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Santa Cruz Weekly Write-Up: Damion Lee Returns from Team USA for Home Stretch

By Kevin Danna

Santa Cruz Warriors broadcaster Kevin Danna provides an update on what's going on with the Sea Dubs.

1. Team Update

Santa Cruz has limped out of the gate post All-Star break, dropping a 125-101 road contest to the South Bay Lakers Sunday night before losing a 104-89 roadie to the Agua Caliente Clippers (of Ontario, mind you) Tuesday night. While Sunday's game turned into a laugher, Santa Cruz was within 68-63 three minutes into the third quarter before the Lakers reeled off a 25-4 run to take control. Tuesday's game was closer than the final score advertises, as the Sea Dubs were within seven points in the final four minutes before former Sea Dub LaDontae Henton iced the game with a couple of threes in the final 90 seconds. Free throw shooting was the big issue in the loss to Agua Caliente, as the Sea Dubs got themselves into hot water by going just 16-of-32 from the foul line (50.0 percent).

The losses to the Lakers and Clippers (South Bay and Agua Caliente, respectively) have the Sea Dubs at 19-20 and in fourth place in the Pacific Division, having lost three-straight and 10 of their last 13. It hasn't been pretty as of late, and you can trace this skid directly back to Geroges Niang getting called up to the Utah Jazz on a two-way deal (not having Quinn Cook, who is currently with Golden State on their East Coast road swing, hasn't helped either). As bad as the results have been since losing Niang to the Jazz, however, the Sea Dubs still have a chance to make the playoffs. It certainly doesn't look good at the moment, trailing sixth-seeded Texas (the last playoff spot) by three games and currently sitting in ninth place, but Santa Cruz can certainly play its way back into the top six in the Western Conference. My guess would be that 28-22 would be good enough to get in, so based off that, Santa Cruz needs to go 9-2 in its final 11 to have a shot at a fifth playoff appearance and second G League championship.

2. Veteran Guards Join Sea Dubs

After trading away Alex Hamilton to Windy City (Chicago) and James Southerland to South Bay (he and former Sea Dub Scott Machado had big games against their former team on Sunday, with Southerland going off for 22 and Machado dishing out 12 assists in the Lakers' 24-point win), Santa Cruz got a personnel shot in the arm by re-acquiring Bay Area product Jabari Brown and former NBAer Jeremy Pargo, the 31-year-old professional veteran and younger brother of former NBA player Jannero Pargo.

Both made their way to Surf City via the Chinese Basketball Association, a league that sends a lot of players to the G League at the end of the season since the CBA campaign wraps up earlier. If you followed the Sea Dubs closely last season, you might remember that Brown joined the Sea Dubs last March after his rights were traded from Los Angeles (now South Bay) following a stint in China and promptly led Santa Cruz to a 9-0 record in games he played to push the Sea Dubs into the postseason for the fourth time in five years. He was his old self Sunday, scoring 20 points in his first game back.

For all the places Pargo has played – China, Israel, Russia, Italy, the NBA – this is his first stint in the G League. The former Grizzly, Cavalier and 76er produced 12 points and six assists in his G League debut Tuesday night on 5-of-16 shooting.

Both guys are welcomed additions to the squad. Currently at nine guys on G League contracts, the Sea Dubs have space to add one more player if they so choose.

3. Damion Lee Returns From Team USA Duties

Santa Cruz could have certainly used the services of one Damion Lee on Sunday and Tuesday, but Steph Curry's soon-to-be brother-in-law was back in Santa Cruz playing with Team USA for the FIBA World Cup Americas qualifiers, helping the Americans to victories over Cuba and Puerto Rico at Kaiser Permanente Arena. The Cuba game was a blowout (84-48), but Monday's game was a thriller, with a huge Puerto Rican contingent boisterously cheering its team on during a furious comeback attempt that saw the Puerto Ricans cut a 22-point second half lead down to just one in the final minutes before USA pulled away with an 83-75 win to get to 4-0 in first round play.

"It was amazing to learn from Coach [Jeff] Van Gundy, be with these guys for the last four or five days and learn and grow," said Lee, who scored four points in Monday's win. "We're playing for our country, so it's huge."

The Warriors decided to keep Lee in Santa Cruz Tuesday instead of having him fly down to Ontario Tuesday morning, play Tuesday night against Agua Caliente and fly back up to Santa Cruz for what would have been his third game in three days. But Lee is back now and the Sea Dubs could use his 14.8 points per game (and especially his 91 percent foul shooting).

4. Busy Week At Home Starts Wednesday

The Sea Dubs got a nice long All-Star break, with 11-straight days of no games, but now the games are coming quickly. Having already played Sunday and Tuesday, Santa Cruz has three home games this week – Wednesday night against Northern Arizona, Friday night against Oklahoma City and Sunday night against Memphis. Seeing as though Santa Cruz pretty much needs to go 9-2 the rest of the way, and seeing as how Northern Arizona and Oklahoma City are the two teams directly above Santa Cruz in the Western Conference playoff chase, these games are huge. If playoff implications aren't enough to get you out to Kaiser Permanente Arena this week, then maybe the free water bottle to the first 1,500 fans Wednesday night will.

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