Wednesday NBA Roundup: Warriors Officially America's Team, Curry America's Star

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2016

Feb 3, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket past Washington Wizards guard Garrett Temple (17) in the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry is as much spectacle as basketball player these days, the truly rare NBA superstar who can't miss and can't be missed.

He and the Golden State Warriors struck another blow in the war against DVR devices Wednesday, igniting the nets and social media in a 134-121 win over the Washington Wizards that forced everyone to tune in as it was happening.

Curry scored 51 points and tied his career high with 11 made triples, seven of which came in a 25-point first quarter that bordered on obscene.

The reigning MVP buried shots from increasing depth, ran off screens, pulled up, spun, stutter-stepped—everything. His sixth trey came after a scattered backcourt steal. Even amid the chaos that preceded its release, or perhaps because of it, that particular three-ball somehow felt most likely to drop.

That's what Curry does: He creates an expectation of the absurd. The crazier the lead-up to one of his long-range flings, the more certain we can be of the successful result. And he does all this while impressing on fans an unparalleled sense of immediacy.

Pretty soon, we'll need to develop some Bat Signal technology for whenever Curry heats up. Until then, we've got Twitter:

Tas Melas @TasMelas

If you’re not watching Steph Curry on ESPN right now, you might be missing history. 7 threes and the 1st quarter’s not done. #Warriors

You can't save what Curry does for later because so much of what makes him and the Warriors enthralling is tied up in the anticipation, in the sense that something ridiculous and amazing is going to happen. Sure, everyone's going to talk about it after the fact. But there's just something different about sharing in whatever insane thing Curry and his Dubs are doing in the moment.

No wonder he and the Warriors make friends of enemies in road arenas, per Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com:

Ethan Strauss @SherwoodStrauss

Curry might make a road crowd spontaneously hum the Globetrotters song

And no wonder NBA analysts assigned to other teams find ways to (let's put this diplomatically) multitask when Curry goes nuclear, like Derek Bodner of PhillyMag.com:

Derek Bodner @DerekBodnerNBA

I may be watching the Steph Curry show on my phone. Don't tell anyone.

If there's anyone slightly less excited about Curry's attention-swallowing brilliance, it's the guys he so consistently obscures. John Wall, for example, finished with 41 points and 10 assists on 17-of-25 shooting. This is his first mention, and we're in the ninth paragraph.

Even though Curry's teammates are part of the reason Golden State has such mass appeal, they get overshadowed all the same. Draymond Green notched his 10th triple-double of the season, scoring 12 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out 12 assists. He even blocked five shots.

Know how many times a player has posted those totals in a single game since 1983, which is as far back as the stats archives take us?

Try never, per Basketball-Reference.com. Yet here we are burying that tidbit near the end.

Russell Westbrook is also among the ignored and (maybe) aggrieved. He and the Oklahoma City Thunder knocked off the Orlando Magic behind a Kevin Durant game-winning three. Russ collected his third consecutive triple-double with a 24-point, 19-rebound, 14-assist performance.

And yet the bigger story, the show more people watched and discussed breathlessly, was the one Curry and the Warriors put on. It's not just that, though. It's also the way fans arrive early to watch Curry warm up. That's not normal, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr knows it.

Before Golden State's win over the New York Knicks on Jan. 31, he told reporters: "There is an aura that’s similar. Steph is obviously a worldwide phenomenon now and you see a thousand people watching him warm up or you see a couple hundred people at the hotel at 2 a.m. trying to get his autograph, that’s similar to the (Michael Jordan) phenomenon."

Golden State and Oklahoma City meet for the first time Saturday, and both will have two full days to rest up in advance. If there's a team out there that occasionally challenges the Warriors for the "Oh my God, are you watching this?!" crown, it's the Thunder.

☕netw3rk @netw3rk

westbrook preparing for thunder - warriors https://t.co/52hooTCizN

This is always true of Curry and the Warriors, but you especially won't want to miss that one.

