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Circle your calendars: Games not to miss on NBA schedule


We’re not so presumptuous as to tell you what to watch… well, yes we are.

There is an NBA schedule littered with good games worth watching that was just released today. What follows are the games that leapt off the page at us as ones not to miss.

Dec. 25: Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks: A rematch of the NBA finals from last year. Plus, enjoy the look on LeBron James’ face as he watches Dallas raise a championship banner to the rafters (for LeBron haters that may be the best Christmas gift of all).

Dec. 25: Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers: We know the Bulls will play hard and defend, but we don’t know what the Lakers will look like under Mike Brown. Or who their center will be for that game.

Dec. 25: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder: Do we get to see Dwight Howard vs. Kendrick Perkins in the post? My guess is we do (if Howard is traded it will be later, closer to the deadline) but what kind of mental state will the Magic be in? And how much have the Thunder improved?

Dec. 27: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat: This is the first of four meetings between the old guard and new guard of the East.

Dec. 29: Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder: The champs head to face maybe their biggest rival for the crown in the West this season. Plus, the Kevin Durant vs. Dirk Nowitzki scoring fest.

Dec. 31: Phoenix Suns at Oklahoma City Thunder: Before you pop the Champagne watch Steve Nash vs. Russell Westbrook. That will be fun.

Jan. 1: Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards: When you get tired of watching college football, watch the Rajon Rondo vs. John Wall showdown.

Jan. 10: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies: Battle of the “teams of the future” in the West.

Jan. 14: New Jersey Nets at Utah Jazz: Deron Williams makes his return to Utah. The people of Salt Lake City do know how to boo. Trust me.

Jan. 16: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers: Last time these two met the Mavs unceremoniously swept the Lakers out of the playoffs. You know that stuck in Kobe Bryant’s craw — and he has a history of going off on the Mavs for big numbers.

Jan. 16: Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis is playing on Martin Luther King day. The Grizzlies are going to be a team to watch this year, and here is a big test against an elite team.

Jan. 25: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers: The “battle for Los Angeles” is actually interesting now. Plus, Blake Griffin will dunk on someone.

Jan. 28: Sacramento Kings at Utah Jazz: Jimmer Fredettte returns to Utah for a game. (He does it again March 30.)

Jan. 29: Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat: Last year’s Eastern Conference finalists square off, and late enough in the season that we might be able to read a little bit into this one.

Feb. 16: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls: Bet the under in the battle of the former best defensive team in the league and the new best defensive team in the league.

Feb. 20: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls: On Presidents Day you can catch President Obama’s hometown Bulls in action. And Al Horford, who is a good reason to watch the Hawks.

March 4: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat: By then the rosters of these teams will be set and they should be in a groove. This will be a good test for where these contenders stand heading into the playoffs.

March 11: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers: These franchises still hate each other.

March 17: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks: Who is the best team in Texas… sorry Rockets fans, unless you get Chris Paul you’re not in the conversation.

March 29: Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat: Dallas returns to the place they won the title and Heat fans pretend this somehow counts as revenge.

April 20: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs: Will either of the West’s old guard be on a roll with the playoffs around the corner?

April 28: The playoffs open, and then every game is must watch.

Watch Stephen Curry drop 35 in final preseason game

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It’s just preseason, it matters as much public pay phones do now, but still.

The Warriors just went 6-1 in the preseason, and they capped it off with Stephen Curry dropping 35. He was hitting three, driving to the rim, hitting shots falling out-of-bounds, and all the rest of the Stephen Curry highlight reel specials.

The guy is just fun to watch play basketball.

Clippers seeking deep playoff run to erase past failures

PLAYA VISTA, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  L-R; Paul Pierce #34, Austin Rivers #25, DeAndre Jordan #6, J.J. Redick #4, head coach Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin #32, Jamal Crawford #11, Luc Mbah A Moute #12 and Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers pose for a photo during media day at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center on September 26, 2016 in Playa Vista, 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. Mandatory copyright notice.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Clippers’ regular-season record of 166-80 in Doc Rivers’ first three years as coach proves they’re one of the better teams in the NBA.

Their postseason results, however, suggest something else.

They’ve never gotten past the second round of the playoffs in pursuit of the franchise’s first-ever NBA championship.

Now, time is ticking on Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, who enter their sixth year together. Griffin and Paul will be free agents at season’s end, while J.J. Redick is also in the final year of his contract.

If the Clippers don’t at least make the Western Conference finals, speculation is rife that the team could be broken up and rebuilt.

“We have the talent, leadership, tangibles and coaches,” Griffin said, “we just have to put it together.”

The Clippers went 53-29 in the regular season and lost to Portland in the first round of the playoffs, when Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series, which the Clippers lost in six.

