Mariotti: Another break for charmed Warriors after shameful loss by rival Clippers

They are charmed and mojoed, to the point you may understand why Stephen Curry constantly looks toward the sky before launching his strut-and-scream revivals for his Oracle Arena congregation. The good karma of the Warriors was reaffirmed again, beyond belief, on an astonishing Thursday night in Los Angeles. If you haven't noticed, every time they are questioned this magical season, a series of events takes place that calms the doubts.

And while they'd never admit it, the players certainly were laughing their rear ends off in Memphis when the Clippers, their reviled rivals, blew a 19-point lead at home and lost to the Houston Rockets 119-107. Instead of gaining two days and nights of rest before the start of the Western Conference finals, the Clippers now must return to Houston for Game 7 of that series with the possibility of a colossal collapse that will allow the Warriors to avoid them and face a more beatable Rockets team in the next round.

Everywhere you look in the NBA playoffs, a team is dealing with injuries to star players: Cleveland with Kyrie Irving (after losing Kevin Love), Washington with John Wall, the Grizzlies with Tony Allen and Mike Conley, the Clippers with Chris Paul. The Warriors? Their only significant ache is to their collective ego when they blow a game they should win. Draymond Green insisted Thursday after practice that they weren't looking beyond tonight's Game 6 at FedExForum, that coach Steve Kerr hasn't said a word about this freewheeling group never having reached a conference finals.

“Our only focus is trying to win this series,” Green said. “Obviously, all that stuff [in the conference finals] will be cool, but we have a lot to handle here. To look ahead and say, 'Oh, we've never been to the conference finals,' that's garbage for real. This is a tough challenge [tonight]. I haven't heard that said one time by coach or anybody. It's not our focus at all.”

Now, they aren't pressured by concerns that the Clippers already have reached that plateau and would gain a significant early advantage of rest. In what has become the most compelling and contentious rivalry in American sports, the Warriors and Clippers are separated by precious little. The healthiest and/or least-fatigued team likely would prevail — unless, of course, the Clippers decided to thug up Curry. Had the Clippers won, they could have gained valuable rest and relaxation for Paul, their catalyst and core leader, who has been dealing with a strained left hamstring suffered in Game 7 of the San Antonio series. Now, Paul must play another game in Houston, knowing a hamstring can be hamstrung quicker than a James Harden pull-up jumper or, later, a Curry crossover.

“Obviously, any kind of rest we can get Chris is great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

Not that the logistics surrounding a Warriors-Clippers showdown were making much sense. My definition of unfair is a child with cancer or a war veteran wandering the streets, so don't make the mistake of saying the Warriors are being sabotaged by an NBA scheduling predicament announced Thursday. If they close out their series tonight, they must fly 2,100 miles in the wee hours back to the Bay Area. But instead of wedging in whatever sleep they could muster before a Game 1 start Sunday, they now can lay back and wait for the Clippers … or the Rockets. It's an amazing break, considering the fatigue they could have faced. Unfair? Not when they're multimillionaires who travel in style and sleep in five-star hotels. Puzzling? Counterproductive to the competitive interests of the league and its television partners? A disservice to fans who should want premier teams, star players and great rivalries to have the best opportunities to provide optimum entertainment value? Guilty on all counts, had things gone down that way.

Harden and the Rockets bailed out the league. It wouldn't have been cool, Adam Silver, making the Warriors start Game 1 on Sunday. The Warriors won 67 regular-season games, 11 more than the Clippers. They blew away all comers for the top conference seeding, with the Clippers seeded third. Yet, the Warriors would have been the tired team and the Clippers the fresher team going into Game 1.

