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    In the NBA Playoffs, The Scariest Teams Are Lower Seeds

    Injuries and illness dragged down the records of several teams, including the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. That could mean early postseason exits for the season’s best.The N.B.A.’s play-in tournament nearly fell flat with a series of blowout games until LeBron James and Stephen Curry rescued the postseason appetizer experiment with a dynamic one-off between the Los Angeles Lakers and Curry’s Golden State.Now, the real games are here, with the Knicks and the Nets both earning a seat at the table.The championship is up for grabs after a truncated off-season and a somewhat sluggish and injury-filled regular season.In the Western Conference, neither of the two top seeds — the Utah Jazz or the Phoenix Suns — is favored to escape the conference with the defending-champion Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers lurking.In the Eastern Conference, the Nets are finally at full strength at the right time, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are revamped, looking to advance beyond past stumbles, and Jimmy Butler and his Heat — last season’s Eastern Conference champions — will try to prove that success last year was no fluke.Here’s a look at the matchups.Eastern ConferenceNo. 1 Philadelphia 76ersvs. No. 8 Washington WizardsPhiladelphia’s Joel Embiid is one of three finalists for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.Matt Slocum/Associated PressThe Wizards have emerged as an Eastern Conference feel-good story to rival the Knicks. To seize the East’s final playoff berth, they rallied from a 17-32 start and a coronavirus outbreak that shut down the team for nearly two weeks.The problem: Washington’s reward is a first-round matchup with the best Philadelphia team since Allen Iverson led the 76ers to the N.B.A. finals in 2001. Joel Embiid is one of three finalists for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, Ben Simmons ranks as one of the league’s most feared defenders and Coach Doc Rivers, in his first season with the Sixers, has this group primed to capitalize on an enticing playoff draw.The three teams best equipped to keep the Sixers out of the N.B.A. finals — Milwaukee, Miami and the Nets — are all on the other side of the bracket, meaning Philadelphia can face only one of them and not before the conference finals.The potency of Bradley Beal and the triple-double king Russell Westbrook in the Wizards’ backcourt might enable them to steal a game, but this is a series in which the Wizards could use Thomas Bryant, their rugged big man who sustained a season-ending knee injury in January. As good as Daniel Gafford has been since Washington acquired him from Chicago on trade deadline day in March, Gafford and a resurgent Robin Lopez will need help to cope with Embiid.No. 2 Brooklyn Netsvs. No. 7 Boston CelticsBoston’s challenge in facing the Nets is daunting, but Jayson Tatum gives the Celtics (some) hope.Bob Dechiara/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe Nets’ starters have not played together enough to be deemed invincible, but it will take a team at full strength to pose any serious challenge. The Celtics are not that team.Boston limped through the regular season with injuries to Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Evan Fournier, whom the Celtics traded for in March. Most significantly, Jaylen Brown and his 24.7 points and 6 rebounds per game are out for the season following his wrist surgery.Walker and the offensive virtuoso Jayson Tatum will have to play magnificently and carry the burden just to steal a game or two against a Nets defense that can be porous. The Nets finished with one of the most efficient offenses in N.B.A. history, scoring 117.3 points per 100 offensive possessions, and vied for the Eastern Conference’s top seed, despite piecing together rotations throughout the season.The most realistic result of this series is that the Nets will use the games as an opportunity to jell following a regular season in which Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving rarely all shared the court. Their real test won’t come until they meet healthier opponents down the playoff line.No. 3 Milwaukee Bucksvs. No. 6 Miami HeatJimmy Butler and the Miami Heat have a chance to show that their success last season was not a fluke.Bob Dechiara/USA Today Sports, via ReutersLast season, the Heat thumped the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, needing just five games to eliminate Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co. It was another disappointingly brief postseason appearance for Milwaukee, which has reoriented itself behind Antetokounmpo for another crack at its first trip to the N.B.A. finals since 1974 — and its first championship since 1971. Few contenders, if any, have gone about their business more quietly. Antetokounmpo went a long way toward ensuring a drama-free existence for the franchise by signing a huge contract extension before the start of the season, and the addition of Jrue Holiday has given the team some defensive-minded toughness.A season removed from an Eastern Conference championship (and a demolition of the Bucks in the process), the Heat have had their ups and downs. Jimmy Butler appeared in just 52 games because of injuries and illness, but he is a fearsome competitor — especially in the postseason. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro are constant perimeter threats, and the power forward Bam Adebayo is coming off the most productive regular season of his career. Slowing Antetokounmpo — who was limited by an ankle injury last season — will be the challenge.No. 4 New York Knicksvs. No. 5 Atlanta HawksTrae Young was Atlanta’s leading scorer this season, averaging 25.3 points per game.Brett Davis/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe Knicks and Hawks might be the most evenly matched teams in the first round. Each team has a marquee player who carried it to the postseason: Julius Randle for the Knicks, and Trae Young for the Hawks. Both teams played their best basketball in the second half of the season after an inconsistent first half. Both were among the slowest in terms of pace.All of that to say: This is a tossup. The Hawks do have a wild card in their favor: health. They’re getting some key players back, including Kris Dunn and De’Andre Hunter, who were out with injuries for most of the season. That could cause some headaches for the Knicks, who have mostly avoided the injury bug.The Knicks were elite defensively and have the weapons to contain Young. But offensively, the Knicks have had trouble finding consistent help for Randle. That being said, Randle played the best basketball of his season against the Atlanta. The Knicks won all three of their matchups.Western ConferenceNo. 1 Utah Jazzvs. No. 8 Memphis GrizzliesUtah’s Jordan Clarkson is one of three finalists for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. He averaged a career-high 18.4 points per game.Neville E. Guard/USA Today Sports, via ReutersWhat to make of the Utah Jazz? They were the best team in the N.B.A. and did not have a single top candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award. Donovan Mitchell, their young star in the midst of a career year, missed the final 16 games of the season because of an ankle injury. The Jazz went 10-6 in those games. Utah led the league in point differential, meaning the average margin of victory for their games. The team was dominant, in large part because of Rudy Gobert’s anchoring of the defense, and because of players like Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson picking up the slack with Mitchell absent.It’s unclear whether Mitchell will be able to return for the first round. But the biggest issue is that we’ve seen great regular seasons from the Jazz in the past two years, only for them to get bounced in the first round. But this is the best regular-season Jazz team since 1998-99.They’ll face Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies, who overpowered Golden State in a play-in game on Friday night for the eighth seed. Morant, who won the Rookie of the Year Award last season, was relentless on Friday with 35 points. The Grizzlies are young and inexperienced, but they’re also fearless. That mind-set will give them their best chance against the Jazz.No. 2 Phoenix Sunsvs. No. 7 Los Angeles LakersLeBron James’s game-winning 3-pointer against Golden State in the play-in game, which gave the Lakers the seventh seed, signaled that he’s ready for the playoffs.Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressThe Suns assembled their best regular season since 2006-7, motoring through a competitive conference to win their division. Just two seasons ago, they went 19-63 and were a laughingstock. But their talented young core, led by Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, has begun to fulfill its potential, and the addition of Chris Paul in the off-season infused the team with leadership, desire and direction.The Suns’ reward for all their hard work? A first-round meeting with the defending champions. It doesn’t exactly seem fair that Phoenix has to christen its first trip to the postseason since 2010 by figuring out how to contend with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. (Welcome back to the playoffs!)The Lakers are an oddity as a No. 7 seed: Injuries to their stars hindered their season, and the roster was seldom whole. James, for example, appeared in just 45 games because of an ankle sprain. But if his game-sealing 3-pointer against Golden State in the play-in round is any indication, he could be rounding back into form — and the Suns could be in for a tough series.No. 3 Denver Nuggetsvs. No. 6 Portland Trail BlazersThe Trail Blazers are healthier than they were this time last season, but they will still need to rely on their All-Star guard Damian Lillard.Steve Dykes/Associated PressThe last time these teams met in the playoffs, the result was an epic seven-game clash that included a quadruple-overtime game before Portland exhaustingly outlasted Denver in the 2019 Western Conference semifinals.Both teams have sensational M.V.P. candidates — Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Portland’s Damian Lillard, stars looking to journey past the conference finals for the first time.Both also wavered through uneven stretches during the regular season. Denver was below .500 after the first 13 games of the season, and Portland often struggled while cycling through a series of injuries to key rotation players.But Portland will have the services of CJ McCollum and the former Nugget Jusuf Nurkic after each missed chunks of the regular season. The Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray, one of the breakout stars of last season’s playoffs, after he sustained a knee injury in April. Denver’s Monte Morris and Will Barton are also nursing recent injuries.Jokic should be able to find holes in Portland’s 29th-ranked defense. The Nuggets will look for Aaron Gordon, acquired in a March trade with Orlando, and Michael Porter Jr. to replace some of Murray’s scoring punch, and will need to pay attention to Lillard and McCollum on screens.No. 4 Los Angeles Clippersvs. No. 5 Dallas MavericksThe Clippers fell apart in last season’s playoffs, but they stand a good chance against the Dallas Mavericks this year.Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesWhen the Clippers lost their final two regular-season games to Houston and Oklahoma City, two of the league’s worst teams, it signaled to the rest of the N.B.A. that the Clippers wanted to get out of the Lakers’ side of the Western playoff bracket and delay a possible matchup until the conference finals. With the Clippers needing only a win over the Thunder to clinch the No. 3 seed, rest assured that they were equally motivated by the prospect of dropping to No. 4 and locking in a first-round series with Dallas.The state of the Clippers’ psyche remains a major curiosity after their second-round collapse against Denver last season, but no one questions their confidence in being able to beat the Mavericks for the second straight postseason. It’s a matchup they clearly relish; health is the greater uncertainty after they coped with myriad injuries this season.For all of the danger Dallas’ Luka Doncic poses, Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue has a variety of defensive options (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris for starters) to send at Doncic and make him work for his numbers. To have a chance, the Mavericks will need consistent production from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson, and even more so from their big men who can stretch the floor with shooting — Maxi Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis. More

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    N.B.A. Awards Picks: Why Stephen Curry Could Win M.V.P.

    Denver’s Nikola Jokic separated himself early with historic play. Then Curry, who has won two Most Valuable Player Awards with Golden State, went on a historic run of his own.The N.B.A.’s 75th season began on Dec. 22 — and the chatter about individual award races began soon after. Some things, even in pandemic times, never change in this league.The New York Times does not participate in balloting for such awards in any sport, but breaking down each of the six major races and who I would have chosen is always a good way to take stock of what we just saw.Most Valuable PlayerDenver’s Nikola Jokic increased his scoring average by nearly 7 points per game from last season.David Zalubowski/Associated PressNikola Jokic, Denver NuggetsRest of the ballot: 2. Stephen Curry (Golden State); 3. Chris Paul (Phoenix); 4. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia); 5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee).Preseason prediction: Luka Doncic (Dallas)Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists per game and shot 38.8 percent on 3-pointers to deliver dreamlike statistical diversity for a big man, and rightfully ranked as the M.V.P. favorite for some time. He was also one of just 11 players this season to appear in all 72 games, dodging the injury hex and coronavirus intrusions that affected so many fellow stars, including the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, in a season rife with postponements and challenges.With Embiid missing 21 games, and Paul having a dramatic impact on a team that had missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons but without the accompaniment of gaudy statistics, Jokic appeared well positioned to become the lowest-drafted (No. 41 overall in 2014) M.V.P. in league history.Then, in the season’s final days, I and many others got swept up in Curry’s remarkable ride to a scoring title (32 points per game) that made him the oldest player, at 33, to win one since Michael Jordan at 35 in 1997-98. Without the injured Klay Thompson on an otherwise offensively challenged team, Curry was swarmed by defenses like never before but still managed to sink a league-best 337 3-pointers and lead the Warriors to a 37-26 record (equal to a 48-win pace in a typical 82-game season) when in uniform.If he prevails in the real-life M.V.P. race, Curry would be just the second player since Moses Malone in 1981-82 to win the award on a team that fell shy of 50 wins (or the shortened-season equivalent). Russell Westbrook was the last to do it in 2016-17, when he averaged a triple-double for the first time for 47-win Oklahoma City. Chances are Curry won’t finish higher than second because of Golden State’s struggles, but this race is as complex and layered as the season itself.The list of worthy candidates is so long that Doncic, Portland’s Damian Lillard, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Miami’s Jimmy Butler, Utah’s Rudy Gobert and the Knicks’ Julius Randle are bound to be left off many ballots since there are only five openings.Coach of the YearTom Thibodeau turned the Knicks into a defensive force in his first season as coach.Gerald Herbert/Associated PressTom Thibodeau, KnicksRest of the ballot: 2. Monty Williams (Phoenix); 3. Quin Snyder (Utah)Preseason prediction: Steve Nash, NetsPhiladelphia was the East’s No. 6 seed last season. The 76ers hired Doc Rivers as their head coach and, with a few notable roster tweaks, posted the best record in the conference for the first time since the Allen Iverson-led Sixers did so in 2000-1.Rivers isn’t the only one responsible for Philadelphia’s rise, but the utter lack of buzz he is generating in this season’s coach of the year race shows the depth of the field. Thibodeau, Williams and Snyder all have tremendous cases, with Williams named on Monday as the National Basketball Coaches Association coach of the year in balloting by his peers.I expect Thibodeau to (narrowly) beat Williams in the news media vote after achieving one of the hardest things in coaching in Year 1 at Madison Square Garden — changing the Knicks’ culture with his relentless drive and attention to defensive detail. Thibodeau backers like to amplify their support by pointing out how much the Knicks overachieved with such a star-shy roster, finishing fourth in the East, but Williams’ bid shouldn’t be downgraded, as some say, because he could lean so hard on Chris Paul. I contend that it strengthens Williams’s bid that his presence helped persuade Paul to push to be traded to Phoenix from Oklahoma City, rather than to the Knicks, so that he could reunite with Williams, who coached him in New Orleans.There isn’t even room on the three-spot ballot to recognize the jobs done by Rivers, Memphis’s Taylor Jenkins, Atlanta’s Nate McMillan and Nash, who had his three best Nets (Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving) together on the floor for a whopping 202 minutes in his first year.Rookie of the YearLaMelo Ball helped solidify his case for the Rookie of the Year Award when he returned for the final 10 games of the season after breaking his wrist.Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesLaMelo Ball, Charlotte HornetsRest of the ballot: 2. Anthony Edwards (Minnesota); 3. Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento)Preseason prediction: Deni Avdija (Washington)Ball’s all-around play, for a team that unexpectedly contended for a top-six spot in the Eastern Conference until losing Gordon Hayward to injury, was the clincher. He averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game and, amid great skepticism regarding his shooting stroke, proved passable from the field (43.6 percent) and 3-point range (35.2 percent).Ball then addressed the biggest hole in his résumé by returning from fracturing his right wrist on March 20 to play in Charlotte’s last 10 games, ultimately taking part in 71 percent of the Hornets’ season. Had he not returned, Ball would have played in only 57 percent of Charlotte’s games, which would have been the lowest availability rate ever for a rookie of the year. Patrick Ewing’s 60 percent (50 out of 82 games) for the Knicks in the 1985-86 season is the lowest.The extra games can only help Ball in his bid to hold off Edwards. In the second half of the season, when the Timberwolves went 16-20 after a dreadful a 7-29 start, Edwards averaged 23.8 points per game and shot 45.4 percent from the field, inspiring loud support from fans who felt Ball was prematurely anointed the winner.Most Improved PlayerJulius Randle became a solid 3-point shooter in his seventh season.Pool photo by ElsaJulius Randle, KnicksRest of the ballot: 2. Michael Porter Jr. (Denver); 3. Jerami Grant (Detroit)Preseason prediction: Christian Wood (Houston)This is our one layup. Randle is unlikely to receive enough All-N.B.A. or M.V.P. votes to satiate rabid fans who suddenly see him as Knicks royalty, but he should be a runaway M.I.P. selection. He and Jokic were the only players to amass at least 1,600 points, 700 rebounds and 400 assists this season.As covered in our recent piece on Randle, his jump to 41.1 percent on 3-pointers this season from 27.7 percent in 2019-20 — in his seventh pro season — has no N.B.A. precedent. Randle has likewise flourished as a playmaker whose decision-making and versatility have lifted those around him and enabled the Knicks to be just functional enough offensively to make the most of their fourth-ranked defense.Porter Jr., Grant, Wood and Dallas’s Jalen Brunson made telling leaps, too, but the Knicks could have not have become as unexpectedly viable as they did if Randle didn’t first transform himself so dramatically.Sixth Man AwardJoe Ingles gets the edge in an unexpectedly tight, and packed, race for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.Randall Benton/Associated PressJoe Ingles, Utah JazzRest of the ballot: 2. Jordan Clarkson (Utah); 3. Derrick Rose (Knicks)Preseason prediction: Caris LeVert (Indiana; began the season as a Nets reserve)In yet another anomaly in a season oozing with oddities, Utah (Clarkson and Ingles) and Dallas (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson) each have two top reserves — possibly the four best reserves beyond Rose — to make settling on a top three trickier than usual.Clarkson averaged a heady 18.4 points per game, but Ingles nudged into my top spot because of his combination of excellent shooting (48.9 percent from the field and 45.1 percent on 3-pointers), offensive versatility and success as a fill-in starter when Utah faced injuries.Rather than trying to choose between the two Mavericks for one remaining spot, I went with Rose at No. 3 in a nod to the Knicks’ 24-11 record with Rose in uniform after acquiring him from Detroit. That also gave him the edge over the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, Chicago’s Thaddeus Young and Indiana’s T.J. McConnell.Defensive Player of the YearThe Jazz needed Rudy Gobert’s defense this year to offset the reduced firepower in the offense because of injuries.George Frey/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesRudy Gobert (Utah)Rest of the ballot: 2. Draymond Green (Golden State); 3. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)Preseason prediction: Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)Perhaps I am falling prey to recency bias, but I can’t remember a season when even the D.P.O.Y. ballot was teeming with this many options. Maybe it’s a function of how much attention league observers and curators of advanced statistics are paying to defensive matters these days, judging by the lobbying in recent weeks for Green, Simmons, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Atlanta’s Clint Capela and Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday.Yet this, once again, is Gobert’s domain; look for him to be named D.P.O.Y. for the third time in four seasons. While Coach Quin Snyder was revamping the Jazz’s offense to commit more to 3-point shooting, Gobert kept them in the league’s top three in defensive efficiency.He also missed only one game in a season in which Utah, because of long stretches without Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, needed his durability to finish with the best record in the league for the first time.The Scoop @TheSteinLineThis newsletter is OUR newsletter. So please weigh in with what you’d like to see here. To get your hoops-loving friends and family involved, please forward this email to them so they can jump in the conversation. If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here.Corner ThreeRobert Horry hit a clutch 3-pointer for the Spurs against the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2005 N.B.A. finals.Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesYou ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.(Questions may be condensed or lightly edited for clarity.)Q: Good player, many clutch moments, seems like an awesome guy — and incredibly fortunate to have played with great players and for great coaches. All that can be true, while still recognizing that Robert Horry is not a Hall of Fame player. — @MikeMcCullochAZ from TwitterStein: During his Hall of Fame induction on Saturday night, the longtime Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich lobbied for Robert Horry’s enshrinement. I posted Rudy T’s plea on Twitter and there was no shortage of resistance to the idea, because Horry averaged just 7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in his 16 N.B.A. seasons.Horry’s case, though, cannot be so readily dismissed. He amassed seven N.B.A. championship rings, with three franchises, as one of the finest role players in league history. Those who played with and coached him, like Tomjanovich, insist that he delivered so much more than the two mammoth 3-pointers he is best known for, which essentially made two of those titles possible: a buzzer-beater for the Lakers in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals against the Sacramento Kings that kept Los Angeles from a presumably fatal 3-1 series deficit; and a 3-pointer for the San Antonio Spurs in overtime of Game 5 of the 2005 N.B.A. finals to seal a series-turning victory against Detroit.After that masterpiece against the Pistons, I wrote a column proclaiming Horry to be the No. 1 role player in league history. He hadn’t scored in the first half but finished with 21 points, mitigating the damage from the six consecutive free throws that Tim Duncan, who just entered the Hall of Fame alongside Tomjanovich, clanked in the fourth quarter.Almost every year, there’s a discussion about how Rajon Rondo becomes Playoff Rondo after sleepy regular seasons. Although he has his own catchy moniker, Big Shot Rob, Horry was Playoff Rondo years before anyone was clever enough to use a nickname to spotlight the tendency. In 1994-95, he averaged 10.2 points per game during the regular season but 17.8 points and 10 rebounds per game in Houston’s four-game finals sweep of Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic.Ben Wallace, announced on Sunday as a member of the Hall’s 2021 class, won the Defensive Player of the Year Award four times but was passed over for induction until his fifth year of eligibility, likely because of his minuscule career scoring average of 5.7 points per game. Apart from a spot on the 1992-93 all-rookie team, Horry’s Basketball Reference page is far more barren than Wallace’s when it comes to individual honors. Perhaps he will never overcome the pedestrian nature of his career statistics to get that Hall of Fame call, but know this: Tomjanovich is far from the only one of Horry’s former colleagues who thinks he belongs in Springfield.Q: If more than one team finishes the season with the same record, do they have the same odds in the draft lottery? For example: If four teams tied with the league’s worst record, would they all have the same odds to land the No. 1 overall pick? — Chezky Krasner (Jerusalem, Israel)Stein: No. The league conducts tiebreakers, via a drawing overseen by a representative from Ernst & Young, when teams finish with identical records. The winner of the tiebreaker gets the higher draft pick or the higher placement in the lottery standings. The draft is July 29.There are several ties that the league will need to break in this manner, most crucially between Cleveland (22-50) and Oklahoma City (22-50) to see which team will have the fourth- and fifth-highest odds in the June 22 draft lottery. The Cavaliers and the Thunder will each get 115 number combinations, with one chosen at random to break the tie.Also to be decided in tiebreakers that are scheduled for May 25:Chicago (which owes its first-round pick to Orlando as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade) finished in a three-way tie for the No. 8 overall selection with New Orleans and Sacramento at 31-41.Charlotte and San Antonio (33-39) will have a tiebreaker draw if both teams lose this week in the play-in tournament.The Knicks and Atlanta (41-31) will need a tiebreaker to determine the Nos. 19 and 20 picks.There is a three-way tie for the No. 21 draft slot between the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland (which owes its first-round pick to Houston as part of the Robert Covington trade) and Dallas (which owes its first-rounder to the Knicks as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade).Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers (47-25) will need a tiebreaker to determine the Nos. 25 and 26.Q: Your recent commentary on the play-in round almost persuaded me, but I can’t help but be very sympathetic to No. 7 teams whose records are quite a bit better than the other teams in the play-in round. Your point about how No. 7 seeds don’t win N.B.A. championships doesn’t change the fact that fans of those teams deserve to see their teams in the playoffs even if they have minimal hope of winning it all. — Simon Rosenblum (Toronto)Stein: This is a common retort to those, like me, who love the play-in concept. It’s an eye-of-the-beholder thing, but I just don’t see the No. 7 seed in either conference as some sacred thing we have to protect.The No. 7 seed, even in a scenario like you describe with a record far superior to Nos. 8 to 10, gets two chances to win one play-in game to claim a playoff spot. The system still skews heavily in No. 7’s favor, while also making the regular season infinitely more interesting and competitive as teams strain to finish no lower than No. 6.As for this season, injuries are the only reason that the defending champion Lakers slipped to No. 7. Anthony Davis missed 36 games, and LeBron James missed 27 after the shortest off-season (71 days) in N.B.A. history. I expect no one outside of Phoenix will pick the Suns, one of just two 50-win teams in this 72-game season, to beat the Lakers in the first round if the Lakers beat Golden State on Wednesday to get the seventh seed.Judging by what the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are saying, they will be the scariest No. 7 seed in N.B.A. history, rather than a team at risk for an unjust early exit this week. Only the Nets have shorter championship odds.Numbers GameHaving fewer fans may have contributed to home teams’ increased losses this season.Christian Petersen/Getty Images54.4Home teams won 54.4 percent of the time this season, going 293-247 (.543) in the East and 294-246 (.544) in the West. It’s the lowest success rate for home teams in league history, dipping below last season’s 55.1 percent.8This was the eighth consecutive season in which home teams won less than 60 percent of the time, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press.84The empty arenas and reduced crowds mandated by league health and safety restrictions have been regularly cited as contributing factors in the further erosion of home-court advantage this season. But as the season progressed, home teams gradually got better at dealing with the baseball-style series in which teams hosted the same opponent in two consecutive games to reduce travel.Home teams won both games 27 times in 84 such series, lost both games 16 times and settled for a split 41 times, according to Ben Falk of Cleaning the Glass. Of the 41 splits, home teams won the first game and lost the second 17 times, and won the second game after losing the first 24 times. Additional time in one city and the increased familiarity resulting from two consecutive games against the same foe were expected to greatly help visiting teams in this scenario.2Two teams posted a losing record at home and a winning record on the road: Indiana (13-23 at home; 21-15 on the road) and San Antonio (14-22 at home; 19-17 on the road). Memphis nearly joined them but rallied to win its last four games at FedEx Forum to finish 18-18 at home compared to 20-16 on the road. The Toronto Raptors, in their temporary home in Tampa, Fla., because of Canada’s pandemic restrictions, were in a category by themselves. They were 16-20 in Tampa, and 11-25 on the road.27-11Phoenix fell one game shy of the league’s best record, going 51-21 to Utah’s 52-20, but the Suns went 27-11 against .500-or-better opposition to lead the league. Seven other teams had winning records against .500-or-better foes: Utah (24-14), the Nets (23-13), Dallas (22-16), Denver (21-17), the Los Angeles Clippers (21-17), Philadelphia (19-17) and Milwaukee (19-17).Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. More

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    Stephen Curry Breaks Kobe Bryant's Record for Consecutive 30-point Games

    It is not that Stephen Curry has not been good all season. He has had games of 62 and 57 points, after all. But with his Golden State Warriors mired in mediocrity and players like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid emerging as leading candidates for the Most Valuable Player Award, Curry had faded a bit into the background.That has changed in the last month. After five games away nursing a bruised tailbone, Curry returned and began a streak of 30-point games that has now reached 11, breaking Kobe Bryant’s record for a player who is 33 or older.The run has revived talk of a third M.V.P. trophy for Curry, and the Warriors look like they have a good chance of making the playoffs — as the team that no high seed wants to face.Here’s a look at the 11-game run that turned around Curry’s season, and perhaps Golden State’s, too.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press1. March 29, vs. Bulls, 32 points, winReturning from his injury, Curry helped the Warriors end a four-game losing streak. “It wasn’t fun, but I got through it,” he said.Mary Holt/USA Today Sports, via Reuters2. April 1, at Heat, 36 points, lossThe attention fell on the Heat debut of Victor Oladipo, and Miami beat Golden State by 7. It would turn out to be the heaviest Warriors loss in their last 11 games, in which the team went 7-4. Curry still managed 11 rebounds, though, his best total of the run.Curry gave his jersey to the rapper Two Chainz after scoring 37 points against the Hawks.John Bazemore/Associated Press3. April 4, at Hawks, 37 points, lossAfter missing a game at Toronto because of the lingering tailbone injury (not coincidentally, the Warriors lost that game by 53 points), Curry was back, wearing protective padding. “He pretty much did whatever he wanted in that first half,” Hawks Coach Nate McMillan said.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press4. April 6, vs. Bucks, 41 points, winFor the first time in the streak the Warriors beat an elite team, getting a 1-point win with a late comeback. Of course, the Bucks badly missed their own star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press5. April 9, vs. Wizards, 32 points, lossPerhaps the poorest performance of the run, despite the 32 points. Curry shot 11 of 25 from the field and his team lost to the middling Wizards at home. Curry missed a long 3-pointer to tie the score as time expired.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press6. April 10, vs. Rockets, 38 points, winA sixth straight 30-point game made the scoring streak the longest of Curry’s career, and he wasn’t done. “He had a highlight reel worth of plays out there tonight,” Coach Steve Kerr said.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images7. April 12, vs. Nuggets, 53 points, winCurry’s best game thus far and his first 50-point night since February. He had 10 3-pointers, the most so far in his streak, and the start of a run of four of five games with at least 10. Curry also passed Wilt Chamberlain as the Warriors’ career scoring leader.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press8. April 14, at Thunder, 42 points, winIn the biggest team win of the streak, Golden State beat Oklahoma City by 38 points. Curry shot 14 of 20 and had eight assists. Draymond Green said he knew a big Curry night was coming. “I can kind of tell when he comes out,” Green said. “Just the look in his eyes.” Another 11 3s gave Curry 29 over three games, an N.B.A. record.David Dermer/Associated Press9. April 15, at Cavaliers, 33 points, winA fourth straight win for the Warriors, for the first time this season. Curry was only 4 of 13 from behind the 3-point line but compensated with eight 2-pointers. The Warriors improved to 16-1 in their last 17 games against Cleveland.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press10. April 17, at Celtics, 47 points, lossThe Warriors’ winning streak ended in a closely contested game, and Curry kept scoring, with 11 3s. “It took everything,” said Kemba Walker of the Celtics, adding: “We knew it was going to be tough. These guys are playing so well. Obviously they’ve got one of the best players in the world. He’s incredible.”Matt Slocum/Associated Press11. April 19, at Sixers, 49 points, winThe Warriors took on one of the best teams in the N.B.A. and won. Ten more 3-pointers for Curry, who faced off against his brother, Seth. The 11th straight 30-point game is a record for players 33 and older, surpassing Kobe Bryant’s mark. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like the run he’s on,” Sixers Coach Doc Rivers said.Next up? A visit to Washington on Wednesday night. More