J.R. Smith Is Still Himself, But in a Good Way

You might think the one-play microcosm of J.R. Smith's career would involve him arriving at the arena midway through the fourth quarter and hitting a triple-covered fallaway three to win the game. We haven't quite gotten one of those yet, but the defensive play he turned in during the Cleveland Cavaliers' 106-97 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday comes pretty close to capturing the same Essence of J.R.

Snoozing a little, losing contact with Jeremy Lamb and failing to communicate a switch, Smith looks cooked on this end-of-quarter play...until he makes a superhuman athletic effort to close 15 feet of space (essentially in one step) and elevates to snuff out Lamb's attempt at the rim.

That's a good summation of Smith's give-and-take game and, jokes aside, it's an encouraging sign for the Cavs because it's symptomatic of what could be a team-wide focus on defense.

Even Kevin Love, so relentlessly maligned for his failings on that end, has been picking it up on D, per Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Chris Haynes @ChrisBHaynes

Kevin Love playing his tail off defensively these days. Already has two blocks in the opening quarter.

Unfortunately, the Cavaliers waited a little too long to find that late burst of urgency, and unlike Smith's play, it was too late for them to recover, per Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio:

Sam Amico @AmicoHoops

Cavs decided they weren't gonna play the right way tonight until about 4 minutes left. Paid price vs hurting Hornets, fall to 5-2 under Lue.

The defeat snapped Cleveland's five-game winning streak, but there have been some high-volume scoring nights under Lue, and we've seen good signs on defense.

If the Cavs could just skip over the initial complacency and get right to the overwhelming skill part of the Smith model, they'd be in fine shape.

There's a Bright Side to Everything

SAN ANTONIO,TX - FEBRUARY 3: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs gets congratulates from Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on February 3, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs played without Tim Duncan for the fifth straight game Wednesday, running their modest mark in that span to 3-2 with a 110-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Duncan's sore knee is a real concern, as Gregg Popovich has rightly called him the center of their defensive universe. San Antonio is good with or without Timmy, but it might not be great enough to topple the other superpowers in the West without the league's leader in ESPN.com's defensive real plus-minus.

The good news, though, is that LaMarcus Aldridge seems to have settled into a groove during Duncan's absence. He put up a season-high 36 points against the Pelicans, surpassing the previous mark he set with 28 points on Feb. 1 against the Magic.

Aldridge has struggled at times to find his niche with the Spurs, which isn't all that surprising. From the moment he signed last summer, there were questions about how an in-his-prime star would fit into the Spurs' egalitarian system.

The trick will be sustaining his recent performance when Duncan returns.

Addendum: There is not a bright side to this, from Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News:

Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN

Sounds like Manu took a knee to the Ginobilis. He hobbles to the locker room.

Manu had a rough night.

The East Is Sorting Itself Out

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 3:  Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics handles the ball against the Detroit Pistonson February 3, 2016 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or u
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. Full stop.

Man, that felt good.

Boston is 29-22 after a 102-95 win over the Detroit Pistons, its second straight and seventh in its last eight games. And though its overall record is the same as the Atlanta Hawks, Boston's average margin of victory is notably higher (plus-4.3 versus plus-2.6) and it has been steadier of late while the Hawks have gone just 5-5 in their last 10.

Six Celtics scored at least a dozen points, led by Isaiah Thomas' 17, and the Pistons only managed to shoot 37.6 percent on the night.

For much of the season, the East has been a jumbled mess—one team rising up as an apparent challenger to the Cavaliers at the top, only to plummet into the middle of the pack (or even the lottery) shortly thereafter. Boston, Indiana, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte have all knocked each other around over the season's first 50 games.

Even if their recent run has had something to do with a soft schedule, the Celtics, built on defense and depth, feel stable. It took a while, but we've got some clarity.

Brook Lopez's Corner Threes Aren't Helping

Feb 3, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA;  Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) fouls Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Less than a minute into the Brooklyn Nets' 114-100 nihilism-inspiring loss to the Indiana Pacers, Brook Lopez heaved up a corner three.

He missed it, a result that should not have surprised anyone, per Devin Kharpertian of the Brooklyn Game:

devin kharpertian @uuords

Brook Lopez has made one career three-pointer in 24 attempts.

