Baseline to Baseline (your game recaps): Where the Clippers are fun to watch

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Our game of the night was Kevin Durant doing Durant like things all over the Bulls in the closing minutes. Which was a great choice because after the slog of ugly basketball that was much of Heat/Celtics opening night we needed new energy.

But that wasn’t the only good show Wednesday night. Blake Griffin’s first regular season game was a dunk fest, and Baron Davis looked like he was having fun. Halfway through a Clippers game people across the nation were saying, “I like these guys, they’re entertaining.” Griffin is a monster on the offensive glass. East Coasters, stay up late and watch you some Clippers.

Here’s a rundown of the fun.

Miami 97, Philadelphia 87: Early on it looked like the same movie as Tuesday — LeBron dominated the ball and had five turnovers in the first quarter alone. And the Sixers want to run, so those turnovers fueled them and kept it closer than it should have been. But the Sixers defense is not the Celtics defense and Miami found the gaps, blowing it open with a 31-13 third. James Jones was bombing threes, playing the Mike Miller role, and that in part is what opened up everything else.

We should note that Evan Turner, the rookie No. 2 pick overall of Philadelphia, looked pretty good (which if you saw him in Summer League is a change). He had 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Not bad rook.

New York 98, Toronto 93: It was not pretty. Especially the rebounding. By both teams. But an 18-9 run by the Knicks in the fourth quarter was the difference. A run that came with starting center Timofey Mozgov sitting and Wilson Chandler in — Chandler had 22 and looked like a guy who wants to be Sixth Man of the year.

New Jersey 101, Detroit 98: The Nets had success when they could get a stop and push the pace, which was not often enough. That is, until an 11-0 run late in the fourth quarter that put this one away. A run that started just as Ben Wallace replaced Jason Maxiell in the lineup. The Pistons bench played well in this one, but why ride the hot hand. Go back to your starters, what could go wrong? Oh, that.

New Orleans 95, Milwaukee 91: The Bucks looked like a team whose players did not really get the chance to play together during the preseason and were rusty. Coincidence? New Orleans, on the other hand, has Chris Paul (17 points 16 assists) and David West (22 points) and that is enough some nights.

Sacramento 117, Minnesota 116: The Kings were without Tyreke Evans (suspension for reckless driving arrest), so Francisco Garcia stepped up with 22 points. Carl Landry had 22 and 11. Key for the Kings was getting to the line 19 more times. Well, that and the ability to hang on for deer life at the end.

Note to Kurt Rambis — Michael Beasley is playing 34 minutes but Kevin Love got 23? Really? What do you have against this guy?

Atlanta 119, Memphis 104: All hail Zaza Pachulia, who had 17 and 11 for the Hawks is this one. Why Zaza? With Marc Gasol out for the Grizzlies, his team had nobody who could really do the job for him protecting the paint. Atlanta owned this one the whole way.

Dallas 101, Charlotte 86: The Mavericks controlled this one in the second half and here isthe big secret why — they shoot better. Dallas hit 54.7 percent of their shots, Charlotte 39.7 percent. Game over.

San Antonio 122, Indiana 109: San Antonio got out and ran with the Pacers, 101 possessions on the night — that is faster than Golden State were tonight. Spurs pulled away with a 15-2 run in the fourth fueled by their bench. Spurs bench outscored the Pacers 32-17.

Denver 109, Utah 88: This was just an old school, “go get me my belt” whooping. Denver started on a 9-0 run and never looked back. Utah, try to put it behind you and just move on, it happens to everyone.

Golden State 132, Houston 128: Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense. Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can’t play together, it’s not like they’ll score 71 points between them… oh, yes they will. Both teams put up gaudy offensive numbers, but the Rockets did what teams do on the second night of back-to-backs — they were a step slower and shot just missed some shot.

Portland 98, LA Clippers 88: Blake Griffin is just fun to watch — he had two highlight dunks, one off an ally-oop, another off an offensive rebound, that brought the house down. He just overwhelms. Really, the Clippers could become everybody’s guilty pleasure this season. But Griffin and Chris Kaman allowed 21 offensive rebounds for Portland and it is far too good a team to just give it second chances. Blazers closed this game on an 18-1 run to win it.

Damian Lillard’s goal for season: Win MVP

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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When the PBT staff made our predictions for MVP you saw some expected names — LeBron James, James Harden — and a smart pick off some people’s radar in Kawhi Leonard. Russell Westbrook was discussed as someone with a chance.

What about Damian Lillard? You know, the hip-hop star.

Lillard told a Jay Allen of Portland area Fox Sports Radio that’s his goal.

Lillard averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, he is unquestionably a dynamic offensive force — he has a great pull up jumper and he can get to the rim and finish. Plus, he’s just entertaining to watch.

But MVP? That’s going to take more than numbers.

Portland won 44 games last season. The MVP almost always goes to the best player on a top two or three seed, meaning a team winning around 55 games or more. For Portland to add 10 wins or so and get Lillard noticed in the MVP race is going to be about defense — Portland was bottom 10 last season in defense and they need to be at least middle of the pack this time around. Which comes back to Lillard on some level, he’s often an overmatched defender and he can lose focus on that end. He’s gotten better over the years, but Lillard is going to have to lift up the Blazers defense, not just offense, to get in the MVP discussion.

I’m skeptical (of Lillard’s chances and the Trail Blazers taking a step forward), but we all underestimated Portland last season, too.

LeBron James says he can still win MVP with reduced workload, cites Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 02:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The door is open for LeBron James to win a legacy-altering fifth MVP.

