Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul

Game of the Night: Clippers keep Paul in check, stun Hornets

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Well, that was unexpected. Monday’s game was supposed to be more of a welcome-to-the-Hornets party for new acquisition Jarrett Jack, but an actual basketball game ended up taking place between the 11-1 Hornets and the 1-13 Clippers. That’s surprising enough; the stunning thing is that the Clippers actually ended up winning the game.

The Hornets went on an early run by forcing some turnovers and making some early jumpers. Blake Griffin was largely ineffective against the Hornets’ stifling paint defense in New Orleans; in Los Angeles, Griffin got himself going by making his first three mid-range jumpers and getting the crowd into the game with a huge transition dunk. Griffin didn’t have any other dunks in the game, but ended up with 24/13/4 by playing tough in the low post, staying patient offensively, and crashing the boards with abandon. Al-Faroq Aminu had a big first half as well, hitting some threes and getting out in transition early — all of his 16 points came in the first half.

After the Clippers went into the halftime break down only two points, everybody in Staples Center waited in fear of a massive New Orleans run that never came. Chris Paul looked oddly passive offensively, and looked to dump the ball to David West (who ended up with 30 points) when the Clippers switched rather than try to attack himself. Paul was mostly quiet after making some early jumpers, and finished with only 14 points and 6 assists.

The fourth quarter was about as ugly as it gets, but the Clippers held on thanks to some huge plays from Brian Cook (yes, that Brian Cook), some very gritty defense to force New Orleans turnovers, and some huge offensive rebounds — the Clippers had five offensive boards in the fourth quarter alone, and the two biggest plays of the game were a Blake Griffin put-back of his own miss to cut the New Orleans lead and a Ryan Gomes tip-in that gave the Clippers a lead they would end up holding for the rest of the game. It looked like the Clippers were in danger of giving the game away with some stupid turnovers and absolutely putrid free throw shooting (the Clippers shot 50.7% from the field and 17-34 from the line, incredibly), but they ultimately hung onto the game by simply outworking the heavily favored Hornets.

After the game, Chris Paul was disappointed with his team’s effort, especially on the defensive end:

“Defensively, we’ve been engaged for the most part. But these past three or four games, we’ve just been winning — we’ve just been getting by. They say winning cures all. But, hopefully with this loss we’ll get back to paying attention to what we’ve got to do as a unit defensively.”

For the Clippers, the win was a much-needed shot in the arm after some very tough losses in close games. When asked about how the Clippers were finally able to close out a win, Eric Gordon put it simply:

“Well, it was just time for us to grow up a little bit. We had a couple mistakes in this game, and the difference is that we didn’t relax, we just kept on going and fighting hard and the game came to us.”

The Clippers only have two wins this year, but they’ve come against two probable playoff contenders in the Hornets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the game, Blake Griffin was happy about the way the Clippers have been able to stun some top teams this year, but he’d like the team to be a little more consistent:

“It’s good [to beat Oklahoma City and New Orleans]. It gives us confidence, but at the same time we have to win the games in between as well. Like I said, it’s good to beat a team with a good record, but it would also be better to beat the teams with the okay records.”

Whether or not the Clippers can find that consistency while continuing to battle injuries remains to be seen. But on this night, the Clippers showed that they can beat any team in this league if they play the way they’re capable of playing and the planets align.

Carmelo Anthony on talk with Jackson: “We didn’t break bread….It was a short conversation”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2016 in New York City. 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 Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t long. It wasn’t outwardly contentious. But you can bet it was colder than the weather outside Madison Square Garden in January.

Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony sat down and talked about Anthony’s future with the Knicks Tuesday, with Anthony reiterating again he doesn’t want to be traded. And since he has a no-trade clause and two years on his deal after this one, he has the power.

Anthony seems done with the entire topic and is ready to move on. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“The conversation was not that long. We didn’t break bread,’’ Anthony said. “We didn’t have hours of conversation. It was a short conversation.”

This entire topic came up when Phil Rosen — a Phil Jackson confidant who swears he’s not a surrogate — penned an article saying Anthony was willing to accept a move to the Cavaliers or Clippers (or maybe the Lakers). The move felt like a classic Jackson mind game move where Anthony was forced to respond to it — and Anthony seems done with the drama.

“I’m done asking why,’’ Anthony said. “My focus is playing ball at this point. My focus is these guys. That’s all I care about at this point. Making sure these guys stay strong and positive and have their head on right and not be a distraction to them.

“I’m committed [to the Knicks]. I don’t have to prove that to anybody. I don’t have to keep saying that and keep talking about it. I know for a fact people know that and people see that.”

Anthony is ready to move on, is Jackson? Or do we see another mind game move coming?

Anthony isn’t going anywhere, not in the short term. Even if Anthony would entertain a trade to those mentioned, markets, you think the Cavaliers would like to give Kevin Love‘s minutes and some of LeBron James‘ touches to 33-year-old Anthony? You think Doc Rivers would swap 27-year-old Blake Griffin for ‘Melo? Anthony is expensive and while he can still score the other limitations in his game make it very hard to trade him.

Jackson is the master of convincing guys to do what he wants and think it’s their own idea, but I have a hard time seeing that happening with Anthony.

