Warriors world: What we learned over the All-Star break

News and notes from around the NBA

By John Krolik

Special to The Examiner

With All-Star weekend behind us, let’s check in on what’s going on with the Warriors and around the league.

What an All-Star Game for Steph Curry. As is usually the case, this was not a defensive showcase. But making 16 threes on 27 attempts is impressive in an empty gym. The result was 50 points and an MVP trophy for one of the two Team LeBron members born in the same Akron hospital. (The other Akron native finished just 2–11 from beyond the arc, but did hit the game-winner on a fadeaway with an extreme degree of difficulty.)

It was more of a mixed All-Star weekend for Juan Toscano-Anderson, who participated in one of the more disappointing dunk contests in recent memory. People want players to try dunks with the highest degree of difficulty possible. Then they get mad if players miss a lot of attempts. Can’t have it both ways, folks.

As for Toscano-Anderson, he started things off with a nice windmill. Then he went for the reverse 360 windmill, which nobody should ever try in the dunk contest, given Vince Carter’s epic 2000 slam in Oakland. It’s impossible to do that dunk any better. Toscano-Anderson also tried to take a page out of the 2000 Carter playbook by trying a windmill and leaving his arm in the rim. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get the required altitude for the finish he wanted.

Finally, he tried a Jason Richardson tribute, jersey and all, with a between-the-legs reverse slam, but simply wasn’t able to get it through. Definitely not a legendary performance, but it’s always fun to get invited to All-Star weekend.

That All-Star MVP trophy looks like the only hardware Curry will receive this season. Curry’s numbers are just a bit below their typically excellent marks, and it looks unlikely the Warriors will finish with the league’s best record. That makes it tough to see a path to a third MVP trophy for Curry.

It looks like the race will come down to a battle of big men, as Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid lead almost every straw poll at this stage in the season. Embiid has been without a second star all year, as Ben Simmons successfully sat out the entire season before getting moved to Brooklyn at the trade deadline. If he can make things work with new acquisition James Harden, he’ll probably win the award. If he can’t, it’ll probably go to Jokic for the second consecutive year.

As for that Simmons trade, it was about as well as either team could have hoped to do. Simmons had made it fairly clear he had no intention of playing for the 76ers. Harden was clearly mailing it in for the Nets. Now each team has traded their resident malcontent for an All-Star level player. Harden can shoot and has shown a knack for throwing lob passes, which theoretically makes him a better fit for Embiid’s game than Simmons. Meanwhile, the Nets have plenty of shooting but are thin and struggle defensively. That means Simmons’ combination of defense, passing and versatility should be welcome in Brooklyn.

The Nets were also able to get two first-round picks and get Seth Curry out of Philadelphia. Steph’s little brother has quickly given Brooklyn some scoring punch and depth. He scored 20 points in both of his first two games in Brooklyn, which the Nets won. It looks like he’ll be a valuable piece for them, especially with Joe Harris still on the sidelines.

The good news for the Warriors is that since both the 76ers and Nets play in the East, there’s no scenario in which they’d have to face both teams this postseason. The “bad” news (if you can call it that) is that one of them could put it all together and become a juggernaut. That team will likely be waiting for the Warriors if they make it to the NBA Finals, and could be for years to come.

It almost goes without saying that the medical status of Draymond Green, James Wiseman and Klay Thompson becomes more and more important by the day. It would be a major disadvantage if Steve Kerr has to go into the playoffs with limited information on those three players and how they fit with each other and the rest of the team when they’re at 100%.

Finally, if the Warriors don’t catch the Suns for the best record in the West, it shouldn’t matter as much as it did in years past. For the second consecutive year, the teams the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds play in the opening round will be decided in a highly volatile play-in tournament. That means the difference between the first and second seed won’t be apparent until the conference finals.

The All-Star break is over, and the Warriors have exceeded every preseason expectation. Now, with the stretch run and the playoffs ahead, the real work begins.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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