1. With Andrew Bogut, Are Warriors Contenders?
OAKLAND -- The Bay Area is ecstatic over the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers, but wholly flabbergasted by the ascendent Golden State Warriors. The fans will freely admit to being aghast at how the Warriors can beat the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder 104-99, after having lost to that same squad in five straight prior meetings. The coach and his players, however, will not betray such shock.
Mark Jackson espouses only belief, at least publicly. It seemed comical last season, but nobody's laughing at his bold proclamations this season. When Jackson, after the game, says that the Warriors are a "no limit" basketball team, it's fair to wonder whether he means it literally -- as in championship-literally.
Because, the Warriors-as-good is a surprising enough reality to make reality feel a bit unsettled and slippery. Basic competence seemed so impossible for this franchise that going beyond competence makes a title feel not all that far from feasible. We're in uncharted territory here. Even the "We Believe" team had a well-defined ceiling.
Jackson is a walking advertisement for the power of positive thinking, which may be how he swayed owner Joe Lacob into hiring him. Lacob is a similar high-energy, glass-half-full salesman. He can often be seen on the Oracle sideline, tempting the rare owner technical with his wild displays of enthusiasm.
Lacob was near the locker room after the victory, eyes widening as he described the Warriors: "They just battle, battle, battle," his voice fogging into a Ray Lewis-rasp, while emphasizing the last repetition of the word. Lacob wouldn't cop to calling this outcome, though: "I'm not sure what to expect anymore. I'm just going with it."
Championship-contention probably can't be reasonably entertained unless Andrew Bogut comes back. Bogut looked spry in warmups, running around the court and hitting shots on various drills. Jackson was coy on the matter of whether a Bogut return could vault this team into a championship strata: "I have no answers for a Andrew Bogut question. I know what he was in the past. And I know how he could help us. And we look forward to him one day coming back."
The game itself was closely contested, with the Thunder leading for much of the second half. Kevin Durant scored a frighteningly easy 33 points on 17 shots. It's an effortless-looking brilliance that has become routine for Durant.It wasn't enough, though, not with the Warriors closing up driving lanes before Russell Westbrook could get to them. Not with the Warriors forcing 19 turnovers, including a game-sealing steal of a Durant pass by Stephen Curry. Curry's defense was often the butt of many jokes. Perhaps even that is changing in this new Warriors reality.
The threat of Curry's shot is the engine that keeps this offense chugging. Though, Oklahoma City accidentally gave him all the open 3-pointers he could ask for. Curry's final six 3s rimmed out, and he ended 3-of-14 from downtown on the evening.
You would assume a loss, if not a bad one, based on that statistic alone. Instead, Curry found just enough points in the paint to avoid a bad performance, while David Lee and Carl Landry found valuable put-backs in that same area.
Jarrett Jack was also huge down the stretch, as he often has been in the tensest of moments. Jack carries himself with a team-defining confidence that borders on recklessness. He and Landry comprise a bench tandem that plays like it should be starting somewhere else.
Speaking of confidence and recklessness, Curry celebrated a difficult third-quarter and-1 with what might be described as a "knee shimmy." It was spastic, it was funny, and it was at dwarf-height because the Warriors point guard did his dance from the ground. Oracle reverberated with glee as Curry bounced his shoulders and David Lee rushed over with his congratulations.
When asked about it, Curry said, "I don't even remember doing whatever I did, so I have to check the footage on that one." He followed that up with, "I don't even know what it is, man. It's truly genuine." Upon the "genuine" declarative, he flashed a cheshire cat smile and looked down at the ground.
Nobody's quite sure what to make of the Warriors, but the enthusiasm in the Bay Area is as genuine, fun and unexpected as a celebratory knee shimmy.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss' work appears on WarriorsWorld. Follow him @SherwoodStrauss
Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Josh Smith had a heckuva night, finishing with 30 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocks. J-Smoove was committed to beating the Bobcats' frontcourt in the paint, which was the biggest reason he went 15-for-24 from the field.
