1. Playoffs Ahead, Curry Bringing Star Power
OAKLAND, Calif. -- "Be careful what you ask for." After beating San Antonio's backups in a 116-106 victory at Oracle, Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson surprisingly converted celebration into admonishment. Though the win places Golden State in position to face the currently third-seeded Denver Nuggets, death can easily come by the hand of a preferred opponent. The coach sighed, and spoke of the time he, as a player, rooted for a playoff matchup versus the flagging Knicks. Unfortunately for Jackson, that wish manifested itself as New York elbowing past Mark's Indiana Pacers in the series, en route to a title appearance.
"Be careful what you ask for," also serves as a fair warning to Western Conference teams, on an evening when Stephen Curry claims 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Tuesday night's win brought the Warriors into the sixth-seed spot, one game ahead of the Houston Rockets, who would now face San Antonio if the postseason started today. Between the Lakers' historical track record, and Houston's explosive offense, the Warriors would seem to be a preferred opponent for the Thunder, Spurs and Nuggets.
Golden State is a fair choice for "weakest link" status, but they present one, specific threat that gets scarier by the game: Stephen Curry's star has been rising with the speed and loft of his shot release. From the point Curry missed the All-Star cut on Jan. 24, he has averaged 26.3 points and 7.5 assists, while hitting an incredible 46.5 percent of his 8.8 3-point attempts per game. Not since Steve Nash's peak has danger looked so benign. Curry cuts a scrawny figure in a burly league, and jumps as though his famously fragile ankle is actually filled with lead.
This doesn't much matter because he just might be the greatest 3-point shooter the league has ever seen. Casual fans are starting to get the memo and the Warriors crowd is getting behind the star they've always wanted. Curry's three high-difficulty, fourth-quarter 3-pointers were chased through the hoop by a massive waterfall of crowd noise. The Oracle crowd bellowed "Cur-ry!" at a pitch perhaps not reached since Baron Davis decapitated the Mavericks.
Though Davis harnessed Oakland's manic energy for a time, Curry's ascendance could animate this crowd for far longer, and possibly take it to better places.
Though teams might still prefer a Warriors matchup, Curry is certainly garnering more strategic attention than ever before. The Spurs gave him the full-court treatment, denying Curry the ball right from the moment Golden State pulled down defensive boards. When asked about how teams have been guarding him differently, Curry responded, "They're more aware of where I am in transition. That's the biggest thing."
After the first two quarters, Golden State's point guard seemed a longshot to best Ray Allen's single season 3-point record of 269. Steph was stuck on 262, with only six quarters left in the season.
Then, Curry was taken off the ball and San Antonio's omnipresent Curry defense broke to the tune of six 3-pointers in the second half. The barrage included a fadeaway triple and a running leaner. The star with the deceptively benign appearance takes what looks like a bad shot and proves it wise.
San Antonio just might play the Warriors this postseason, should Golden State drop their final game and fall to a seventh seed. For now, the tenor coming out of Texas actually isn't one of fear with regard to Steph. After the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich mused: "Everybody hates losing, but I enjoyed the hell out of watching a talented kid perform the way he did."
Ethan Sherwood Strauss' work appears on WarriorsWorld. Follow him @SherwoodStrauss
2. Around the Association
Most valuable player: Stephen Curry. The baby-faced assassin finished with 35 points on 13-for-23 shooting and hit three 3-pointers over four possessions in the fourth quarter to stretch a 12-point Warriors lead to 20.
X factor: Averaging a shade more than 10 points and just less than six rebounds per game this season, Golden State got 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and eight rebounds from Carl Landry. It wasn't San Antonio's best frontcourt, but Landry took advantage of the matchups he had.
Least valuable player: Danny Green. The only regular Spurs starter available in this game besides Tiago Splitter, Green struggled with no points on five missed shots in 20 minutes of action. After his miserable performance in the 2012 Western Conference finals, Monday was not what Spurs fans wanted to see so close to the playoffs.
