth quarter. So a very good game for us.”

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Warriors win for resting

They may have held only a light practice, but the Warriors were nevertheless pretty successful Friday; Golden State couldn’t have scripted a better pair of outcomes than having the Lakers beat the Hornets and the Rockets knock off the Suns.

Phoenix is now all but cemented in the No. 6 spot, so their motivation against the Warriors on Monday may slacken.

Houston, meanwhile, is still right in the thick of the race for home-court advantage — and just a game behind No. 1 New Orleans — giving them plenty of reason to knock off Denver on Sunday, which is pretty much a necessity for the Warriors to sneak into the postseason.

Now it’s up to the Warriors to do their part.

** Something to watch for: Mickael Pietrus is suffering from tendonitis in his left knee, something that flared up during his rehab for the right groin/hamstring strain that cost him nine games. He said it’s nothing major, but it can’t be helping him regain his natural athleticism.

– Geoff

13

Don’t Stop Believin’?

I was trying to find some way in my gamer to compare the “WE BELIEVE” signs to the end of the Sopranos finale, where Journey’s playing over the jukebox and then, in that jarring instant, everything goes to black. When it aired, some people speculated it was supposed to represent a bullet to Tony’s head.

No speculation here: For the Warriors, that’s what Thursday’s loss to Denver was.

Sure, the body will keep moving through the final three games, and if the Nuggets somehow manage to get swept in their back-to-back against Utah and Houston over the weekend, there will be talk of new life. But even if Denver gags both those games, one of two other things would need to happen for Golden State to actually make the postseason.

Either: A) the Warriors will need to win in Phoenix — a place where they’re 5 for their last 46 — against a Suns team that may still be fighting for as many as two rounds of home-court advantage.

Or: B) the Nuggets will have to kick away a third straight game, against a Memphis team that will have less than nothing to play for, the only goal being to avoid injury before the final buzzer sounds and the last plane flight of the season takes off.

The chances of either seem about as remote as a reunion for Tony, Carmela, Meadow and A.J.

– Geoff

4

Inside: Postgame (vs. Nuggets)

You can imagine how melancholy the Warriors locker room was.
I went to the Nuggets locker room first. By the time I arrived in the Warriors locker room, the only player who hadn’t left the locker room or hopped in the shower was Mickael Pietrus. He just sat there, resting on his knees, staring nowhere.
The only smiles flashed came from Baron and Al Harrington when they signed autographs for Allen Iverson’s son. Monta kinda smiled for little A.I. As soon as that meet and greet was over, they all shifted back to somber.
They didn’t sound like they believed.

KEY STATS
Melo and Iverson: 58 points on 24-for-40 shooting (60 percent)
B.D. and Jackson: 38 points on 14-for-41 shooting (34.1 percent)

*The Warriors scored 12 points off Denvers 16 turnovers. Denver scored 21 points off the Warriors 18 turnovers.

Denver: 9-for-19 from 3-point range
Warriors: 6-for-27 from 3-point range

GOT LOST IN THE LOSS
*Baron had a tripple double (20 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds)
*Biedrins had 19 rebounds, six offensivem as the Warriors outrebounded Denver 52-44
*Kelenna Azubuike led the Warriors reserves with 10 minutes, 39 seconds. Pietrus played just 10:09, Barnes 6:22 and Croshere 2:56. Conversely, the Nuggets got 26 minutes from J.R. Smith, 23 from Najera nad 15 from Kleiza.

WHAT THEY SAID
Baron Davis
“It’s tough, but you’ve got to finish strong. You’ve got to finish strong. This was a tough one to swallow, but you’ve got to finish strong. We’ve got to come prepared Saturday night and win the basketball game.”

“We’ve had our moments where we’ve felt fatigued, and fatigue has caught up with us. Despite everything, we have to keep our heads because we are a tough team, one of the top teams in the league. We just have to finish strong, get to 50 wins and see what happens. It’s tough to know that thais game could ultimately end your playoff hopes.”

“I thought we did an excellent job in the first half of getting the ball in the middle of the floor and working the middle of the floor. Every time they made a run or came back, we were able to get a layup or get someone in the paint for an easy shot. The second half, they really covered us and spaced us and we weren’t able to make plays, which we were able to do in the first half.”

Stephen Jackson:
“If me and Baron have bad shooting nights, we’re not going to win.”

“Once we started missing shots, turning the ball over, they became the aggressive team. Their two stars made some shots along with J.R. Smith. Melo hit some big shots and A.I. hit his free throws down the stretch. Their two big players made plays. It was just that they made the plays that we didn’t to win the game.”

“We still have games to play. We are not going to quit because we lost to Denver tonight. We are going to play this season out and see what happens.”

“I don’t think anyone was tired. A game like this, it’s impossible to be tired. It’s impossible to be tired because we have to go out there and play. But we didn’t make the plays. They just made the plays. Their stars stepped up.”

Don Nelson:
“Just a half a step off, playing the way we really needed to win this big game. This was a huge game. I loved the game. I loved every part of it. I just wish we would have played a little bit better.”

“They know this was a game that was probably going to determine who makes the playoffs. It’s not etched in stone yet. I think they still have two tough games, and we have the Phoenix Suns and two games taht we should win. … We won’t know until the last game of the season. So I definitely w ant to win our next two games and see where we are. We know their schedule — the have Houston at home and Utah on the road. Tonight, they’re on top and it looks good for them.”

Allen Iverson:
“It was hard tonight. That is a tough team. They have so many talented players on their team, and it’s even rougher tyring to play that team in front of this home crowd. They ahve one of the best home crowds in the NBA.”