X factor: Ivan Johnson started for the first time in his career, and he delivered for the injury-plagued Hawks with 12 points, 15 boards, 3 blocks and 3 steals. Hopefully this performance will leave Ivan with fewer "DNP - CD" games in the future.
Least valuable player: The Bobcats' big men. Hakim Warrick, Brendan Haywood, Jeff Adrien and Bismack Biyombo? They went a combined 3-of-17 from the field, and even allowed the rarely used Johan Petro of the Hawks to score on a couple of jump hooks.
Recap | Box score
MVP: While LeBron James kept Miami on his back for most of the night, Dwyane Wade's command in the last 10 minutes gave them a necessary boost to get past a strong Raptors squad. A 35-5-7 line for Miami's mainstay.
X factor: The Heat's interior defense was atrocious all night long. The Raptors don't usually have a stupendous presence in the post, but they looked like a collective equivalent to Hakeem Olajuwon against Miami's awful interior D.
That was enthralling: The script was set for a garden variety blowout, but the NBA never scripts well. A few bounces could've given Toronto its best win of the season. As is? The Raptors showed that the Eastern playoff picture is still in flux, if only just. A fun night.
Recap | Box score
MVP: After starting 1-for-8 from the field, Jimmy Butler, in just his third start, led the Bulls in the fourth quarter. Butler scored seven of his 18 points in the final quarter and also finished with nine rebounds and four assists.
Defining moment: There were two moments that stand out. First was Jimmy Butler's transition dunk that sparked an 11-3 run that tied the game at 71. Second was Joakim Noah's hustle to save the ball to Marco Belinelli for the game-winning bucket.
That was just like last time: On Dec. 7, the last time the Bulls and Pistons played, Detroit led by as many as 17 before losing. On Wednesday night, Chicago again fought its way back from 17 down and beat the Pistons for the 17th straight time.
Recap | Box score
X factor: Paint play. Dwight Howard left early with an apparent shoulder injury, and the Grizzlies knew what to do from there. Sixteeen offensive rebounds and 60 points in the paint later, and the Lakers were blown out again.
MVP: Mike Conley exposed the Lakers' big men in the pick-and-roll by buzzing baseline and dropping off passes that often led to hockey assists. He made it look easy, and frankly, it was easy.
LVP: It's easy to make excuses for Steve Nash, but let's tell it like it is. Nash was hopeless defensively yet again, and his six turnovers didn't help matters. He was truly a liability Wednesdy night.
Recap | Box score
Defining moment: With about 30 seconds left in the third, JaVale McGee found himself sandwiched in the paint by Houston defenders. He calmly tossed the ball off the glass -- to himself -- and slammed it in.
That was payback: Early on in the second, Greg Smith schooled McGee with a beautiful jump hook. The next trip down, when he tried the same move on the other block, McGee swatted it into the first row.
MVP: McGee was electric from the moment he stepped on the floor. He finished with 14 points and three blocks, and the Nuggets were a +16 with him on the floor.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Brook Lopez played only 26 minutes in this game, but he punished the Wolves depleted frontcourt. He finished with 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting along with seven rebounds, three of them offensive.
X factor: The Nets' size advantage affected the game in myriad ways, from Joe Johnson and Deron Williams' ability to hit jumpers over smaller guards to the Nets' 14-6 offensive rebound advantage. Injuries have ravaged the Wolves' size, and Brooklyn had mismatches all over the floor.
LVP: J.J. Barea's statline is not all that bad -- 11 points and 8 assists in 24 minutes -- but he killed the Wolves in the fourth with his unhinged play. Whether it was blatant frustration fouls or airballed one-on-four finger rolls or bricked fadeaway 3-pointers, Barea was a mess.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Point guard Tony Parker finished with 24 points and controlled the Spurs' offense from start to finish, totaling 13 assists to just one turnover in the Spurs win. Tiago Splitter's 10-for-11 shooting night was in large part because of Parker's playmaking.
X factor: Danny Green's second-half defense on Eric Gordon was huge. Gordon lit up San Antonio's defense for 17 points in the first half and drew two fouls each on Green and Gary Neal. In the second half, Green helped hold Gordon scoreless.