MVP: It was only appropriate that Gerald Henderson, who has made life exceedingly difficult for the Knicks dating back to last season, would be the one to set the night alight. Twenty-seven points on 16 shots? Not bad.
LVP: Sheeeeeed. NBA Twitter rang joyous that the mercurial big man would suit up after nearly four months spent sidelined with a bum heel. Four minutes of rusty action later, Sheed was shelved with a tweak. Hopefully not for the last time.
That was meaningless: There is scarce a soul for whom Monday's tragedy in Boston didn't take a toll. Answers, reasons, justice -- all these things will hopefully come to pass. In the meantime, let's assure this is one of those times when sport brings us together. For as long as it takes to help the healing.
MVP: Even though Joakim Noah played (he missed the past four games because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot), Carlos Boozer got the nod at center and dominated. He scored 22 points on 11-for-15 shooting and had his way in the interior.
Defining moment: This game got out of hand in the third quarter, as the Bulls built a lead that ballooned to as many as 24 points. Marco Belinelli was the catalyst, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the period.
That was dominant: Chicago got off to a slow start, but they found their swagger in the second and third quarters. The Bulls tightened up defensively, and as a result, the Magic were blown out in their final home game of the regular season.
MVP: Norris Cole almost notched a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. He also made the play of the game when he knocked the ball out of Kyrie Irving's hands on the game's final possession.
LVP: Kyrie Irving had a decent offensive game -- 16 points on 7-for-19 shooting -- but was a complete phantom on defense. Cole was impressive, but it's easy to look impressive when you're being guarded by a bedsheet.
That was farcical: The Cavs went into the night tied with Phoenix for the third-worst record in the league, and the Heat benched their big three. This was a battle between a wholly stoppable force and a readily movable object.
MVP: Greg Monroe won the night. Powerful and efficient -- like a human Chevy campaign -- Monroe was 10-of-14 from the floor and hit all seven of his foul shots en route to a cool 27/16/4 line.
X factor: Buoyed by a 10-point second quarter, Will Bynum was instant offense off the bench for the Pistons. He scored 22 to go with six assists in just 25 minutes. The Sixers have had bad luck with players named Bynum this season.
Defining moment: Dorell Wright hit an uncontested 3-pointer with 5 seconds left and his Sixers facing an insurmountable deficit. It didn't mean anything, except maybe to Dorell Wright. The free-agent-to-be paced Philly with 22 points and six assists, and added eight rebounds. He'll get paid this offseason. He'll deserve it.
MVP: Kevin Durant couldn't miss. The Thunder small forward scored 29 points while shooting 63 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point land. Funny to think how long it has been since his first career preseason game, which came in Sacramento, and how he started at shooting guard.
Defining moment: Tyreke Evans was on his way to a strong night in OKC until he was derailed late in the first quarter. The Kings' starting shooting guard landed awkwardly on his left leg after scoring his eighth point on a layup at the two minute mark of the opening period. Evans never returned and his status for the season finale is up in the air.
That was coming: The Thunder have gone 34-6 at home while the Kings have won just eight road games all season long. Those numbers speak for themselves regarding where this game was headed.
MVP: The Grizzlies. Ten players had at least six points. They played stellar team defense. They won it as a team. Extra credit first to Ed Davis for seven offensive boards and second to Marc Gasol for six assists. Jerryd Bayless's scoring also "bears" mention.
Defining moment: Down 46-32 with 4:07 left in the second quarter, Memphis showed why it projects as a dangerous playoff force: Over the next nine minutes of game time, the Griz held the Mavs to just four points and took the lead.
That was something else: Mid-second-half, Dirk Nowitzki scored seven of his 26 on just two shots. An explanation: Twice, Memphis forward Darrell Arthur closed out on Dirk after Nowitzki had already gone into his shooting motion. The first shot was a 3-pointer.
