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

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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.

“Tired” Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest. Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.