Game of the Night – Golden State (-6, 241.5) at L.A. Clippers, 10:35 ET
It’s finally time to Boogie.
The Warriors as we’ve come to know them are over, leaving the floor victorious over the Pelicans on Wednesday night. Golden State won 147-140, surpassing the 140-point mark for the third time in four games after they had eclipsed it just twice in the previous 41.
The defending champs have turned up their level in the season’s second half, but the group that has won two titles after inviting Kevin Durant into the fold to reinvent themselves after blowing a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals may never be the same again.
There’s a chance that Durant re-signs and the team that closed Thursday with the Western Conference’s top record will be seen again in San Francisco when the Chase Center opens in October, because DeMarcus Cousins won’t be there unless he comes out of the opposing locker room.
On Friday night, Cousins will be introduced with Warriors’ first five, debuting after surprisingly signing a one-year deal this past offseason. He’s replacing Kevon Looney at center, giving Golden State five All-Star starters with 25 combined appearances between them.
We’ll see how quickly Steve Kerr gets all the pieces to gel, but two things are probable. For starters, there will be growing pains. It may not happen tonight, but over the next few months, there will be rough spots. Expect a losing streak or two. It won’t help that Friday’s visit to Staples opens a stretch of 11 of 16 on the road between now and March 2, but the goal for Golden State is to hit the ground running in April with everyone feeling comfortable on both sides of the ball.
The other likelihood is that once they do click, people are going to scream about how awful the NBA is thanks to a superteam becoming invincible. Barring injury, Cousins’ ability to score in the post is going to make the game easier for elite shooters Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant.
All the nonsense about the Warriors looking vulnerable and no longer putting fear into teams has been squashed by this week’s efforts, which include a 143-111 demolition of the Nuggets in Denver to wrestle away the best record in the Western Conference on Tuesday. Curry’s shooting helped Golden State erase a 17-point deficit against the Pelicans as he finished with 41 points while Durant added 30 points and 15 boards and Looney played his role well with 12 boards and team-highs in blocks and steals with two apiece.
Cousins is expected to be on his best behavior after signing for the mid-level exception, taking a one-year pay cut to earn $5.3 million and show that his ruptured Achilles tendon is fully healed while playing for a championship contender for the first time. The Warriors employ Draymond Green, so they’re not expecting Cousins to be a model citizen, but it would help if he’s able to control his temper and show he’s an exemplary teammate.
This next chapter has yet to be written, but it will be fresh and new. Close the books on these Warriors as we’ve known them. This Cousins-infused version figures to be quite the adventure.
To pick up some tips on how to integrate him, Kerr watched Pelicans’ film from last season to see how he blended in with Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo last season in addition to tape of what he’s done in previous partnerships with Curry, Thompson and Durant with USA Basketball at the 2014 FIBAs and the 2016 Olympics. He’s been working with the Warriors in five-on-five drills for weeks and won’t be totally lost out there, but it would be surprising if the offense remains as efficient as it has over the past week. Then again, if Curry can extend his streak of hitting at least nine 3-pointers to four games, there’s no reason they have to bog down. Golden State has hit an average of 18.6 3-pointers on their current six-game win streak.
The Clippers will likely start Marcin Gortat since Doc Rivers is unlikely to employ 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic against the Warriors due to his inability to defend pick-and-rolls, but he can turn to him if he wants to try and throw the kitchen sink at Cousins and make him contend with a physical force of nature who draws fouls well.
It remains to be seen whether Cousins is on any type of minutes restriction since Kerr hasn’t divulged much other than his plans to start him, so there’s a possibility we may just see him at the start of both halves and a group with more reps that would include Looney would be on the floor If the game is tight down the stretch.
Over the past nine games, a stretch beginning on Dec. 29 in which Golden State has gone 8-1, it has averaged 131.6 points per game. The ‘over’ is 8-1 in those games. Conversely, the ‘under’ is 6-2 in the last eight Clippers’ games as they’ve averaged just 105.3 points during their current four-game losing streak.
L.A. has played the Warriors tough in each of the first two meetings this season, winning at home 121-116 in overtime back on Nov. 12 as a 3.5-point underdog and covering in Oakland on Dec. 23 as an 11-point ‘dog in a 129-127 loss. Tobias Harris scored 32 in the loss, while Curry led everyone with 42 points. He didn’t play in the first meeting at Staples, which ended in that infamous bickering incident between Green and Durant at the end of regulation.