Well that was a wasted miracle: Milwaukee came storming back with 17 fourth-quarter points and a clutch four-point play from Monta Ellis, but the Bucks couldn't muster any timely stops. Ty Lawson's game-winner in the lane was as easy as it gets.
MVP: Ty Lawson. Staying in front of this guy is like trying to catch a hummingbird in an open field. Denver's little burner flew past Milwaukee's initial defense all night, wreaking havoc in the paint for 26 points.
Defining moment: The Bucks held the lead late, but Ersan Ilyasova couldn't quite hold onto the ball, as he coughed up a critical defensive rebound. Ellis may have temporarily made up for the gaffe, but Ilyasova's error still loomed large in the end.
3. Monday's Best
Stephen Curry, Warriors:
Curry made seven 3-pointers to finish with 35 points, leading the Golden State Warriors past the San Antonio Spurs 116-106. Curry hit 7 of 13 shots from beyond the arc to move within one of Ray Allen's single-season record of 269 3-pointers set in 2005-06 with Seattle. Curry added eight rebounds and five assists.
4. Monday's Worst
O.J. Mayo, Mavericks: Mayo's game was so bad it earned the postgame wrath of Rick Carlisle. Mayo had a turrible performance against his former Grizzlies team, scoring only two points on 1-of-6 shooting and committing four turnovers. "I just want to see him show up," said Carlisle.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote of the Night
"I hate that I really value efficiency. Because I look around the league sometimes and I see a guy shooting 41, 42 percent from the field and I'm like, 'Wow, they're just hoisting up shots and they don't care.' I guess that's that freedom, but I don't have that mindset. I want to be as efficient as possible."
-- Dwyane Wade, on valuing NBA titles over scoring titles.
8. Jazz Stayin' Alive
9. Stat Check
Greg Monroe scored 27 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, handed out four assists and made 10 of 14 shots from the field for the Detroit Pistons in their victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Only two other players in Pistons franchise history had that many points, rebounds and assists and made at least 70 percent of their shots from the field in a game, and they are both in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Bob Lanier had such a game in 1977 (40 points, 21 rebounds, 5 assists and 17-for-22 from the field) and Bailey Howell, who did it three times in the 1960s.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Around the Association
MVP: With most of the team's starters out, you knew Andray Blatche was going for 80. He attempted a season-high 21 shots -- go figure! -- but justified himself by scoring the go-ahead points off an offensive board, which also gave him a double-double.
X factor: Summer League stars. Tyshawn Taylor and Tornike Shengeila are works in progress -- they've ping-ponged between the NBA and D-League, and won't play much in the playoffs. But they spearheaded the second-half comeback in what's hopefully a sign of potential to be fulfilled.
That was fuzzy: Resting four of your five starters with a playoff spot set in stone is textbook April basketball but the bench unit was able to make a go of things, building confidence and earning a nice Barclays ovation.
MVP: Following up his 40-point spree in Minneapolis last week, Al Jefferson (22 points, eight rebounds) ensured that Utah's fate will come down to a final day.
X factor: Paul Millsap didn't have a big game against the Wolves, but the Jazz will need his production to stay alive in the playoff hunt on Wednesday in Memphis.
That was a less-explosive Ricky: After scoring a career-high 24 points in his previous game, Ricky Rubio had six points on 2-for-9 shooting and four assists.
MVP: After missing most of the third with a cut above his left eye, Goran Dragic dished out 14 assists and scored 21 points for Phoenix. He returned in the fourth quarter with three stitches to score his final nine points.
X factor: Markieff Morris scored 20 points, but it was his five steals and six blocks that set the tone for the Suns' defense. Phoenix jumped passing lanes on Houston drive-and-kicks to record 11 steals and scored 16 points off 16 turnovers.
That was concerning: The Rockets' loss put them at risk of handing over their sixth seed to the Los Angeles Lakers, and it came by allowing the Suns to shoot a 49.5 percent. Houston's tempo hurt more than it helped, giving Phoenix 21 fast-break points.