“J.R. Smith played one of the biggest roles tonight. To come in here and beat a team like this, you need everybody. Every guy on the court who is playing, you need the guys not on the court cheering everybody on because we are in here by ourselves. There are 20,000 people in here. Everybody brought it tonight. The thing with the noise in that arena is that you want to shut them up. I know how it is to play at home, an dthat makes the basket that much bigger. It makes it that much easier to get a stop when you have everybody cheering for you, everybody wanting your shots to go in. It is that much harder with everything at stake tonight – and to be able to get a win tonight is great.”

George Karl:
“In the first quarter, we got a hungry team, a fired team that ran by us. We missed a lot of easy shots, some layups during that stretch. They were just getting to the rim on every transition and penetration. Then we went to the zone and I thought A.I. was incredible. His defensive presence in the zone just gave us a confidence to defend them that we didn’t have early.”

“We kind of had a strong hold Baron. It wasn’t a box-and-one (zone), but where ever Barfon was, we wanted to play him tight. He likes to roam in the middle of the zone. I thought Eddie (Najera) was there most of the time always being in his way. They missed some open threes that they make sometimes, too. That was big.”

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. … But if they win all their games the rest of the way, we’ve got to win two.”

26

Where is Jax?

In the two biggest games of the year, at San Antonio and Dallas, Jackson was no where to be found.
Not only did he not produce his usual production, but he was awful – on both ends of the court. He was a hindrance with his jump shooting habit, and he failed to make up for his offensive woes in other areas.
True, several Warriors played poorly. Ellis was terrible in San Antonio. He was a little bit better in Dallas, but his trigger-happy ways hurt the Warriors. Al Harrington has been off, but he has his sprained thumb as a cover.
The one guy who did show up, who – say what you will about him – always shows up, was Baron Davis. While everyone else was chucking jumpers, he was forcing himself to the basket 1-on-2 and 1-on-3. (Let that be a lesson for those who say let BD walk and give the team to Monta. He’s doing so well because he’s playing next to Baron.)
The Warriors can afford bad games from Ellis, because they have Kelenna Azubuike (who is ballin’ lately). They can afford bad games from Harrington because they can go with Biedrins or Barnes or Pietrus when he’s healthy.
The Warriors CANNOT afford awful performances from Jackson when the stakes are so high. Maybe he can play a less-than-steller game, or a below-the-averages game. But he can’t be a downright liability on both ends of the court. Not with the playoffs hanging in the balance.
Jackson has to find a way to produce even on bad nights. If his jumper isn’t falling, if he’s not getting the calls, if he’s not feeling well, he still has to find a way to produce. He has to.
The fact that he disappeared is a huge concern, and exposes perhaps the flaw that will keep the Warriors out of the postseason: this team is not as good when Stephen Jackson is the second-best player. Forget his temper, which he’s controlled. Forget his lack of rebounding, or his propensityf or turnovers. Can the Warriors rely on a player who literally lives and dies by the jumper?
Maybe I’m overreacting. I like Jackson, as a person and a player. I think he’s really good. But I think these last two games exposed him.

5

Nine Games to Go …

So the stage is set for a thrilling finish. Three teams, nine games, two playoff spots.
The Warriors don’t hold any head-to-head tie-breaker. The best they can do is split the season series with Dallas and Denver. Even if they do, they lose out in the second tie-breaker: conference record.
The Warriors’ only chance – other than just finishing with a better record than one of these teams – is a three-way tie. Then the second tie-breaker is record against the other teams that are tied. If the Warriors beat Dallas and Denver, they’d be 4-4 against the two teams combined. Denver would be 4-3 and Dallas would be 3-4. Dallas would be out.
But all that stuff is way too complicated. The best way is just to win more games than one of the other two teams. So let’s breakdown the remaining schedule of each team:

Mavericks Remaining Schedule
at Clippers
vs. Warriors
at Lakers
at Suns
vs. Seattle
vs. Utah
at Portland
at Seattle
vs. New Orleans

Count roadies against Kobe and Nash as losses, especially if Dirk isn’t back yet. Both teams are playing for something. The Lakers aren’t playing that well, but they should get Pau Gasol back any day now.
If you give the Mavericks wins over their scrub opponents, that’s four victories (though at Portland isn’t as easy as it looks, especially with their desperation to finish above .500). Dallas has three other tough home games (Golden State, Utah and New Orleans). Depending on how the Mavericks do in those games will likely determine their playoff fate. Win two, they’re probably in. Lose all three (which is more than possible, especially if Dirk isn’t back or comes back at less than 90 percent), they’re done.

Nuggets Remaining Schedule
at Suns
vs. Suns
vs. Kings
at Sonics
at Clippers
at Warriors
at Jazz
vs. Houston
vs. Memphis

Just giving them wins over their scrub teams, for argument’s sake, they’ll win at least four (Sac, Seattle, LAC and Grizzlies) of their last nine. The remaining five are tough. They’ll probably lose at Phoenix and Utah. But at home to Houston and Phoenix and the road game against the Warriors are winnable. If they pull out two of those three, they’re 6-3 over the last nine and sitting pretty.

Warriors Remaining Schedule
at Spurs
at Mavs
at Grizzlies
at Hornets
vs. Kings
vs. Nuggets
vs. Clippers
at Phoenix
vs. Sonics

They have to beat the Grizzlies, Clippers and Sonics to have any chance. So, again for argument’s sake, put those in the books. Sacramento and Denver at home will be tough games, but they desperately need to win those and should be able to. That would put them at 50-32.
If they can’t beat the three scrubs left on their schedule, and win two home games against quality opponents, they don’t need to get in anyway. That leaves roadies at San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans and Phoenix. If they can get one of those road games, in addition to the previously mention five games, that’s 6-3 over the last nine and a 51-31 record.