After sluggish start, Warriors put on matinee show against Magic

ORLANDO, Fla. — Steve Kerr was worried before the game.

The Golden State Warriors’ coach was concerned because his team didn’t practice Saturday after an overnight stay in Houston on Friday because of weather conditions, and because there was no typical pregame meeting leading up Sunday’s noon ET start versus the Orlando Magic.

From his own playing experiences, Kerr said skipping those ritual sessions often leads to carelessness. And his concerns were valid.

But thanks to a dominating, inspiring third quarter, the Warriors overcame early-game mishaps and did away with the Magic 118-98 at Amway Center on Sunday afternoon.

“Difficult. Extremely difficult,” Draymond Green said of the early start time. “I think you could tell in our play in the first half, but it’s the NBA. You gotta figure things out like that. We figured it out.”

Stephen Curry scored a game-high 27 points and was a pivotal force in getting his team out of Orlando with a seven-game winning streak.

The Warriors came out flat and disengaged, turning the ball over eight times in the first seven minutes. Most of their passes were telegraphed, and the Magic capitalized by getting out in the open court for transition baskets.

Golden State was also a step too slow on defensive rotations in the first half. Orlando zipped the ball around swiftly and was able to locate the open guy. The Warriors were down by as many as 11 in the second quarter.

Kerr called timeout after timeout to light a fire in his players. After what surely felt like a 9 a.m. Pacific tipoff — this was the first time the Warriors played a noon ET game since March 26, 1995, coincidentally also at Orlando — the game was tied at 50 at the break.

“There was no morning,” Green said with a chuckle. “It was wake up, grab some food, throw on some sweats, get out of there. I think my bus [to the arena] was at 9:30. That’s 6:30 [a.m.] West Coast time. We’ve only been gone for two days. So it was brutal.”

Golden State performed sluggishly over the first 24 minutes, but these Warriors have relished third quarters this season. Entering this contest, they were a league-high plus-250 in the third on the season. Sunday was just the latest dominant third-quarter performance from the Warriors.

“For whatever reason, we’ve had a bunch of really good third quarters the last couple of weeks,” Kerr said. “It seems to me the time when we pick up our defense, and that translates into some transition hoops and some 3-pointers.

“And I don’t know why, but that seems to be the key time for us these days.”

The Warriors went on a 22-6 third-quarter run, spearheaded by Curry. The two-time MVP exploded for 16 of his 27 points in the quarter and knocked down four of his seven triples during that juncture.

And just like that, a 50-50 tie was replaced by a 20-point advantage after a Curry 3-pointer. The Magic weren’t able to regain their footing, even though the Warriors coughed up the ball 18 times in the game. Golden State outscored Orlando 42-24 in the third, and this victory made it seven straight wins over the Magic.

“We found our energy and execution and stopped turning the ball over,” Curry said. “And after that, we get stops and our talent was able to take over on the offensive end. It’s nice to see shots going in, obviously, but we got to get stops and take care of the basketball to really get that done.

“To bounce back in the third quarter and do what we did, it shows a lot about our mentality and focus and how much winning means to us.”

Klay Thompson also converted seven triples on nine attempts for 21 points. Kevin Durant went for 15 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Zaza Pachulia added 14 points and five boards.

“It just felt good to get the win,” Thompson said. “It’s not easy to play technically a 9 o’clock West Coast time, but we adjusted.”

Elfrid Payton led the Magic with 23 points and 10 assists. Orlando backup point guard D.J. Augustin exited in the second quarter after spraining his right ankle.

The Warriors will travel to Miami for the second game of a back-to-back on Monday and then finish off their four-game road trip in Charlotte on Wednesday.

After this weekend’s quick turnaround, Curry & Co. will welcome the short break: They’ll have almost 30 hours until Monday night’s 7:30 p.m. ET tip against the Heat.

“It’s nice [that] it’s 2:54 to be done,” Curry joked. “I’m ready to get to the next city.”

Landon Collins: Giants DBs decided not to go on boat trip

All-Pro safety Landon Collins said Wednesday on SportsCenter that the New York Giants’ defensive backs were invited on the now infamous Miami boat trip but declined the offer.

Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis flew to Florida late the night of Jan. 1 after the regular-season finale and partied into the morning. Pictures of them surfaced in a club with Justin Bieber and partying shirtless on a yacht.

“We actually were invited. We decided not to go,” Collins said. “Just we wanted — there’s a receivers group and there is [defensive backs] group — so it was like I’m going to go with my DBs. And we decided to do something different.”

What that was Collins wouldn’t say.

“I can’t say out loud,” he said with a smile and a chuckle.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t quite as crazy as the wide receivers’ party, which led to some criticism of the players’ playoff preparation. Meanwhile, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Trevin Wade were in the weight room at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center early that Monday morning before the receivers had even gone to sleep.