Kevin Durant reflects on “AAU basketball” of Durant/Westbrook/Harden Thunder

Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden
Associated Press
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If MVP voting took place today, James Harden and Russell Westbrook would be in a photo finish for the win — they are the clear first and second choices in that race. Third could well be Kevin Durant, who is having a strong and efficient season in Golden State (it’s who Dan Feldman and I said we would pick third during the PBT Podcast, although certainly guys like LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard and others are in the mix).

Remember when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were all on the same team? The NBA’s ultimate “what if?”

Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News got Durant to reminisce about those days (the Warriors play the Thunder and Rockets this week).

“It’s easy to say we were supposed to be together for the rest of our careers, but it didn’t play out like that,” Durant said. “I think all three of us will have memorable careers. And it’ll be a journey we’ll always remember, something that’s different and unique, playing with two different guys who are doing incredible things in the league right now. But when you look back, think about the fun times instead of what could’ve been.”

Could they have ruled the NBA for a decade?

“No. We never looked at it that way, like we could be best of all-time,” Durant said. “It was really AAU basketball, man. We were just having fun. We weren’t listening to anyone on the outside, media, none of that. It was just pure fun. When we did hear something about the group, it was like, what is this? That was so foreign to us because we never paid attention to it.”

It was Harden that was traded — he wanted and deserved the max, the Thunder has spent on Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. They weren’t willing to pay the costs — the luxury tax bill would have come calling — to keep all three. The other side of that debate: Could Harden have continued happily in his sixth man role? This guy dominates the ball now (he leads the league in time of possession this season), would he have stayed coming off the bench to win?

“I think he’d have stayed in that role. I think so,” Durant said. “He’d have still been a really great player. You look at it, a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at him as a Sixth Man. He’d have been better. I think he’d have been better. Obviously I’m sure he loves what he’s doing now, but if we would’ve won a championship, I think the perception of him would’ve just been as a great player. ‘He’s the heart, he’s what makes us go.’ That’s what his label would’ve been, instead of just Sixth Man. He would’ve probably been the best Sixth Man that ever was.”

Maybe, and maybe that would have been enough. It’s all moot now.

But what if?

 

European star point guard Milos Teodosic says he wants to play in NBA. Eventually.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12:  Milos Teodosic #4 of Serbia reacts in the second half while taking on the United States in the Men's Preliminary Round Group A match on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Milos Teodosic is the best point guard not in the NBA. Unless you’re not a fan of CSKA Moscow and Euroleague Basketball, you most likely remember him as the point guard for the Serbian team that won the silver medal at the Rio Olympics last summer — they guy who torched Kyrie Irving for 18 points and six assists, plus ran the offense beautifully in a group stage game against the USA.

Next summer he is a free agent and there is a lot of speculation he is finally going to come to the NBA (there have been reports the Grizzlies and other NBA teams have already reached out). Speaking with Mozzartsport, Teodosic said he may come but nothing is set in stone. Via Sportando:

“2016 was my best year” Teodosic told Mozzartsport (he won EuroLeague, VTB League and a silver medal at Olympics). “I will go to the NBA for sure, but I still don’t know when, in which club and on what terms. We’ll see. CSKA Moscow certainly has an advantage in the negotiations of a new contract “ the point guard added. “Offers from Grizzlies, Jazz, Spurs or Rockets? I did not get any offers from them. I don’t know who said that”.

Teodosic was asked his thoughts about the young European players that are “rushing” to the NBA even if they know they won’t have playing time: “For me this is an error. I like to play and I don’t like to sit on the bench and I would not agree on any contract if I have to sit on the bench. This is my condition for going to the NBA.”

And it becomes the challenge for a team looking to sign him.

Teodosic is a good offensive player — smart passer and he can shoot the three. He certainly knows how to run an offense (especially one with ball and player movement). He’s also a defensive liability. Watching him at the Olympics, I was thinking he’d be a great sixth man and fill-in starter when needed. But if he doesn’t want that role, what team is willing to give him more? Not a good one, or one with an established NBA point guard.

Mike Krzyzewski called Teodosic “one of the all-time great players internationally” and said they did game plan for him in the Gold Medal game (where the USA athleticism overwhelmed Serbia). The guy can play, and as well paid as he may be with CSKA Moscow he could make more in the bloated NBA. The only question is can he find a fit?

The only question is can he find a fit?

Brandon Ingram with the steal, slam (VIDEO)

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Very little has gone right for the Lakers of late. They have dropped five in a row. Around Los Angeles, the talk has gone from “this team could make the playoffs” after a 10-10 start to “they need to tank and try to keep the pick” after going 5-21 since. (The Lakers pick this draft is top-three protected, if it’s outside that it goes to the Sixers. The Lakers currently have the fourth worst record in the NBA.)

The Lakers young players look… young. D'Angelo Russell admitted he just started trying to follow a game-day routine, then said Tuesday night he didn’t focus and deserved to be benched down the stretch. Brandon Ingram shows flashes, he’s smart and sees the game, but he’s still physically pushed around.

But those flashes, like the steal and dunk above are fun.

Lakers fans, welcome to the process. This is what rebuilding is like. It’s a roller coaster, you just hope the trajectory generally remains up.