The allure of floor-stretching bigs has never been more powerful now, and plenty of oversized gunners are getting new chances to prove they can threaten a defense from deep. Twenty-three players 6'10" or taller have taken at least 50 threes this season, per Basketball-Reference.com. Last year, only 26 big men tried that many over the course of the entire campaign.

That said, it's time for Lopez to pack in the three-ball for good. He's a monster on the block and basically represents Brooklyn's only reliable source of offense. If the Nets had a first-round draft pick to tank for, it'd be a different story; Lopez could fire away from deep, miss a ton and actively improve his team's fortunes.

But the Nets have no such pick, and Lopez isn't doing anyone any good by chucking.

Hence the nihilism:

devin kharpertian @uuords

We are semiotic monkeys hurtling through the universe on an organic spaceship. Nets trail 55-40.

Maybe We've All Been Overthinking the Hassan Whiteside Issue

Hassan Whiteside returned Wednesday after missing six games with a strained oblique, and he quickly did away with the lingering skepticism surrounding his true value, per Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:

Jason Lieser @JasonLieser

Whiteside eating the Mavericks like a plate of nachos. Erasing possessions on defense, fixing them on offense. Seems to be making a point.

The Miami Heat went 4-2 without him, and they've been better this year with him on the bench, per NBA.com. Numbers aside, it's also true that Whiteside's pursuit of blocks at the expense of team defense and total inability to pass make him a difficult player to evaluate: great individual numbers, but a so-so overall impact.

But here's the thing: Miami is banged up, and its best players—Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—need whatever help they can get. So even if Whiteside might not always be as valuable as his numbers suggest, he's still a quality player who can, when fully motivated, truly change the game on both ends.

He had 10 points, nine rebounds and five blocks off the bench in Miami's 93-90 win over the Dallas Mavericks, and if he strings together a few more efforts like Wednesday's, the complicated question of his worth will get a lot simpler.

You Cannot Trap the Thunder

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant wrestled a classic narrative into submission Wednesday, powering the Thunder to a 117-114 victory against the Magic that simply shouldn't have happened.

Winners of four straight and looking ahead to a season-defining showdown with the Warriors on Feb. 6, OKC could easily have looked past the Magic, losers of 10 of their last 11 games. It was a trap—a classic, quintessential, see-it-a-mile-away trap.

But Durant capped his 37-point night by hitting a game-winning triple with half-a-second left (made possible by Serge Ibaka's game-saving block on the previous play), and the Thunder escaped. Westbrook, as you already know, logged some silly numbers, per SportsCenter:

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

No words for Russell Westbrook's stat line... https://t.co/NHbXahWDwK

And if there were a reason OKC survived a textbook trap, it's because Russ lives in the moment, per Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman:

Anthony Slater @anthonyVslater

"Looking forward to Saturday?" Westbrook: "What's going on Saturday?" https://t.co/CdCIs1iQ8q

This tilt with the Warriors is going to be fantastic, and after the Dubs smashed the Cavs and Spurs in the same week, it's starting to feel like the Thunder are our last hope for a worthy Warriors challenger.

The game's in Oakland, where the Warriors haven't lost in over a calendar year. I guess that makes Oracle Arena a trap of its own. At least we know the Thunder are pretty adept escape artists.

We Have a New Term

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 3: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 3, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Nearly a year to the day after Chris Paul earned a dubious technical foul for asking "Why uh uh?" to referee Lauren Holtkamp, he got another one in the waning seconds of the Los Angeles Clippers' 108-102 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

This time, Holtkamp rang him up for another seemingly innocuous offense, per J.A. Adande of ESPN:

J.A. Adande @jadande

Doc Rivers said he was told the Chris Paul technical foul was for an "overt clap."

Nobody's saying Holtkamp harbored a grudge for CP3 after his comments following last year's technical, and it's true Paul probably shouldn't have showed her up like that after a correct call. But it's difficult to justify a tech at such a critical juncture in the game.

The lesson: Only clap covertly.

Nice win for the Wolves, though, who got 31 points from Andrew Wiggins and earned a road victory for the first time since Dec. 20.

How about a round of applause for the Timber...Wait! Just to be safe, we'd better not clap.

Follow @gt_hughes on Twitter.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.


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