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    Stephen Curry Passes Wilt Chamberlain as Warriors Scoring Leader

    Players must be great to set their franchise’s career scoring record. But they also need to hang around.It was significant that Stephen Curry had 53 points on Monday night. It was significant that the Golden State Warriors won the game at home, over a tough Denver Nuggets squad, as they fight for a playoff spot.But long after the single-game scoring outburst and this year’s playoff race are forgotten, the night will be remembered as the one where Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain as the Warriors’ career scoring leader. His postgame total of 17,818 surpassed Chamberlain’s 17,783. Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and Chris Mullin trail them.Curry was 10-for-18 on 3-pointers, 4-for-6 on 2-pointers and 15-for-16 on free throws.“Any time you hear his name,” he said of Chamberlain after the game, “it’s kind of daunting, because you know his records are so hard to — some of them are even impossible to eclipse.”Though surpassing Chamberlain in anything is momentous, team scoring records are something of a quirky statistic. They reward great talent, naturally, but they also reward longevity at a single franchise.Curry was able to take the lead because Chamberlain, who averaged 41.5 points a game during his time with the Warriors, played only five and a half seasons with the team before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and then the Los Angeles Lakers. Three of Chamberlain’s seasons with the Warriors came when the team was still in Philadelphia. The Sacramento Kings’ career scoring leader is Oscar Robertson. If you don’t remember the Big O lacing them up in Sacramento, that’s because he played for the Cincinnati Royals, who didn’t arrive in California until the 1985-86, after a stop in Kansas City. Still, the record is his.The all-time leader of all-time franchise leaders is Karl Malone, who scored 36,374 of his 36,928 points during his 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz. (The other 554 points were added in a late-career cameo with the Lakers at age 40.)No player has more points for a single franchise than Karl Malone, who scored 36,374 points for the Utah Jazz in 18 seasons with the franchise.Robert Sullivan/A.F.P., via Getty ImagesNo one has scored more N.B.A. points than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has 38,387. He ranks first on the Milwaukee Bucks’ career list despite leaving after six seasons (with Giannis Antetokounmpo in hot pursuit). Abdul-Jabbar is also in good company on the Lakers list, behind only Kobe Bryant and Jerry West, who spent their entire careers in Los Angeles.The only players in the overall scoring top 10 not to lead a team are Shaquille O’Neal, whose prime years were divided among the Magic, Lakers and Heat, and Moses Malone, who played for seven N.B.A. teams (and two in the A.B.A.).Even though O’Neal, Malone, and now Chamberlain are not among them, the roster of franchise scoring leaders are virtually all great players. Only two of those who are eligible are not yet in the Hall of Fame. And one of those, Walter Davis of the Suns, who made six All-Star teams and tallied 19,521 total points, maybe should be.Perhaps the most forgotten team leader (could it be because of his common name?) is Randy Smith, who poured in 12,735 points for the Clippers franchise, mostly when they were the Buffalo Braves. Just a seventh-round draft choice, he wound up being known as the Iron Man for playing in 906 consecutive games (a record later broken by A.C. Green).At the bottom of the team leaders chart are the Nets, who have suffered from not keeping their superstars around. Buck Williams left after eight seasons, Vince Carter after four and a half. Julius Erving remains the most famous Net for many, though he played with them for just three seasons, all in the A.B.A. Nevertheless, he’s seventh on their career scoring list.At the top of that list is Brook Lopez, whose 10,444 points for the Nets were 4 more than Williams. Lopez won’t be adding to that total, as he was traded away in 2017. More

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    N.B.A. Investigating After Jeremy Lin Said He Was Called ‘Coronavirus’

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.LeBron and Anthony DavisThe N.B.A. Wanted HerMissing Klay ThompsonKobe the #GirlDadAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyN.B.A. Investigating After Jeremy Lin Said He Was Called ‘Coronavirus’Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, said on social media that he had been called “coronavirus” on the court. He has been playing in the N.B.A.’s developmental league.“Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court,” Lin wrote in a post on social media.Credit…Chiang Ying-Ying/Associated PressFeb. 27, 2021, 12:05 a.m. ETThe N.B.A. G League said on Friday that it was investigating a report by Jeremy Lin, one of the best-known Asian-American players in basketball, that he had been called “coronavirus” on the court.Lin disclosed the slur in a Facebook post on Thursday in which he denounced the racism and discrimination faced by Asian-Americans. It was a prominent example of the rising tide of bigotry that many Asian-Americans say they have endured since last year, when former President Donald J. Trump began describing the coronavirus as the “China virus.”“Being an Asian American doesn’t mean we don’t experience poverty and racism,” wrote Lin, who plays for the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate in the G League, the N.B.A.’s developmental league. “Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court. Being a man of faith doesn’t mean I don’t fight for justice, for myself and for others.”A league spokesman confirmed that an investigation had been opened, but declined to comment further. The investigation was first reported by The Athletic.The investigation came amid a rise in attacks against Asian-Americans, according to government tallies. The number of hate crimes with Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department surged to 28 in 2020, from just three in 2019. Activists and police officials said many other incidents had not been classified as hate crimes or had not been formally reported.In August, a United Nations report found that racially motivated violence and other incidents against Asian-Americans had reached “an alarming level” across the United States since the outbreak of the virus. The report said that more than 1,800 racist incidents against Asian-Americans in the United States had been reported over an eight-week period from March 2020 to May 2020.The incidents involved people who said they had been spat on, blocked from public transportation, discriminated against in workplaces, shunned, beaten, stabbed and insulted by being called transmitters of the coronavirus, the report said.Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, has spoken openly about the discrimination and questioning he has faced in professional basketball. He has also proudly embraced his status as a role model and an inspiration for many Asian-Americans.A former Harvard basketball player, Lin became a breakout sensation in the 2011-12 N.B.A. season when, as a relative unknown on the bench, he took over as a guard for the Knicks and tore through the league, prompting a wave of excitement that became known as “Linsanity.” He scored more points in his first five starts than any other player in nearly 40 years, peaking with 38 against the Los Angeles Lakers.In his Facebook post on Thursday, Lin, 32, pointed to a generational shift among Asian-Americans.“We are tired of being told that we don’t experience racism, we are tired of being told to keep our heads down and not make trouble,” he wrote. “We are tired of Asian American kids growing up and being asked where they’re REALLY from, of having our eyes mocked, of being objectified as exotic or being told we’re inherently unattractive.”“I want better for my elders who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make a life for themselves here,” he added. “I want better for my niece and nephew and future kids.”Shauntel Lowe More

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    Stephen Curry Sees Your Tweets, and Your Team’s Weaknesses