The Giants began preparations for their wild-card playoff game that Tuesday. They lost to the Green Bay Packers 38-13 on Jan. 8, and several of their wide receivers put in subpar performances.

Coach Ben McAdoo said firmly throughout the week that he wasn’t going to pass public judgment on what his wide receivers did on their off day.

“The players are off,” McAdoo said. “They’re not working.”

Collins thought McAdoo would have a meeting on the subject when the players returned that week. He touched on it lightly, Collins said, but the focus was on the Packers.

Giants players didn’t have any problems with their teammates’ decision to travel to Miami six days before their playoff game, even if it did shine the spotlight brighter in their direction, he said.

“We didn’t mind it at all. That was our off day,” Collins said. “You have every right to do whatever you want on our off day. They decided to do that.”

The Giants were adamant after their poor performance against the Packers that the drama had nothing to do with the result. But quarterback Eli Manning thought Beckham might have put too much pressure on himself in his first playoff game. The Pro Bowl receiver had two drops and couldn’t reel in some other potential catches.

McAdoo didn’t rule out the possibility that the pressure of the playoffs might have gotten to his guys.

“I think there may be some signs of some guys pressing in the ballgame,” he said. “You go through it, you learn and next time you have that opportunity, you have to cash in on it.”

It wasn’t just the wide receivers. The Giants defense also had its struggles in Green Bay, allowing 24 points in the second half alone. They allowed just 17.8 points per game during the regular season.

Season doesn’t end in Super Bowl, but Cowboys primed for future

The Dallas Cowboys’ season ended with a 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round Sunday. Here is a look at the season and what’s next:

Season grade: A

Season summary: You can be disappointed the Cowboys were not able to secure their sixth Super Bowl trophy, but that should not dampen the mood from a season that was as unexpected as any in recent memory. When Tony Romo went down Aug. 25 with a compression fracture in his back, the hopes many had were dashed before the first regular-season game, but then Dak Prescott had one of the best — if not the best — seasons in NFL history by a rookie quarterback. Ezekiel Elliott dealt with high expectations as the No. 4 overall pick and over-delivered, leading the NFL in rushing. The offensive line was the best in football. Defensively, the unit exceeded expectations with only one star player in Sean Lee. Jason Garrett deserves credit for how the team dealt with the adversities of the season, such as Romo’s injury and injuries to other starters and suspensions. They tied the franchise record for most wins in a season (13) and set the franchise mark with 11 wins in a row. The Cowboys have plenty of decisions to make in the offseason, but this is still a team that has a young core of talent that should grow together, led by Prescott and Elliott. Even through this loss, the future for the Cowboys looks exceedingly bright.

Biggest draft need: Some of it depends on what the Cowboys do in free agency, but, like last year and the year before that, they have to find pass-rush help. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in the second round in two of the past three drafts and they each had one sack this season; however, it was mostly because of suspension and, in Lawrence’s case, injury. The Cowboys went through the process of building the offensive line through the draft and must make the commitment to do the same at defensive end. Picking late in the first round, however, will make that job tougher, but they have to find players who can affect the opposing quarterback.

Key offseason questions:

What happens to Tony Romo? This will be the story of the NFL’s offseason. Jerry Jones can say it is possible to keep Romo and his $24.7 million cap figure in 2017 all he wants, but it’s just not practical. Prescott won the job after Romo’s injury and kept the job after Romo returned. Romo turns 37 in April and has played two full games since 2014. The relationship between Jones and Romo should mean that a split will be amicable. Jones will not trade the quarterback to a team that he doesn’t want to play for. That limits the field and could lead to a release over a trade. Romo can refuse a trade simply by saying he will retire. He said in November the fire still burns, but the Cowboys are the only team he has ever known. We know he can still play, but does he want to play? There is no timetable on a potential move, but by early spring this should be worked out either way.

Do the Cowboys revamp the secondary? Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox are free agents. Carr played in every game and almost every snap. He had just one interception but had his best season. Church missed four games with a fractured forearm but continued to make plays and the defense was better with him on the field. Wilcox rebounded with a solid season mostly in a reserve role and is the defense’s biggest hitter. Claiborne was off to his best start but missed nine games with a groin injury. The Cowboys would rather keep their own than sign other free agents and they don’t have a safety ready to move into a starting role, so Church could be back. Carr’s durability is a plus over Claiborne but Claiborne is younger. One of the two could be back, but the price on both might be good enough for the Cowboys to keep them together for another season.