The culprit, as with much else in sports, is Big TV. ABC-ESPN wanted to squeeze this blood conflict for all its ratings might, thrilled to have two mammoth California markets — the country's second- and fifth-largest metropolitan areas — and three of the advertising world's shiniest sports darlings — Curry, Paul and Blake Griffin — on its airwaves as many as seven times the next two weeks. And don't forget the delcious role of ex-Warriors coach Mark (“You cannot disrespect the caterpillar and rave about the butterfly”) Jackson, who will be assigned to analyze at least parts of the series by ABC-ESPN. Seems he's bound to blow up at some point and re-address his nasty divorce from owner Joe Lacob, whose controversial move so far has looked brilliant as Kerr makes the important strategic adjustments in his rookie coaching postseason.

So, the network figured, why not get this numbers bonanza started right here, right now, regardless of how ragged the Warriors might look? Doesn't matter now. At the earliest, Game 1 of the Western finals now won't start until Tuesday. Disney still might get its Steph-Blake-Chris State Farm-Kia series. But not yet, ha-ha.

It's incumbent on the Warriors, then, to make matters as easy as possible on themselves. Meaning: Win tonight. Historically, it would be the first time this franchise has won two series in a postseason since 1975, the title year. Psychologically, it would carry the momentum claimed from their dramatic reversal of the Memphis series and avoid another mysterious rut. Most importantly, it would give them rest as the Clippers and Rockets stage their battle of attrition.

“You just go get it done,” Kerr said. “You always have to try to get it done when you can You don't want to mess around. You never know what can happen.”

“You've got to be killer — everybody,” Warriors veteran Shaun Livingston said. “We've got to have the mentality that we're not letting up. That's what championship teams do. There has to be a sense of urgency.”

From general manager Bob Myers on down, the Warriors are expecting nothing but a supreme effort from the Grizzlies, who will have their usual screaming throng on the edge of Beale Street. They expect Tony Allen to play, lame left hamstring and all, and it may take Golden State's best effort of the postseason to win.

Curry wasn't planning a return to the Blues City Cafe, which may be remembered in Dubs lore as the impetus for the postseason U-turn. That's where Green texted Curry after the awful Game 4 loss, which tied the series at 2-2, and urged him to leave his hotel room and join a few Warriors players for a late dinner. They haven't lost since, leading to thoughts that Curry might return for more catfish.

“Catfish the night before the game might not be good,” Curry told reporters. “I'll eat something healthy, get some sleep.”

This time, the Warriors might not want to wait for Curry to bail them out with his indescribable flair for the emotional uplift. They were drowning in the first quarter Wednesday night until he personally revived the cause with a series of steals and 3-pointers, which cranked up Roaracle to its loudest, nuttiest pitch.

“That did a lot for us,” Green said. “After the start that we had, to go into the second quarter with the lead, it just continues to build that confidence and that swagger that you need to carry on the court.”

From there, they won with frenetic, ball-pressure defense. A nation that evidently hasn't seen much of the Warriors now understands their identity is more varied than jumpshooting. “That's our brand of basketball,” Green said. “We got a couple of stops, and all of a sudden the game started changing. It's tough for anybody to keep up with us in transition. That has to start on the defensive end.

“Game 2 and 3 was just atrocious. Game 4, we turned up the intensity and the physicality, and that's when this series turned. We started being the aggressors. Offensively and defensively, we put them on their heels.”

At that point, the only drama was Floyd Mayweather and the vicious boos from the Oracle crowd. Andrew Bogut said he didn't say anything to the champ, but he would like his money back from the $100 ripoff fight two weeks ago. Note to Showtime: He's tired of waiting on hold.

The defensive mantra is a reminder of Kerr's considerable contributions to this season's dramatic upgrade. He admits to contacting basketball influences the last few weeks — Gregg Popovich? — who have lended advice. “I called a couple of people. I think it's sort of routine,” he said. “All my coaches in the past would do it, and I think it's just a fresh perspective in the playoffs. When you have your whole staff in the same room, day after day after day, call somebody up that you respect and get an opinion. It gives you something to think about. I called a couple of people, but I'm not going to tell you who.”

Win tonight, and no one needs to know.

Lose tonight, and the Warriors are just like the Clippers, blowing an opportunity to unlock the code of an NBA postseason.

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