Clippers Meet the New Boss…

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The Clippers have made a seamless transition to the Kim Hughes era.

At least that’s how it looked to Clippers fans Saturday. Just like Mike Dunleavy before him (and Dennis Johnson before him and Alvin Gentry before him), Hughes’ Clipper squad got routed by the Spurs 98-81. The fans booed the team off the court at halftime. Not the ideal in his coaching debut. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…

Except it’s not. Things are different for the Clippers with Hughes at the helm. Better remains to be seen, but they are different.
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There is a sense of optimism in the locker room. Players like that Hughes wants to get out and run and not have so many set plays. Despite the results after one game of trying to improvise some offense looking ugly (21 turnovers will do that, so will all the missed chip shots).

As any comedian who knows their craft can tell you (so, don’t bother ask Dane Cook), improvisation is a practiced skill. The Clippers looked like a team that hadn’t improvised in a long time. They had eight turnovers to just four baskets in the first quarter. On one possession, Marcus Camby came out and set the drag screen (high pick and roll early in transition) and Eric Gordon went behind it, left his feet, changed his mind mid-air and tried to hand the ball off to a shocked Camby. Turnover. Baron Davis had seven turnovers in the first half alone.

“It’s going to require a lot of instincts out there, it’s just going to take us a little time,” Davis said afterwards, adding that after half a season of walk-it-up with Dunleavy the team was not in condition right now to run for 48.

Hughes is actually the kind of guy you want to root for — an NBA lifer getting his first chance. Hughes comes off as a players coach — he started in pro player career in the ABA, a rookie on Julius Erving’s championship New York Nets team. In his first pregame press conference as head coach he called Chris Kaman “retarded.” But in an affectionate way.

He’s also honest. Like when asked if he really had the ballhandlers to have a running offense.

“Perhaps not,” Hughes said. “That was somewhat exposed tonight.”

He doesn’t. This team was built by Dunleavy for Dunleavy’s slow offense. Still, There were flashes. Midway through the third quarter when Eric Gordon made the steal, hit Davis on the runout, who drew the defense then left a drop bounce pass to Rasual Butler for the dunk.

But there was much more horrific decision making (like Mardy Collins going isolation at the end of the first half rather than feeding Davis or Kaman). If nothing else, Clippers fans should be optimistic because there is plenty of room to improve after game one of the Hughes era.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.