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.The Friendship of LeBron and Anthony DavisThe N.B.A. Wanted HerMissing Klay ThompsonKobe the #GirlDadAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyStephen Curry Sees Your Tweets, and Your Team’s WeaknessesAn up-and-down season for the ailing Golden State Warriors has social media abuzz with people doubting Curry, but he’s playing better than ever.Awards and championships can’t keep the critics from coming for Stephen Curry. “I saw all of it,” he said. “It was hilarious.”Credit…Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressFeb. 19, 2021, 6:09 p.m. ETStephen Curry missed 38 of the first 56 3-pointers he attempted this season. His Golden State Warriors were punchless without the injured Klay Thompson alongside him in their famed Splash Brothers backcourt, losing by 26, 39 and 25 points within the first five games.There was little at the time to suggest that Curry would soon be crashing the race for the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award and inspiring his coach, Steve Kerr, to say that “this is the best” version yet of his star guard.Curry has stopped short of saying he agrees. The likely explanation: He is as audacious as ever with his shot selection, confidence, celebratory shimmies and ambition. So he keeps expecting more and resisting limits, even as his 33rd birthday nears next month.“I am playing well,” Curry said in a phone interview — but insisted that he can still get better.“I know that’s kind of crazy to say,” he added.Such talk is not crazy to the Warriors. Shaun Livingston, a former teammate who has moved into the team’s front office, said Curry was noticeably stronger absorbing contact after working on his body in the off-season. Curry cited an improved ability to read defenses as an even bigger development in his game.After a broken hand and the N.B.A.’s pandemic-imposed hiatus limited him to five games last season, Curry has rebounded emphatically. He busted out of his early 3-point-shooting struggles with a career-high 62 points against Portland on Jan. 3, passed the Hall of Famer Reggie Miller for second place in career 3-pointers made on Jan. 23 and hung 57 points on the Dallas Mavericks two weeks after that.Curry is averaging 30 points, 6 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 42.5 percent from 3-point range. They are the most robust figures he has produced since 2015-16, when he was named the league M.V.P. for the second successive season. The offensive surge has him on pace to join Michael Jordan on a very short list of players to average 30 points per game at age 32 or older.Curry said he is more patient this season: “How I see the game when I’m on and off the ball, seeing what the defense is giving you and knowing that I’ll find a way to get some space.”Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated PressTeam officials have grown accustomed to seeing him hush skeptic after skeptic since his arrival from Davidson College as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft. They understand that Curry, who became the sort of revolutionary franchise cornerstone no one envisioned back then, may have to stay at a supernova level to get his 16-13 team back to the playoffs. They have also learned by now that there is little point in trying to curb his aspirations or quirks — even when that means having to watch Curry scroll through potentially toxic social media criticism on his phone at halftime.Andrew Bogut, the recently retired former Warriors big man, revealed last month on his new “Rogue Bogues” podcast that Curry was prone to check his Twitter mentions “if he had a bad half.” Asked to verify the story, Curry laughed and said it had indeed become “a really bad habit.”Bogut last played alongside Curry for the final month of the 2018-19 regular season and the playoffs, which were marred by the serious injuries to Kevin Durant (Achilles’ tendon) and Thompson (knee) and halted the Warriors’ remarkable run of three championships in five consecutive trips to the N.B.A. finals. Asked how regularly he still takes a peek at halftime, Curry said: “Probably more often than you think.”As such, before that 62-point eruption against the Trail Blazers, Curry was keenly aware of mounting social media criticism doubting his ability to carry an injury-hit team and claims that a poor season for the Warriors could damage his legacy.“I saw all of it,” he said of the critical tweets. “It was hilarious.”Ill-advised as the doomscrolling seems, given the potential adverse effects on his mental health, Curry said he is more focused on “the comedy I get from it” than trying to “keep the receipts” from fans and the media who don’t believe in him.“It started by accident to be honest,” he said, the day before being named an All-Star starter for the seventh time. “I had this ritual with my wife where, at halftime, she’d send me some encouragement or kick me in the butt a little bit if I was playing bad. And, obviously, with how iPhones are constructed, that Twitter button is just right there. It’s easy to get wrapped up in it for a minute or two. To this day, I don’t know how Bogut caught on, because it wasn’t like I was reading the tweets out loud.”“I think he just wants to be great. I saw him chasing greatness last summer when no one was watching”, said Bruce Fraser, a Warriors assistant coach. Curry and Fraser warm up before Monday’s game against Cleveland.Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated PressAfter two games with at least 10 3-pointers earlier this month, Curry missed 15 of his first 18 3-pointers against the Miami Heat on Wednesday — only to drain two clutch 3-pointers in overtime in the come-from-behind victory. It was the kind of performance that sets social media ablaze, with critics calling for his two M.V.P. trophies to be repossessed and supporters responding by “just asking” why he lives in so many people’s heads rent-free. (Translation: Why talk about him so much if he’s not as potent as advertised?)“I don’t think he plays the game with spite or trying to prove people wrong,” said Bruce Fraser, a Warriors assistant coach, who works as closely with Curry as anyone in the organization. “I think he just wants to be great. I saw him chasing greatness last summer when no one was watching. The main piece to his success is the time that he’s put into it and his push last summer.”Eight-plus months off, as part of one of the eight teams that did not qualify to finish last season in the N.B.A. bubble at Walt Disney World, led to the most productive off-season of Curry’s career. It was the ideal tonic after the Warriors played well into June for five straight springs. Curry was in the gym constantly, with his longtime personal trainer Brandon Payne as well as Fraser, adding muscle to play through contract and evade clutching and grabbing off the ball, and to gird himself to head inside when defenses played him too tight outside. Defenses hound Curry so closely on the perimeter that he is driving the ball more than he has since 2015-16; nearly 30 percent of the shots Curry has taken this season come within 10 feet of the basket.“I’ve always been a late bloomer,” Curry said of the strength boost, “so it’s not a surprise.”When Curry was misfiring early this season, Fraser refused to worry. He was sure Curry was ready for the challenge of leading a mostly new team apart from the title-tested Draymond Green. Fraser was the one, after all, flinging the passes at a post-practice shooting session on Dec. 26 when Curry made 105 consecutive 3-pointers — 103 of them on camera.The purity of Curry’s stroke told Fraser that the real issue was how Curry was adjusting to an array of new defensive coverages. With Durant now on the Nets, Thompson unavailable and scant dependable shooting elsewhere in the lineup, Curry needed to get used to opposing teams locking in on him like never before.“At the beginning of the season, it was really hard for him,” Fraser said. “Box-and-ones, double teams, traps, triple teams. In transition, I’ve seen times when Steph’s been coming down the floor and there are four guys around him.”Teams are committing multiple defenders to Curry, with no consistent offensive threats beyond him on the Warriors.Credit…Neville E. Guard/USA Today Sports, via ReutersFraser’s recap hit upon one of Curry’s favorite subjects. At this stage of his career, Curry seems to enjoy talking about the nuances of reading the game as much as his actual shotmaking.“My patience is a lot better now, if I had to pick one thing,” Curry said. “How I see the game when I’m on and off the ball, seeing what the defense is giving you and knowing that I’ll find a way to get some space. I’m enjoying this run for sure.”The intensity and variety of the coverages “keeps me sharp,” Curry said.The benefit and wisdom of keeping an open ear to the latest critical chatter is much harder to see — So how much of a prime do you have left, Steph? — but that may be one more green light Curry has earned.“If you occupy spaces that people never thought you could, there’s always going to be attempts to try to explain it away,” Curry said. “That kind of comes with the territory. I like to have fun with it, though.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    The N.B.A. Misses Klay Thompson

