1. For Surging Warriors, A Time To Dance
MIAMI -- Golden State Warriors rookie forward Draymond Green stood in the corner of a festive visitors locker room Wednesday trying to explain what was said during his heated exchange with LeBron James in the fourth quarter.
At the time, James had risen in the lane to score despite strong defense and plenty of contact from Green with nine minutes left and the Miami Heat trying to put away the Warriors.
Green committed the foul, and James scored anyway. But before he went to the free throw line to complete the 3-point play, the three-time MVP stood face-to-face with Green and delivered the youngster a strong message.
"He said, '[Dude], you're not strong enough to stop me -- you need some help,'" Green recalled after the game as he laughed with a teammate. "And I said, 'Yeah, whatever man. But I bet you won't score again.' He scored again, though. But still. You know what I'm saying?"
Green didn't back down from James, and the Warriors certainly didn't shrink in a big moment against the Heat. James scored many of his game-high 31 points on Green. But none were bigger than the game-winning basket Green scored on a layup with nine-tenths of a second left to deliver the upstart Warriors their signature victory of the season in a 97-95 stunner against the defending champions.
Now might be as good a time as ever to get to know these streaking Warriors, whose win over Miami moved them to 5-0 to start a road trip for the first time since the 1978-79 season. Of course, with a playing rotation that includes three rookies, none of the Warriors were born the last time the team had a stretch this successful outside the Bay Area.
Perhaps this was the type of victory that will make the mainstream take notice. Despite getting off to their best start since the 1991-92 season, the Warriors (15-7) are still overshadowed on the West coast -- and in their own state -- by the turmoil that has engulfed the Los Angeles Lakers.
They lack the San Antonio Spurs' experience and credibility, are considered far less relevant than the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers, and weren't even involved in the sort of major offseason trade that garnered the headlines and interest that teams such as the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets received.
Instead, second-year coach Mark Jackson, forgotten man David Lee and a finally healthy Stephen Curry have gone about their business quickly and productively. After taking down James and handing the Heat only their second home loss of the season, the Warriors now have the kind of statement victory on their young résumé that just might get the league talking about them for a change.
"It's definitely surprising the league," Lee said. "I think when we came into the season, they said we had a zero percent chance of making the playoffs, we were going to finish 13th in the West. There were a lot of attacks on our players personally, then negative things going into the season. But all we're trying to do is just win as a team."
When asked for the source of their improved play so far this season, the Warriors point to two areas: defense and rebounding. Golden State jumped from 26th last season to 12th this season in overall defensive efficiency, and ranked ninth in total rebounds entering Wednesday's game.
They've managed to get stingier on one end of the court while remaining explosive on offense with streaky shooting from Curry, Klay Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes. And the Warriors have made these early strides while two key veterans -- Richard Jefferson and Andrew Bogut -- have missed either all or much of the season with injuries.
But there's been no shortage of fight and resolve. Green showed that much in his moment with James, who after the game congratulated him on the victory.
"It was great," Green said of his follow-up conversation with James. "I'm not going to back down from anyone, though. Yes, he is one of the greatest players in the world, but that's not a license for me to back down. I'm trying to make a name for myself in this league like he did one day, way, way, way back in the day, once upon a time."
Several players seemed offended after beating the Heat that the Warriors haven't been a bigger story, that it shouldn't take Wednesday's win for them to be taken more seriously.
Veteran point guard Jarrett Jack, who had the assist on Green's game-winning basket, said the next step is for the Warriors to believe they belong among the top teams.
"Don't get me wrong; we know the Heat is a high-power caliber team," said Jack, who had the assist on Green's game-winning basket. "But we're another ballclub than people are used to seeing. I told my guys, because we kind of celebrated after that basket went in, I was like, 'We didn't do much. It's just one game.' Don't be surprised with some things we do on this nice journey."
Jack's attempt to temper the celebration the Warriors had on the court and in the locker room after the win proved to be one of the few times he wasn't on the same page with his coach. Jackson had no problem with his team taking a few moments to enjoy the biggest win of their season so far.
It wasn't a sign of disrespect against the Heat. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. Winning on the road against the defending champions, who have two of the best players of all time at their positions in James and Dwyane Wade, is proof of just how much potential these Warriors possess.
When you're a veteran team, there's no such thing as statement wins in December. When you're a young team with five rotation players born since 1988, a victory the magnitude of Wednesday's is the biggest thing to happen since many of them played in the NCAA tournament.
With the Warriors staying overnight in Miami before moving on to play Orlando on Friday, Jackson's only concern after the game was that his players avoid the potential trappings of a late night out on South Beach.
"Extremely, extremely big win for us," Jackson said of his message to the team. "I apologize for not being a normal coach. But we are 15-7. Enjoy it. And I put a warning out there. I know that Miami is undefeated, as far as this place goes, so I told the guys to be awfully careful. Enjoy themselves and let's get back to business tomorrow."
The Warriors left the arena knowing they had the talent it took to conquer the high-powered team they faced Wednesday. They also had the confidence they needed to take on the glitzy and glamorous town that awaited them.
Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Paul Millsap was a beast for the Jazz against the Spurs. His aggressiveness and physicality gave the Spurs fits, especially in the second quarter. Millsap led all scorers with 24 points, and threw in 12 rebounds and five assists for good measure.
X factor: Gordon Hayward put up 19 points, seven boards and six assists, but more than that he seemed to make hustle plays exactly when the Jazz needed them. His timing was absolutely perfect in that regard.
That was a shame: A shame that the Spurs didn't capitalize on Tim Duncan's big night. Duncan is 36 years old, playing his 16th NBA season and he scored 22 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and blocked 6 shots. I'd say Tim Duncan doesn't have many nights like that left in him. But at this point, who knows?
Recap | Box score
X factor: Jared Dudley. His numbers (15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists), like his game, were not flashy by any means. He didn't hit the game-winning shot or make the key defensive stop on Rudy Gay down the stretch, but Dudley had his hand in every aspect of the game. In the midst of a seven-game losing streak, the Suns needed their veteran leader to stand up. Against the Grizzlies, he did.
Least valuable player: Luis Scola was inserted into the starting lineup before the game, because Alvin Gentry thought the veteran forward would be a better matchup against Randolph than Markieff Morris was in the Suns' 108-98 loss to the Grizzlies last week. Boy was he wrong. Randolph scored 10 points in the paint in the first quarter and only slowed down going up against Phoenix's reserves. Scola finished with four points and one rebound.
That was bench-worthy: Michael Beasley was already reduced to a bench role by Gentry, but that didn't stop the former No. 2 overall pick from getting his shots up. Beasley took 11 of the Suns' first 33 shots in the first half. He made just two of those attempts and didn't see the court in the second half.
Recap | Box
Most valuable player: Rajon Rondo. Rondo finished the game with a near triple-double, scoring 16 points, dishing out 15 assists and snagging 9 boards. Add a key layup in the final overtime frame and and Rondo earns the hardware.
LVP: Jason Terry. The former Maverick had a very underwhelming game, finishing with 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting and hardly any defensive moments worth mentioning. I'm certain this is not how he saw Wednesday going.
That was exhausting: There will be some tired old legs Thursday as this contest sported seven players who were drafted in the 1990s, six of whom played more than 30 minutes. Both locker rooms better have had vats of ice ready.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Durant. The rest of the Thunder went 20-for-51 from the field, and the closer did closer things, leading his team back from a double-digit deficit with 35 points and 9 rebounds after a sluggish first half.
Defining moment: Scott Brooks subbed in Reggie Jackson for Russell Westbrook deep into the second half. Upon his entrance, OKC managed three straight defensive stops, Jackson hit a triple, made a superstar play in the paint, and gave the Thunder a decisive edge in front of their home crowd. In a word, Brooks got his much needed spark.
That was good enough: Durant put on his closer sneakers and said face for OKC after an abysmal offensive outing. The Thunder shot less than 30 percent in the first half, and were down by as many as 10 into the second half. But in the words of Jeff Van Gundy, you're as good as your record says you are. Thunder win.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Jarrett Jack. Golden State's super sub was typically fantastic all night long (20 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), but made the game's biggest play when it mattered most. Defended by LeBron James with the fourth-quarter clock winding down, Jack somehow found Draymond Green for a nifty backdoor, game-winning layup.
LVP: Mario Chalmers. The subject of so much normal on-floor derision from James and Dwyane Wade deserved it all tonight. Chalmers scored eight points on as many shots in 24 minutes, committing four turnovers in the process. Worse, the Heat were markedly better defensively with Norris Cole in the game.
That was a coming-out party. The Warriors have won nine of 10 games and five in a row as their seven-game road trip finally comes to a close. At 14-7 coming into the game they were looking for a statement win, and they got it in Miami. This, even without Andrew Bogut, is a playoff team.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Monta Ellis has been shooting just a bit less lately and the results have been fantastic. He had 17 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and was 7-for-17 from the field. For Ellis, this is about as efficient as it gets.
That was surprising: Drew Gooden, who only recently played in his first game this season, was the first Bucks big man off the bench. Milwaukee was without Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, but it was still a shock to see Gooden pitch in 21 solid minutes (seven points, 10 rebounds).
X factor: Milwaukee outrebounded the Kings 60-50 on a night when there were plenty of opportunities on the glass. Milwaukee "won" the shooting battle by hitting 40 percent of its shots. Ugly game for both teams, but the Bucks handled it better.
Recap | Box score
MVP: C'mon, who else? Fueled by 17 first-quarter points (the same amount as the Wizards after one), James Harden gave rookie Bradley Beal plenty of "welcome to the NBA" moments. Harden finished with 31 points, 10-for-20 on field goals.
X factor: Chandler Parsons isn't just one of several long-distance jackers on one of the NBA's most prolific 3-point shooting teams. To go with his 18 points and 3-for-8 from deep, two of which helped put the game away late, Parsons added eight rebounds and three assists.