It was the latest in a series of playoff failures for a team whose potential has yet to be fully realized.

In 2015, the Clippers lost to Houston in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals after blowing a 3-1 lead. In 2014, they bowed out in six games to Oklahoma City in the second round.

“This is the deepest, most talented group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Rivers said. “That’s why this year should be great.”

Los Angeles opens the season on Oct. 27 at Portland in a rematch of last season’s playoff series and opens at home against Utah three days later.

Some things to watch for this season with the Clippers:

HOW GRIFFIN GOES: After missing much of last season because of a broken hand and the quad injury, he figures to have extra motivation. Griffin averaged 21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists while limited to 35 regular-season games. His hand injury was the result of a fight with a former staff member and landed him a four-game suspension and a loss of pay. Besides demonstrating greater maturity, Griffin needs to stay injury-free and boost a shooting percentage that has declined five consecutive seasons.

FIFTH STARTER: Who will join Griffin, Paul, big man Jordan and shooting guard J.J. Redick as a reliable fifth starter? The small forward options are Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, veteran Alan Anderson and Austin Rivers. The elder Rivers may pick one or rotate depending on the need in a particular game. Mbah a Moute started 61 games last season, Johnson shot 33 percent from 3-point range last season, and the younger Rivers can guard an opposing team’s top guard, giving Paul a chance to focus on offense.

ADDING VETERANS: Rivers, who also serves as director of basketball operations, went after veterans during the offseason to add depth. He brought in 12-year pro Dorell Wright, 11-year pros Brandon Bass and Raymond Felton, eight-year pro Marreese Speights, who left Golden State, and seven-year pro Anderson. Along with three-time sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford, they’ll comprise a talented bench. “We all understand what we’re playing for,” Crawford said. Starting the season, they all appear to have bought into the vision of Rivers, who will have to juggle minutes among veterans who might have found more playing time had they gone elsewhere.

PIERCE’S FINALE: Paul Pierce is playing his 19th and final season before retiring at season’s end. He turned 39 earlier this month and is the NBA’s only active player with 25,000-plus points, 7,000-plus rebounds and 4,500-plus assists. He and Doc Rivers won the 2008 NBA Finals together in Boston, and Rivers enjoys having him around as a veteran presence in addition to the Big Three of Griffin, Paul and Jordan. Pierce started 38 of 68 games last season and he’d like to improve his averages of 6.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 assists before calling it a career.

D’Antoni says Rockets’ Patrick Beverley to miss about 20 games

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets walks to the bench during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Patrick Beverley is going to have a key role with the Rockets — he is their best defending guard. And it’s not close. He can help space the floor as a three-point shooter, he can work off the ball on offense and serve as a backup playmaker, but mostly what he brings is fearless, physical defense.

Except he’s not going to bring it for a while.

Following rumors he might knee surgery comes this from Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said he expects guard Pat Beverley to miss at least 20 games with a left knee injury. His absence “complicates” some roster spots.

Beverley is going to have surgery but may only miss three weeks or so, which is less than D’Antoni’s predicting, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Rockets are going to have one of the best offenses in the NBA but whether they finish fourth or seventh or out of the playoffs completely in the West will come down to a combination of health and how well they defend. This is a setback on both counts.

Expect to see more Eric Gordon, Tyler Ennis, and P.J. Hairston. Gordon has a real chance here. This is going to be an interesting year in Houston.

Jimmy Butler shrugs off idea he’s a “diva”

Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler goes up for a dunk past Charlotte Hornets' Marvin Williams during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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The Chicago Bulls traded Derrick Rose to New York, in hopes that the locker room, “whose team is this?” drama would head East with him. This is Jimmy Butler‘s team, with Dwyane Wade now assisting.

But the drama isn’t gone yet.

On their way out the door, the camps around Rose and Joakim Noah tried to paint Butler as a Diva who was the real problem. When Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times asked Butler about it, he basically laughed off the idea.

“Am I a diva? I don’t call it that,’’ Butler said before Thursday’s 97-81 loss to Atlanta in their final preseason game. “My will to win rubs people the wrong way sometimes. I can blame it on that, but won’t apologize for it. Never will.

“As far as that talk goes, I don’t care. I’m going to keep working and if people don’t like it, people want to say what they want to say, that’s fine. I know, and I think these guys know, where my heart is and how I want to do right by everybody.’’

Rose and Noah thought Butler tried to jump the line to be the leader of the team, which they saw as still their right as the veterans. Butler didn’t care what they thought then, he certainly doesn’t now.

What matters more, Nicola Mirotic and Doug McDermott and Bobby Portis don’t care, and they are the guys still there.

Who will finish with the better record, Bulls or Knicks, is one of my favorite subplots of the NBA season.