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.Will the Harden Trade Work Out?The N.B.A. Wanted HerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyThe N.B.A. Misses Klay ThompsonThompson, the Golden State Warriors’ All-Star guard, is a great shooter, for sure. But his absence, for a second consecutive season because of injury, leaves a hole that goes beyond basketball.Because of injuries, Klay Thompson hasn’t played in a game since the 2019 N.B.A. finals. Warriors General Manager Bob Myers described Thompson as a “corner piece” of Golden State’s puzzle.Credit…Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press, via Associated PressFeb. 1, 2021, 3:00 a.m. ETKlay Thompson could have re-entered the game for the Golden State Warriors, but he knew his work was done. It was Jan. 23, 2015, and Thompson had spent the third quarter scoring a record 37 points without missing a shot against the Sacramento Kings.Early in the fourth quarter, after finishing with 52 points for the game, he grabbed a box score and a seat on the bench.“He probably could’ve broken even more records,” James Michael McAdoo, one of Thompson’s former teammates, recalled in a telephone interview. “But it wasn’t even a thought for him: ‘Nah, man. I’m cool.’ And he treated the rest of the game like he would any other: always engaged, cheering for guys like me when I was getting those garbage minutes.”At the time, the Warriors were just beginning to assert their dominance. They were still a few months from making the first of five straight appearances in the N.B.A. finals, a run that produced three championships. But while Warriors guard Stephen Curry was scripting drama on nearly a nightly basis, it was Thompson and his molten third quarter against the Kings that seemed to signal to the basketball-watching world that the Warriors — officially, undeniably — were different.“It was ridiculous,” Bob Myers, the team’s general manager and president of basketball operations, said in a telephone interview. “Honestly, it’s a blur. That whole season, man, that’s the one where I should’ve just ridden off into the sunset. That’s the one where you’re saying to yourself, ‘Wow, this is a dream.’ Everything was perfect.”Clips of that perfect quarter in that perfect season recently circulated on social media, marking the game’s sixth anniversary while offering a reminder of Thompson’s absence. It has been nearly 20 months since he last appeared in uniform for the Warriors, who have won 26 games without him.After tearing up his left knee in the 2019 N.B.A. finals, Thompson experienced a calamitous setback in November, when he tore his right Achilles’ tendon in an off-season workout. All told, Thompson is expected to miss two full seasons. And in this strange, largely spectator-free period for the league, an endlessly drab atmosphere somehow feels just a bit gloomier because of his absence.“It’s too bad for the league, for us, for everybody,” Myers said. “But mostly, for him.”Thompson, who will turn 31 on Feb. 8, has yet to play a game since re-signing with the Warriors for five years and $190 million in July 2019. The psychological toll has weighed on him. Two seasons of his prime: gone. His teammates hurt for him, too. Curry told The Undefeated that he cried when he learned that Thompson had been injured again. “A lot of tears,” Curry said.Thompson, center, Stephen Curry, right, and Draymond Green, left, were the core of Golden State’s team as it made five straight trips to the N.B.A. finals.Credit…Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe jarring part, McAdoo said, was that Thompson had seemed fairly indestructible, rarely missing games through his first eight seasons.“I don’t think I ever even saw him getting therapy,” said McAdoo, who spent three seasons with the Warriors, from 2014 to 2017, and now plays in Japan. “Dude was a tank.”McAdoo, though, recalled how Coach Steve Kerr would often say that teams needed to be good, and they also needed to be lucky. Thompson is coping with his share of bad fortune.“He has faith that he’s going to come back 100 percent,” his father, Mychal Thompson, said in an interview. “He knows he needs to be patient.”Mychal Thompson, a former N.B.A. center, added that his son had been encouraged by the high-level play of the Houston Rockets’ John Wall and the Nets’ Kevin Durant, both of whom missed significant time because of Achilles’ tendon injuries before returning this season. The Warriors are planning/hoping/yearning for Thompson’s return before the start of next season.On Saturday night, Thompson made his first public comments of the season when he joined the NBC Bay Area’s broadcast crew for a stretch of the Warriors’ 118-91 win over the Detroit Pistons.“Just a little bored at times,” Thompson said. “But I’m feeling good. I’m happy to be back with my teammates. Unfortunately, I’m not playing. It kills me every day, but I plan on playing for a long time, and I don’t want to have any mishaps come this rehab.”Thompson, who remains in a walking boot, added that he had been reluctant to make his cameo, but then he saw that the network had produced a branded “Reporter Klay” backdrop for him to use.“Someone went through great lengths to make that happen,” he said, deadpan, “so I felt bad not fulfilling my end of the deal.”Myers likened his job as general manager to assembling a jigsaw puzzle: Say the puzzle is missing a random piece toward the right. Though the missing piece might be noticeable, Myers said, the general idea of the puzzle would still be intact.Now say the puzzle is missing one of the corners.“If you walked into the room and looked at it, you’d say, ‘Where’s the corner piece?’” Myers said. “And I’d say, ‘Well, I can’t find it.’ And you’d say, ‘Well, the puzzle looks screwed up.’ And I’d say, ‘It didn’t come in the box!’ But I know it stands out. Klay is a corner piece.”The Warriors were missing two corner pieces last season. Curry was sidelined for all but five games because of a broken left hand. Thompson split his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles as he focused on rehabilitating his knee. He watched from a remove as the Warriors finished with the worst record in the league.“It’s pretty abrupt to go from five straight finals to just out for the season,” Myers said, “and I think he was just working through how to manage that mentally. I can’t speak for him, but I think he was trying to figure out where to be, and it was challenging.”This season, Curry has returned to his familiar form, and the Warriors — with multiple new pieces — have been mostly competitive after a rocky start. At the same time, Thompson has been a much more consistent presence around the team, taking up residence on the bench at home games — something he did far less often last season.“I think it’s much better for him to be around the guys and feel like you’re a part of it,” Mychal Thompson said. “It helps the time go by faster.”Klay has picked his spots to counsel teammates, like the first-year center James Wiseman, who received several tips from Thompson during a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves: Stay aggressive, take care of your body and be a great teammate.“I just love to listen,” Wiseman said in a conference call, “and he can tell.”Thompson was electric against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 23, 2015, scoring 37 points in the third quarter and 52 points for the night.Credit…Ben Margot/Associated PressThompson has long kept his approach simple. He loves his dog, a bulldog named Rocco, spending time by the water, playing chess and shooting a basketball. His demeanor has not changed since he entered the league in 2011, which is no small feat. He is as popular among his peers as he is with fans. Few players, if any, are less polarizing.“I think what’s most endearing about Klay is that what you see is what you get,” Myers said. “And that is so hard in the N.B.A. It’s such a hard place to not be affected by the money, by the celebrity, by social media, by the fans — who the heck knows? But he’s always put himself and the N.B.A. in the proper place. He’s maintained his center.”The public got a quirky glimpse of that in 2017, and it had nothing to do with his 3-point shooting or his defensive prowess. The Warriors were in New York to play the Nets when Thompson was randomly stopped on the street by a television news reporter who was interviewing people about the dangers of faulty scaffolding. Thompson proceeded to do an on-camera interview in which he explained his mental calculation about whether he walks under scaffolding or around it.“I usually observe if the piping and stuff is new,” he said.When Thompson was later asked about his cameo on the local news, he told reporters that he had wanted to offer his thoughts as a “concerned citizen.”“There are a lot of layers to Klay,” Myers said, “and all of them are good. When you peel them back, you just get more authenticity with him.”McAdoo said he was always struck by Thompson’s pregame ritual of reading the newspaper at his locker. (Thompson has said that it helps him relax.)“And he actually reads it,” McAdoo said. “I just found it so odd: ‘Bro, who still reads the newspaper?’”Myers daydreams about Thompson’s eventual return, he said, and about what it will mean for Thompson and for his teammates. In the meantime, another season lurches along without him. The wait continues.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    His Job Is Counting Stephen Curry’s 3-Pointers. You’d Retire, Too.