Can the Cowboys stand success? They went 12-4 in 2014 and appeared to be on the upswing. Then they finished 4-12 in 2015. Most of that had to do with losing Romo to a broken collarbone — twice — for 12 games. Prescott has room to grow and a year of experience should do him a world of good. Elliott played with a possible suspension looming over his head the entire year and the NFL has still not officially cleared him. The Cowboys are about to go through a change in leadership with Romo expected to be elsewhere and Jason Witten potentially looking at retirement. Garrett has shown he can take a team that had low expectations outside the building and succeed. He did it in 2014 and this season. Now he has to show he can lead a team that will be expected to be successful and keep the work level the same, potentially without a proven leader like Witten to keep things sailing smoothly.

Packers WR Geronimo Allison faces marijuana charges

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers receiver Geronimo Allison will appear in court later this month on misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana in nearby Manitowoc County, according to Wisconsin circuit court records.

The court records show Allison was pulled over on Sept. 4, the day after he was released in final cuts and the day before he was re-signed to the Packers’ practice squad. Allison was eventually elevated to the roster on Oct. 24.

Allison, 22, was cited for speeding, going 11 miles over the posted speed limit, and paid a $200.50 fine, court records showed.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which first reported the charge, police smelled marijuana coming from his rental car and found cigars that later tested positive for marijuana.

The marijuana charge was added on Dec. 15, and he has an initial court appearance scheduled for Jan. 23, according to the circuit court website.

“The Packers are aware of the matter involving Geronimo Allison,” the team said in a statement to ESPN.com. “Because this is an ongoing legal matter, we will refrain from making any further comment.”

Allison was signed as an undrafted free agent from Illinois. He caught 12 passes for 202 yards with two touchdowns in the regular season and had one catch for 8 yards in last Sunday’s playoff win over the New York Giants.

He’s expected to be a significant contributor in this Sunday’s divisional-round game at Dallas, especially if Jordy Nelson’s rib injury keeps him out.

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love to suit up vs. Brooklyn

NEW YORK — The Cleveland Cavaliers will welcome Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love back to the lineup for their game against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, coach Tyronn Lue said at his team’s shootaround Friday morning.

Irving missed the past three games with tightness in his right hamstring, while Love sat out Cleveland’s loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday as he recovered from food poisoning.

“Pretty miserable,” Love said of his ordeal that started with eating sea bass that didn’t sit well with him on the team’s flight back from Charlotte last weekend. “When we got back from Charlotte, I stepped on the scale and that was a true number. Ten pounds. Thought I’d be OK to play, got an IV, came out and gave it all that I could, and then that kind of set me back another day.

“Felt it’d probably be best if I took a game because I wasn’t feeling well. Now I feel pretty good. Just had to get some sleep, get some rest, get another IV in me, fluids, food and just try to get my appetite back.”

Love ultimately required three IV drips and said he considered going to the hospital at one point because he was feeling so ill.

“I’ve never had food poisoning quite like that where every few minutes it’d come right out,” Love said. “Sit back down, come right out. It was bad. But feel good now.”

The All-Star forward said he has regained all but a couple of the pounds he had lost, sticking to a diet heavy on chicken soup.

While the Cavaliers went 2-1 in Irving’s absence, they will surely welcome the return of his 23.9 points, 6.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game to the mix.

Love’s 21.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game will also help as Cleveland embarks on its longest road trip of the season — six games through Brooklyn, Phoenix, Utah, Portland, Sacramento and Golden State.

Love, who laughed when noting that the Cavs’ flight from Cleveland to New York on Thursday actually had sea bass as a menu option, said he is going to stay away from the fish on future flights.

“Definitely won’t be ordered on a Delta flight anytime soon,” Love said. “That’s not a slight at Delta. That’s a slight at airplane sea bass.”

Texans opt for Osweiler for playoff vs. Raiders

HOUSTON — Brock Osweiler will start at quarterback for the Houston Texans in the playoff game Saturday against the Oakland Raiders.

Osweiler replaced Tom Savage early in the second quarter Sunday in the loss to the Tennessee Titans after Savage left with a concussion. Savage is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol and, if cleared, would be Osweiler’s backup on Saturday.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien said Monday he wanted the quarterback who will start to get most of the reps in practice this week.

“I thought Brock did some really good things on Sunday with his teammates and almost brought us all the way back,” O’Brien said. “So I thought he did a nice job, and we have a lot of confidence in him that he’s going to go out there and play well on Saturday.”

On Sunday, Osweiler was 21-of-40 for 253 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception and also ran for a 1-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Savage was 5-of-8 for 25 yards and a fumble before he was injured.

Osweiler started the first 14 games of the season for the Texans, but he was benched for Savage in Houston’s Week 15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars after he threw two interceptions in the first half. Sunday’s loss was just Savage’s second career NFL start.

The Texans signed Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract during the offseason, but he has struggled this season with 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 15 games.