Defining moment: Jordan Crawford scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards hang around. But in between hitting shots, he also failed to get back on defense, which, combined with a Beal miss, led to an eight-point swing with 2:30 left. Crawford later failed to help on one of Parsons' 3-pointers.
Recap | Box score
MVP: J.J. Barea. The jitterbug off the bench came up huge down the stretch for the Wolves, scoring 11 of his 17 points, snaring three of his five rebounds and dishing four of his eight assists in the fourth quarter alone.
X factor: Nikola Pekovic. On an off shooting night for Kevin Love (3-for-17), the big, bearded bruiser picked up the slack with 22 points and 11 rebounds to help lead Minnesota to a key home victory.
That was impressive: Denver scored 13 baskets in the first quarter, 12 of which came with Ty Lawson on the court. Lawson scored one himself, and assisted on nine of the remaining 11 scores when he was on the court, for an 81.8 AST percentage.
3. Wednesday's Best
Sizzling Warriors: Mama, there goes that team. Mark Jackson's club earned a last-second win at the home of the defending champs, giving the Warriors their fifth straight win. Klay Thompson tied a season high with 27 points.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Cleveland's aim: The Cavs made 33.3 percent of their field goal attempts in a 96-81 loss at the hands of the Pacers. Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee combined to shoot 0-for-16 from the field.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Yes, he is one of the greatest players in the world, but that's not a license for me to back down. I'm trying to make a name for myself in this league like he did one day, way, way, way back in the day, once upon a time."
-- Warriors rookie Draymond Green, on challenging LeBron James, who is apparently quite old
8. Embracing History
9. Stat Check
10. Dunk Of The Night
Most valuable player: Al Horford helped lead the way for the Hawks, finishing with his seventh consecutive double-double of the season (13 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists). Horford's play of the game was his posterization of Nikola Vucevic in the second quarter.
X factor: Josh Smith also finished with a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks) for Atlanta, but it was his defense that stood out the most. Smith did an excellent job of blocking and altering shots at the rim.
That was easy: The Hawks jumped out to a 16-2 lead to start the game and were on cruise control the rest of the way. The Magic tried to make a game of it near the end, but their efforts were thwarted.
MVP: Joakim Noah was welcomed with boos before the tip. He did nothing in the next 48 minutes to mend fences with the Philadelphia fans. All hair and elbows, Noah scored an economical 21 points on 10 shots -- including a 17-footer that pushed the Chicago advantage to seven with 1:19 left -- and paced the Bulls with five assists.
That was gritty: After a 9:30 p.m. ET start on Tuesday against a Clippers team that's humming, a grinding 94-89 loss, and a flight to Philly for Wednesday's tilt, the Bulls -- postgame protests aside -- were tired. They didn't look it. Chicago won the second half 55-45 to move to 2-0 against Philadelphia this season.
X factor: The line. Philadelphia made seven more baskets than the visitors, won the battle of the boards by a 44-39 margin, and outscored them in the paint 44-32. Didn't matter. Chicago hit 24 free throws to the Sixers five and that, as they say, was that.
MVP: Paul George. The Pacers' wing is on the best five-game stretch of his career and continued to show his versatility Wednesday night. He scored from every area of the floor, set up his teammates in the half court, ran the break well and played some top-notch defense at times.
X factor: C.J. Miles. He was gangbusters out of the gates, hitting five of his first six 3-point attempts to score 21 points in the game's first 16 minutes. He cooled off, making just two of his final 10 shots, but it was his early dominance that helped Cleveland score 58 in the first half.
Defining moment: Indiana trailed by 13 with 1:05 to play in the first half when George Hill picked Kyrie Irving's pocket, passed off and ran to the corner. He missed a 3-pointer soon after, but David West hit a follow layup, and Paul George drew an offensive foul on the other end. Some free throws, a Roy Hibbert block and a Lance Stephenson finish at the rim cut Cleveland's lead to just six. The Pacers then ran away with it in the third quarter.
MVP: Jose Calderon. The Raptors were severely undermanned but Calderon finished with 15 assists helping Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas to big nights. Also, Calderon had some unusually aggressive, if not always successful defense, in the loss.
X factor: Turnovers. Brooklyn's 10 turnovers in the first 18 minutes of play gave Toronto the early lead. However, the Nets cut down the turnovers in the second half thus taking control of the game and curtailing Toronto's transition offense.
That was a bird? a plane? Courtney Kirkland! The referee leaped over tall buildings in his attempt to block Kris Humprhies' free throw attempt in the fourth quarter. I doubt Kirkland is more powerful than a locomotive, though.
MVP: Matt Barnes. Score one for the old, crusty guys. Barnes was one of the lesser athletes on the floor at all times, but his ability to find open spaces led to an 11-point fourth quarter that iced the game.
X factor: Eric Bledsoe. Wow. In the fourth quarter, Bledsoe swung and missed on a blocked shot, but jumped so high that he ended up blocking it with his face. There isn't a more productive player in the league who plays fewer minutes.
That was a measuring stick game: Maybe not for the Bobcats as a whole, but certainly for Kemba Walker. Against the league's best point guard, Walker acquitted himself nicely and displayed some tantalizing speed.