Defining moment: After Ryan Anderson tied the game at 83, the Spurs reeled off a 18-6 run behind Parker's offense and Green's defense. The Spurs forced three turnovers during that stretch and shot 9-for-11 from the field.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Paul Millsap won the battle with Nene, putting up 16 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Millsap's well-rounded stat line overshadowed Emeka Okafor's 17 rebounds in the losing effort.
Defining moment: With the game nearly out of reach, the Wizards scored 30 points in the fourth quarter -- closing to within three after a 16-2 run. John Wall's 14 points and eight assists gave the Wiz a chance as he continues to return to form.
X factor: Jamaal Tinsley (11 points, six assists) showed off his trademark "Mel Mel The Abuser" playground moves several times in the game, bringing the crowd to its feet with a nutmeg dribble in the post that led to a Millsap put-back dunk.
3. Wednesday's Best
Chicago's comeback: Just when the Pistons thought the 17th time might be the charm, the Bulls restored order. Chicago rode Nate Robinson and a remarkable hustle play by Joakim Noah in overcoming a 17-point deficit to beat Detroit for the 17th straight time.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Lakers downward spiral: Once Dwight Howard left, the boarding party began for the Grizzlies. Memphis finished with 60-34 advantage in a 106-93 win. For Laker consolation, might be time to pop in a tape of 2010 NBA Final Game 7 when Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant combined for 33 boards.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"We make these teams look a lot better offensively than they really are. That's something that's pretty negative. Pretty alarming."
-- Lakers forward Pau Gasol, after the team's latest loss, to the Grizzlies.
8. Waiting For A Bloom
9. Stat Check
LeBron James completed perhaps the least likely of his 34 career triple-doubles in the Miami Heat's 123-116 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors. James pulled down just five rebounds in the first four quarters, but grabbed another five in the overtime period to finish with 10. Three other players in the past 12 months have finished a game with double-digit boards despite grabbing five or fewer in regulation: David West (March 10, 2012), Vince Carter (April 16, 2012) and Al Horford (December 26, 2012). But no player had done it before 2012.See more from Elias
10. Dunk Of The Night
Most valuable player: Suns big man Luis Scola scored 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including nine points in the fourth. He grabbed seven boards, dished four assists and played solid defense on DeMarcus Cousins down the stretch.
Least valuable player: Despite posting a double-double (15 points and 15 rebounds), DeMarcus Cousins missed 11 of his 18 shots, turned the ball over six times, and didn't get to the free throw line once.
X factor: Coming off the bench, Michael Beasley scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns went on a 30-14 run in the final period to overtake the sputtering Kings.
MVP: Damian Lillard did a lot of work driving to the basket in the second half, but the night's laurels go to LaMarcus Aldridge. He worked hard for buckets of all kinds en route to 12-for-16 shooting to set a tone in a win the Blazers desperately needed.
X factor: Before the game, Blazers coach Terry Stotts called the Pacers' defense the league's best. The Blazers shot 56.4 percent from the field, up from the Pacers' average .412 conceded to opponents.
That was desperation at work: The Blazers had lost six straight games, and with a back-to-back home and away against the Clippers this weekend, they needed to stop the free fall. At least for Wednesday night, they did.
MVP: Stephen Curry, a potential All-Star, had 31 points but took 27 shots and an amazing 14 3-pointers to get there. Still, his consistent production was huge on a day the Warriors sometimes labored offensively.
LVP: Scoring just 10 points on 3-16 shooting from the field and committing six turnovers, this was one of Russell Westbrook's worst performances of the season. It culminated in an air-ball and turnover in the game's final seconds.
Defining moment: With Oklahoma City down two and 15 seconds remaining, Kevin Durant (33 points, 9 assists) had his pass stolen by Curry and was forced to foul. After Curry's two free throws, this one was effectively over.
Bruce Bowen and Israel Gutierrez talk about the Lakers and with ESPN LA's Ramona Shelburne. Plus, they discuss the Grizzlies' trade and what's next for the Celtics.
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