But his Cavaliers could also win another championship, leaving Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue planning to limit LeBron’s minutes in preparation of a long playoff run.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN

“No,” James said Saturday when asked if he was concerned that planned rest could affect his MVP case. “Because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.”

“Well, I’ve never set into a season saying I want to win MVP,” he said. “I’ve always thought of the season saying I want to be MVP for my team and it’s resulted in me getting four of them. So I’ve been available, for the most part, every night and I’ve been available on both sides of the floor. I’ve been healthy.

Curry won 2015 MVP while playing 32.7 minutes per game, the fewest by any MVP. He played 34.2 minutes per game last season, third-fewest by an MVP – ahead of just himself and 1978 Bill Walton, who played 33.3 minutes per game.

To contrast, LeBron has set career lows the last two seasons with 36.1 and 35.6 minutes per game. So, LeBron could get a reduced workload and still play more than Curry did.

But Curry, to some degree is an anomaly. He often sat late in games with his Warriors on the right side of blowouts. The Cavs aren’t good enough regularly rest LeBron as much in those situations.

It’s not that voters care directly about minutes. But the less LeBron plays, the lower his per-game averages will be and the less Cleveland will win. Those factors matter significantly.

LeBron can overcome that. He’s darned good, and there could be a push to reward him after the last two Finals have shown he’s still better than Curry when it matters most.

Playing fewer minutes per game won’t eliminate LeBron from the MVP race, not even close. But it will – and should – hurt his case. After all, MVP should reward the player who does the most to help his team win. MVP-caliber players don’t significantly help while sitting on the bench.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder prepare for life without Kevin Durant

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 11, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Maybe life after Kevin Durant won’t be so bad for the Thunder.

After the longtime face of the franchise left for Golden State, crestfallen Oklahoma City fans were worried it was just a matter of time before the team’s co-star, Russell Westbrook, would follow suit. In a move that shocked many, Westbrook re-signed with Oklahoma City. The former scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP’s return gives the team hope.

New faces such as shooting guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis, both acquired in the deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando, might take some time to fit in. Westbrook believes the team is talented enough to succeed if it is focused and the new pieces blend with the old ones who helped the Thunder reach the Western Conference Finals last season.

“Just play hard, man,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know, win or lose. The only thing I know is that as long as we play hard, we give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

Westbrook could post historic numbers. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds last season and had 18 triple-doubles, the most since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. Without Durant, more of that could be on the way.

Sabonis, a rookie out of Gonzaga who played for Lithuania’s Olympic team, played with the starters throughout the preseason. Oladipo averaged 15.9 points and 4.0 assists in three years with Orlando. He joins Westbrook to form arguably the most athletic backcourt tandem in the NBA.

“Defensively, I think we can be the best defensive backcourt in the league because we can do different things with our size and using our length and our speed,” Westbrook said.

Here are some things to watch for the Thunder:

Steven Adams

The 7-footer from New Zealand was already a top-notch defender and rebounder before stepping up his offense and averaging 10.1 points during the playoffs last season. In his final two preseason games, he scored 20 points against Minnesota and 17 points against Denver. He could be a breakout star.

“I think we’ve had an opportunity these last two nights (against Minnesota and Denver) how good he is around the basket, how smart he has become and how much of a presence he is in the middle,” Westbrook said.

Enes Kanter

The natural expectation was that Ibaka’s departure would prompt coach Billy Donovan to move Kanter, who finished third in balloting for the league’s sixth-man award last season, into the starting lineup. Instead, Donovan started Sabonis throughout the preseason. Perhaps Donovan knows best – Sabonis showed he can hang with the starters, and Kanter averaged 17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 61.7 percent in the preseason.


Oklahoma City’s defense could slip with Ibaka in Orlando. Sabonis has great potential, but he’s young, and NBA defense takes some time to learn. Donovan said Sabonis has caught on quickly, but there still could be a dip early because Ibaka’s level of play is difficult to replace – he was a three-time first-team All-NBA defender and a two-time blocks leader.


The Thunder added several foreign players to the roster who will add depth – Spain’s Alex Abrines, France’s Joffrey Lauvergne and Turkey’s Ersan Ilyasova. Donovan said he likes the maturity foreign players add to a team. Abrines played for Spain’s national team that earned bronze medals at the Olympics. Lauvergne played for France in Rio.


Andre Roberson has shifted from the starting shooting guard to starting small forward. That means the Thunder still have Roberson’s dynamic athletic ability, defensive prowess and nose for the ball on the boards in the lineup. He was a liability on offense in the past, but he started becoming more of a factor on offense during the playoffs last season.

“I think he feels more comfortable and confident offensively,” Donovan said. “He’s put forth effort in that area. It’s just him continuing to grow offensively and trying to put him in situations where he slashes to the basket and he can cut and he can get out in transition and he can take his open corner threes.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP

Raptors’ Jared Sullinger to have foot surgery, miss “extended time”

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics looks on from the bench against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Raptors are counting on Jared Sullinger to cover for the loss of Bismack Biyombo by crashing the boards, helping them space the floor on offense, and just being solid.

But they are going to have to get by without him for a while, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and confirmed by the team.

There is no timeline for Sullinger’s return, but it’s going to be a while. Sullinger had battled a stress reaction in his foot a year ago, this is likely an extension of that problem.

This certainly hurts the Raptors’ depth up front, but it’s also not a massive setback for a team with lofty aspirations this season. Patrick Patterson will get more minutes, which is a good thing, plus the Raptors need to play DeMarre Carroll more at the four. They can wait for Sullinger (who they signed this summer after Boston let him walk in the wake of signing Al Horford.