Game of the Night: The Clippers are fun. Not good, that’s the Spurs. But fun.


The Clippers are dynamic. They are athletic. They are fast and fun and give you monster dunks.

They are not yet a basketball team, not in the true sense, not one that is going to win consistently in the NBA. The Spurs are what we thought they were — a relentless execution machine. A team.

And that’s kind of what you got Monday night — for one quarter the Clippers could keep the pace up and ran past the Spurs for a small lead. But the slow and steady tortoise grinds down the hare and wins. In this case, 97-88.

It was always going to be hard for the Clippers because the Spurs look as good as they have in years. Richard Jefferson has found his way in the offense — 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting. Rookie Gary Neal comes in and knocks down 4 of 8 three pointers off the bench. Antonio McDyess defies father time for nine boards and a team best +15. The defensive rotations are tight. They continue to just be the Spurs. The only question about them is how healthy and rested their big three are when the playoffs start, that is what determines how far they go.

The Clippers are not the Clippers. Well, they are in the sense they are 0-4 now. But the feel is very different this year even if the results are not.

Blake Griffin can do things that just bring the crowd alive. He put a wicked spin move on Tiago Splitter, he had a high-flying dunk in transition, he went baseline on Antonio McDyess for a dunk. Eric Gordon just threw one down over Tim Duncan and had another high-flier later. Each time the desperate-to-believe crowd at Staples just erupts.

If you just watched the highlights, you’d swear the Clippers won.

But they didn’t. Not even close, really. The Clippers are great theater but they are not a winning basketball team right now.

“We just have to come together and figure each other out more,” Griffin said after the game. “Especially defensively, we gave up too many open shots and a team like that is going to kill you every time… what it comes down to is who sticks to their game plan and who executes.”

The Clippers have to run to get much offense. They need the easy transition buckets. Blake, Gordon and Baron Davis (who did not play due to right knee pain) can all run. But in the half court the Clippers sets are pretty simple and the Spurs had little trouble with them. These sets may have worked for Vinny Del Negro in Chicago where the dynamic Derrick Rose ran the show, but the Clippers don’t have that guy. They have Griffin, a big.

“Without Baron out there, we can’t push the ball,” Del Negro said. “Gordon and (Eric) Bledsoe are still learning how to push the ball up. We can’t get (Chris) Kaman and Blake set in the paint.”

Clippers showed some things that could work, like the Gordon/Kaman pick-and-pop. But it’s not run consistently. And the Spurs take away the easy buckets the Clippers need at this point.

Depth is the other serious problem for the Clippers — while Neal alone had 16 points off the bench, the entire Clippers bench had no points through three quarters and finished with 7.

No Davis, no Randy Foye and then Craig Smith getting tossed for a dirty take down of George Hill on a fast break exacerbated the depth problem. The Clippers gave Willie Warren and Brian Cook minutes. Not a good sign.

(Hill did not return to the game after the Smith hit due to spasms in his trapezes muscle. He will be re-evaluated on Tuesday but this is something that could have been a lot worse. Hill and the Spurs are lucky.)

It’s going to be a tough year for the Clippers. Fun. Entertaining. But tough.

Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth


The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.

Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay apologizes for verbal spat with coach

Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Malone

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was willing to get into it with just about anyone Tuesday night. He had a few words with Blake Griffin.

And he had a few words with his rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — and Mudiay gave it right back. Then got benched. Later the rookie realized he should be a little more deferential to the guy who controls his minutes, and apologized. Malone played it down. Everything is fine in Denver (well, except for the four straight losses). Here are the quotes, via Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.

Said Mudiay: “It’s just both of us being competitors. It probably was my fault, I could have been doing a lot more. So I kind of put the blame on myself. I’ve got nothing against Coach, I respect him. He’s a great person, and I have all the respect in the world for him.

“Me and him are both competitive. We want to win. We hate losing. We’re on a four-game losing streak, something like that. It’s just us trying to win. At the same time, it’s over with. It’s on to the next game. It’s been like that my whole life. He’s just trying to challenge me, which I accept.”

“There is frustration on our end, having lost four games in a row now,” Malone said. “Just trying to find way to get a win. Winning is a great cure-all for anybody, like it was for (the Clippers) tonight, coming in having lost three in a row. So this is a very competitive game, guys are out there working hard trying to do their best, and sometimes emotions get involved. By no means is there an issue with Emmanuel or anybody else on this team. We are together, we are unified and we’re going to continue to fight to stay together to get this thing turned around.”


These kinds of little flare-ups are a common part of the NBA season — if the Nuggets were not frustrated after losing four straight, it would be a bigger concern. That Mudiay pushed back is some fire I want to see from a rookie.

Mudiay is learning, his turnovers are down of late (although they flared up against Golden State). His shooting is still an issue, and his decision making has a ways to go, but there is progress.  Which is all you can ask of a rookie. And it helps to have a coach who will push him. (And play him in the fourth quarter — Byron Scott, we’re looking at you.)