The ‘over’ hit in both games so its not too surprising to see this total open above 240, making it the largest involving L.A. this season. This will be the sixth game with a total at 240 or higher involving the Warriors. The ‘over’ is 3-2 in those games. Golden State leads the NBA with 118.6 points per game while the Clippers rank fifth, averaging 115.2.
New Orleans only topped 130 points in two of the 48 contests that Cousins appeared in last season. The Pelicans were on a season-high four-game winning streak when he was injured on Jan. 26, having registered a triple-double in a home upset of the Rockets. Nearly a full year later, he’ll take the floor looking to turn the best basketball team on the planet into the most impressive one ever assembled. Just don’t expect to see it happen overnight.
Best of the Rest
Memphis at Boston, 7:05 p.m. ET:Memphis center Marc Gasol temporarily lost feeling in his hand earlier this week after being hit on his elbow earlier this week and has been playing hurt most of the past few months. Point guard Mike Conley is gutting it out too and small forward Kyle Anderson is out a few weeks after an ankle sprain, so the Celtics have a great chance of utilizing their depth to wear down the visiting Grizzlies. Boston is looking to win consecutive games after snapping a three-game losing streak with an impressive 117-108 comeback win over Toronto on Wednesday. Brad Stevens has some chemistry issues within his group to iron out as he looks to keep everybody happy with minutes and touches, but his team has responded extremely well at home, winning their last seven games at TD Garden. The Celtics beat the Grizzlies 112-103 on Dec. 29 at FedEx Forum, getting 26 points and 13 assists from Kyrie Irving. Boston shot 50 percent against one of the NBA’s top defensive teams and will look for the sweep of the Griz for the third straight season, owning a six-game winning streak in this series.
Miami at Detroit, 7:05 p.m. ET: After a strong start, the Pistons are on the outside looking in as far as the Eastern Conference playoff picture is concerned, having fallen out of the top-eight by going 6-17 since Dec. 3. They haven’t come away with victories consecutive games since extending a winning streak to five with an upset of the Warriors on Dec. 1 but will be looking to end that run after posting a 120-115 comeback win over Orlando on Wednesday. The Heat come off their worst loss of the season after losing in Milwaukee 124-86 on Tuesday and will be continuing a four-game road trip that continues in Chicago on Saturday as Dwyane Wade faces his hometown team for the final time. Miami beat Detroit 120-115 on Nov. 5 behind Josh Richardson’s 27 points. Goran Dragic remains out, while fellow point guard Tyler Johnson, who has been starting, is dealing with an illness. Detroit just got its roster fully healthy with backup point guard Ish Smith and second-team center Zaza Pachulia getting back on the floor.
San Antonio at Minnesota, 8:05 p.m. ET: There were a lot of great vibes blown up in Philadelphia on Monday night as far as the Timberwolves are concerned. Ryan Saunders’ early success as interim head coach featured a road upset of OKC and an emotional home win over the Pelicans, but Jimmy Butler and the 76ers absolutely destroyed Minnesota 149-107, again bringing questions about the team’s toughness to the forefront. Point guard Jeff Teague says the T’Wolves can’t afford to be a “pretty team” and must be tougher, so it will be interesting to see what fight they display against the veteran Spurs. San Antonio has won two of three meetings between these teams, including the season opener (112-108) and the most recent meeting back on Dec. 21 by a 124-98 count. Bryn Forbes led the Spurs with 22 points as they shot 57.6 percent from 3-point range and racked up 36 assists. The ‘over’ has connected in 13 of the last 15 Minnesota games and in all three Wolves-Spurs matchups this season. Starting forward Robert Covington and backup point Tyus Jones are out with ankle injuries, but guards Teague and Derrick Rose rejoined the lineup.
New Orleans at Portland, 10:35 p.m. ET: Anthony Davis didn’t play when the Pelicans fell in Portland 109-95 on Nov. 3, so he’ll be looking to help his team bounce back from a tough loss suffered in Oakland. Davis briefly left the floor after hurting himself in the fourth quarter but was on the floor in the final minute and doesn’t appear on the injury report. Nikola Mirotic, who had been operating under a minutes restriction, scored 29 points in looking like he’s back up to speed against the Dubs, giving the Pels an extremely productive frontcourt rotation that also features Julius Randle. Point guard Elfrid Payton is also back, so we’ll see if New Orleans can go on a run and keep the rumor mill regarding Davis’ future from swirling and picking up intensity as we head towards the trade deadline. The Blazers routed the Cavs at home on Wednesday as Damian Lillard shook off a hand injury to lead the charge and snap a two-game losing streak. Small forward Maurice Harkless has been and out of the lineup with a knee injury and is questionable tonight. Jake Layman would start again if Harkless is out.