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonThis Is for Stephen Curry’s CriticsAre the Knicks Back?A Year of Kobe and LeBronMarc Stein’s Fearless PredictionsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyHis Job Is Counting Stephen Curry’s 3-Pointers. You’d Retire, Too.On the heels of Curry’s 62-point explosion (and after 57 years in his role), Fred Kast is retiring as the Golden State Warriors’ official scorekeeper.Fred Kast, 81, stumbled into his role as the scorekeeper when he went to see the Warriors’ Wilt Chamberlain in the fall of 1963.Credit…Ian C. Bates for The New York TimesJan. 8, 2021, 3:00 a.m. ETFred Kast has seen plenty of basketball in his 57 years as the official scorer for the Golden State Warriors — some good, some bad, some amazing. After Stephen Curry scored 62 points for the Warriors on Sunday night, Kast got a telephone call on Monday morning from one of his closest friends.“You know, after every basket that Curry made, I could hear him shouting, ‘Thank you, Fred!’” Kast recalled his friend telling him. “He was pulling my leg.”Kast, who will turn 82 this month, has recorded every field goal, every free throw, every foul and every timeout in nearly every Warriors home game since 1963-64. He jots the stats into an N.B.A.-issue, spiral-bound notebook that goes to the league office at the conclusion of each season. In a league that has seen its share of technological advances, the official scorer — the person who logs each game’s most vital elements — is a throwback, and every team has one. Somewhere in the N.B.A. archives, there is a small library of Kast’s handiwork.Kast has refined his craft through about 20 coaching changes, 23 playoff appearances and four championships, manning the scorer’s table at no fewer than six arenas, including the Cow Palace, the San Francisco Civic Auditorium and Oracle Arena. But nothing lasts forever, and Kast is set to retire after the Warriors’ game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night. As the news began to circulate among his friends and colleagues this week — Kast wanted to keep it quiet — they tried to register what it meant.“It’s a shock to the system,” said Brett Yamaguchi, the team’s longtime senior director of game operations. “He’s been such a part of the fabric of Warriors basketball.”Kast had not planned on stepping away this season, but disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic made him realize that it was time. Staff members who sit at the scorer’s table this season need two virus negative tests, collected 24 hours apart, in the three days before a game. That means Kast sometimes must make an extra three-hour round trip from his home in San Jose, Calif., so that he can be tested at the arena.Fred Kast’s most recent N.B.A. scorebook.Credit…Ian C. Bates for The New York TimesA page from the scorebook from Sunday, when Stephen Curry scored 62 points.Credit…Courtesy Golden State Warriors“And my night vision isn’t what it used be anyway,” Kast said.The pandemic has been difficult for him in other ways. His wife, Nita, is ailing and lives in a skilled nursing facility. Because of coronavirus protocols, Kast has rarely been able to see her, he said, and when he does, it is through panes of glass. They have been married for 41 years.“If I could change places with her, I would gladly do it,” said Kast, who has two stepchildren and three grandchildren.Ahead of retirement, Kast has kept busy, working three home games already this week. He will be replaced by Kyle McRae, who has spent 30 years as a Warriors statistician. Kast has been tutoring Kevin Chung, who will assist McRae, providing Chung with copies of his work from a few recent games so that he could study them — and a couple of blank pages so that he could practice on his own.“The game is not going to stop because you don’t record something right,” Kast said. “It’s not an easy thing. But it becomes easier the more you do it.”Before he became the N.B.A.’s executive vice president of basketball operations, Kiki VanDeWeghe was a high-scoring forward whose own stats were documented by Kast on multiple occasions.“He helped set the model for how to do the job of official scorer at a high level,” VanDeWeghe said. “I’ll miss seeing him in his seat at center court.”Growing up in Rahway, N.J., Kast may have gotten his basketball genes from his mother, Marie, who played a half-court version of the game as a young woman. His father, Fred, worked at a brokerage firm on Wall Street and kept his car in a garage that had a basketball hoop nearby.“So I would go shoot hoops while my dad was washing his car,” Kast said.Kast was predisposed to the game for one other reason: He was tall. By the time he reached high school, he was nearly 6-foot-6 and a promising low-post presence. He eventually left for Duke on a basketball scholarship, helping the team win its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship. He also had a memorable matchup with Jerry West, who was then starring for West Virginia.“I think he scored something like 30 points in the first half,” Kast said, “which gives you some clue as to how effective I was on defense.” (Kast was being somewhat modest; West scored only 29 points in that game.)After graduating, Kast left for California to work in sales for a medical supplies company. As much as he loved the game, he thought his only connection to basketball moving forward would be as a fan. He was about to stumble into a part-time job that would keep him closer to the action than he could ever have imagined.“Just unknowingly being in the right place at the right time,” he said.In the fall of 1963, not long after relocating to the Bay Area, Kast bought a ticket to watch the Warriors — and Wilt Chamberlain, whom he had once met at a summer basketball camp — at the Cow Palace, the arena that was housing the team after its cross-country move from Philadelphia. Before Kast reached his seat, he bumped into a college friend who was working at the scorer’s table. The friend asked Kast if he would be willing to help.“Sure, I’d be glad to do that,” Kast recalled telling his friend. “Where would I be seated?”“Right at midcourt,” his friend said.Kast, in the mask at the top left of the image at the scorers’ table, at the start of the game against the Sacramento Kings on Monday.Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated PressKast said he became the team’s official scorer later that season. For four seasons, he commuted from Sacramento, battling late-night fog on his 90-mile drive home. After he retired from his sales job of 37 years in 1999, he continued scorekeeping, a gig that he treated with painstaking professionalism.“Well, I’ve been that way with everything that I’ve done,” he said. “My view is, if you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all.”Yamaguchi, who is in charge of non-basketball entertainment for the team, got a sense of Kast’s meticulous nature when he sat next to Kast at the scorer’s table in his early days on the job. They made an odd pair. While Kast sat with his pad and pens, Yamaguchi supervised “all the craziness,” as he put it.“Fred is such a purist,” Yamaguchi said, “and I just remember hearing, ‘Hey, can you turn down that music?’ And I’m like: ‘OK, Fred! Definitely!’”People who get jobs on the scorer’s table for the Warriors tend to keep them. Jim Maher has worked for the Warriors in various capacities for over 50 years, most recently as their game-clock operator. Lori Hoye has been the team’s chief statistician since 1989, and now leads a four-person crew that tracks in-game stats on a computer system.Hoye, 61, has long worked closely with Kast, whose scorebook is the official record and whose penmanship is precise. (“What happens if the computers break down?” Kast said.) He uses two pens: a black one to take notation in real time and a red one to compile totals at the end of each quarter.“We’re all trying to make sure we have the same numbers,” Hoye said. “Coaches get in your way. Players get in your way. And we’re always trying to figure out the refs’ fingers when a foul is called. The worst thing is to have players with the Nos. 45, 54 and 9 on the court at the same time.”She laughed and added, “It’s not going to seem real when Fred isn’t here.”Kast will continue to watch the Warriors from home — and “Dancing With the Stars,” one of his favorite television programs. In some ways, it might be easier for him to enjoy the team’s theatrics now that he no longer needs to pay close attention to his work. He marvels at the speed of the modern game, and at the skill of players like Curry.“His shotmaking ability is uncanny,” said Kast, who never thought he would have a front-row seat for so long.He is grateful that he had one at all.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More