OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors are taking this whole season of giving to another level.
They piled up a ridiculous 36 assists on their first 36 field goals in Thursday night’s rout of the New York Knicks at Oracle Arena.
When the balls moves as effortlessly as it does for the Warriors, that sort of liberal sharing of the wealth serves as the greatest reminder of what’s most important for this team stacked with MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have won the last three KIA MVPs and both rate among the top six in this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder) and All-Stars (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green).
Playing to their identity, rather than petty superstar politics, will rule the day for this crew, even if it means busting each other’s chops after a game where they share the ball (and leadership responsibilities), almost to a fault.
“So selfish, he’s so selfish,” Curry joked when informed that reserve guard Ian Clark ended their 36-for-36 run with a baseline drive and basket. “He’s the biggest ball hog on the team. Hopefully we’ll watch film on just that one play and try and figure it out.”
Jokes aside, the only way this spectacular superstar experiment works is with a collective effort to share and spread the wealth the way the Warriors did against the Knicks (41 assists on their 45 field goals) and attempt to do on a nightly basis.
So what if it means sacrificing some individual glory every now and then.
“This was one of those nights where guys were turning down easy shots for easier shots, for the most part of the game,” Curry said. “And it helped us get a rhythm and it was well-balanced attack. And it’s a fun way to play for most of the game.”
With the starters not named Thompson (who was 10-for-17 from the floor and finished with 25 points) showing some signs of wear and tear in their first game back home after a taxing, five-game road trip, playing to their identity was necessary.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr made that clear in his postgame comments, poking his team for playing without much purpose on either end of the floor and admitting that it helped to see a Knicks team that was without the services of both Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose.
“We moved the ball because our guys are instinctive with that and unselfish, and enjoying playing together,” Kerr said, “so the ball movement was good. But no purpose offensively … very little interest defensively.”
If the Warriors ever stray too far from who and what they are, Kerr will be there to remind them. But it shouldn’t be a problem.
Not when MVPs and All-Stars already know who and what they are, and are not afraid to share. It was, after all, backup center JaVale McGee (who scored 17 points in 16 energetic minutes) who went to the bench to the loudest ovation from the crowd on this night.
“It’s not something we focus on,” Green said of the specific individual numbers. “We don’t look up and say, ‘[KD] almost has a triple-double, so let’s do this’ or ‘Steph’s almost got it so let’s do this’ … we just play. Steve has this saying of letting everything come out in the wash. And it just means you’re not forcing anything, you’re not chasing stats. You just let everything happen and eventually you make the right play and everything comes out on its own. That’s just the way we approach the game. That’s not important to us. What’s important to us is getting better each and every time we step on the floor and trying to win games.”
And now to this week’s rankings …
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
(Last week: No. 2)
The Rockets are soaring with Harden dazzling as the point guard in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Harden picked up his fourth triple-double of the season and the Rockets their eighth straight win, over Sacramento Wednesday, their best run since January/Febuary of 2014. Harden boasting that he was the best player in the league doesn’t seem nearly as far-fetched now, does it (23.0 points, 12.2 assists, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals in his last five games)?
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
(Last week: No. 1)
Westbrook is tired of talking about triple-doubles after piling up seven straight and then going three straight games without reaching that standard. He’s not obsessing over the numbers. His focus, and rightfully so, is on the Thunder’s bottom line (28.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.4 steals in his last five games).
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
(Last week: No. 4)
LeBron’s being blamed for ruining Christmas for kids in and around Memphis for not even making the trip for Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum. But the real lump of coal will come Saturday, when he takes out any lingering frustration on the Lakers at home (29.8 points, 8.3 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals in his last five games).
4. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
(Last week: No. 3)
Any talk of Durant and the Warriors being a bit fatigued by the grind of the early season schedule is just that. Durant’s shooting touch has been hit or miss lately — he’s shooting .452 from the floor in his past 10 games — but he’s still touching all the boxes on the best team in the league. Just ask the Knicks, who got an up close look Thursday night (21.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.6 blocks in his last five games).
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
(Last week: No. 5)
Leonard’s value on both ends for the Spurs has been on brilliant display in wins over the Celtics and Suns this week. And when you are shooting it as well as Leonard is right now — 57 percent in his past five games — there’s not much the opposition can do to stop him (25.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.6 steals in his last five games).
6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
(Last week: No. 6)
Curry suffered through a rare single-digit scoring night against the Knicks Thursday night on TNT and still came close to logging a triple-double (he finished two points and two assists shy). That’s the way it goes, even for a two-time KIA MVP, when he’s playing with the best starting five in basketball (20.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 steal in his last five games).
7. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
(Last week: NR)
DeRozan and the Raptors aren’t getting the love they deserve this season, but that ends now, at least around here. DeRozan has fueled the Raptors’ attack, scoring 30 or more points three times in his past five games. His ability to score in bunches without much production from beyond the 3-point line makes him stick out among his perimeter All-Star brethren around the league (28.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists in his last five games).
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
(Last week: 10)
Anyone struggling with the pronunciation of his last name would be wise to get hooked on phonics. We’re going to be talking about the Buck’s budding young star often and for the foreseeable future. See his back-to-back 30-point masterpieces against the Raptors and Bulls for proof (23.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks in his last five games).
9. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
(Last week: 7)
Butler struggled against the length and athleticism of the Bucks Thursday night on TNT. The beauty of the schedule, however, allows Butler and the Bulls an immediate chance for redemption on their home floor tonight. We’ll see what sort of adjustments Butler comes up with in this return engagement (24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals in his last five games).
10. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
(Last week: NR)
The Grizzlies have won seven of their past eight games, a stunning run given the injuries and absences David Fizdale’s crew has had to deal with. Credit Gasol, who is making a strong bid for Western Conference Player of the Month, with the work he’s done during this stretch and for driving the bus for one of the most surprising teams in the league (24.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 block in his last five games).
Next five (listed alphabetically): Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans; Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers; Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz; Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers; Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
An Inside Look at … Kyle Lowry (from a Western Conference executive):
“He was like a lot of young point guards in our league, he needed you to be patient. It takes four to five years to get consistency at the point guard position unless you’re one of the special ones like Zeke, Jason Kidd, D-Rose … guys who come in and take off immediately. It took (Lowry) seven years before he found a home and became a starter and ultimately an All-Star. The knock on him coming into the league was he couldn’t shoot. But he was tough. And he put the work in. The point guard position is the hardest one to learn. Guys have to be in the right situations. Only the special ones can make it anywhere. I always think of Chauncey Billups in that same way. You can’t fast-track everybody. And you need good vets to show the way. You can’t take the easy route to putting a youngster on the floor before he’s ready. You can’t be so worried about having rookies and second-year guys in the Rising Stars game at the expense of growing and developing ballplayers. Kyle Lowry is the perfect example.”
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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