NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

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Last season: 32-50, or to frame it in context, 13th place in the West out of 15 teams.

Head Coach: Vinny Del Negro, who, after the team successfully traded for Chris Paul, is now officially on the hot seat. VDN has yet to prove he can be successful coaching at the NBA level, and if this season doesn’t end with (at minimum) a trip to the playoffs, he could very well be gone this summer.

Key Departures: Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first round draft pick.

Key Additions: The league’s best point guard in Chris Paul, Caron Butler, and Chauncey Billups, who was claimed off of amnesty waiver and may or may not stick around in L.A. now that the deal for Paul has been completed.

Best case scenario: One could easily make the case that the best case scenario for the Clippers has already taken place, even before a single game has been played yet this season. L.A. is now more relevant than ever with the acquisition of Chris Paul, and we’re talking about a team that had a considerable buzz around it last season with the above-the-rim play of then-rookie Blake Griffin. Moreover, we’re talking about a franchise that has overall been the league’s worst for decades, and this is their one shot to lay claim to a large section of Los Angeles basketball fans.

For that to happen: The buzz and excitement surrounding the Clippers will fade quickly in Los Angeles if the team isn’t winning and can’t produce runs deep into the postseason sometime in the next few years. L.A.’s fans have been spoiled by the gaudy success from the Lakers over the years, and will only put up with a “fun” team that doesn’t win for so long.

That being said, it doesn’t have to happen this season. But what does have to happen is the Clippers making the playoffs — they simply can’t screw this up. The team should be a virtual lock to take the place of Paul’s former New Orleans team that played in the postseason last year, and a quick look at the offseason moves that other teams in the West made (or didn’t make) would lead you to believe that L.A. with Paul should finish higher than the rest of the teams in the conference that finished out of the playoffs.

More likely the Clippers will: Find a way to screw this up, because historically they always have? Not this time, at least not this season. There are depth issues in all areas but guard for the Clippers, so if health becomes a factor for any of the team’s big names, they may struggle to make the playoffs. But injuries aren’t something you can predict, and analysts always begin any bold statements with “if they stay healthy …” for a reason.

There will be a lot of pressure on the Clippers front office to put pieces around Paul to enable the team to compete with the big names in the West, but that’s a season or two away. For now, the Clips are relevant, and all they need to do is make it into the first round of the playoffs to keep that momentum going into next season.

Prediction: 37-29, seventh seed in the Western Conference.

Watch Raptors fans give Vince Carter a standing ovation in Toronto (VIDEO)

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Vince Carter is 40 years old and playing in what could possibly be his final NBA season. The Sacramento Kings guard started his career with the Toronto Raptors, and on Sunday he played what could possibly be his final game at the Air Canada Centre.

And so, when Carter was subbed out late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, the folks in Toronto did what came naturally: they cheered.

The whole thing was pretty great to watch, and a real testament to how Carter is viewed by fans in Toronto.

Via Twitter:

Carter scored just four points in 25 minutes for Sacramento, going 2-of-5 from the field while adding three blocks, two assists, a rebound and a steal.

The Raptors got the win over the Kings, 108-93.

Report: Isaiah Thomas looking at first week of January for return to Cavs

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Just when we though Isaiah Thomas had fallen off the collective radar of the NBA, he squeaks right back in.

Thomas, who the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired in a trade this summer for Kyrie Irving, has yet to play a game due to a nagging hip injury. That injury caused some back-and-forth squabbling between Cleveland and the Boston Celtics, but things got sorted and the teams went on their way.

Irving has been spectacular of course, helping to lead the Celtics to a record of 25-7 in the absence of Gordon Hayward, good enough for the top slot in the Eastern Conference.

Now, it appears that Thomas is ahead of schedule and will be ready to help the Cavaliers fight for that spot come early January. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Thomas and Cleveland want him to be playing the first week of the new year.

Via Twitter:

Of course, we’ve heard this before. The team has said this season that Thomas would play in January. Then the line moved and the Cavaliers thought he would play in December. It’s now moved back to January, but reports are more firm as we’re closer to the expected date and Thomas is playing in 4-on-4 drills. The great news is this honed return date seems to directly target the second game of 2018 for the Cavaliers, which is conveniently against the Celtics.

No doubt Thomas will be jonesing to take on his former team, where he certainly would have preferred to stay after a stellar season in 2016-17. Still, Thomas has been in good spirits — he gets to play with LeBron James for goodness sake — and the Jan. 3 game will be one to watch.

If Thomas can’t make it for that January matchup, the next opportunity he will have to beat Boston will be on Feb. 11.

DeMarcus Cousins thinks refs are giving him techs off reputation alone

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New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is a fiery personality on the court, often arguing foul calls at length despite no official in NBA history reversing a call directly after player complaint.

Crafty veterans — your LeBron Jameses and your Chris Pauls — slowly and pointedly chatter with officials as a means to influence their subconscious leaning on calls (and to protect them against earning techs when they do decide to straight up yell at refs).

Cousins hasn’t used that kind of angling to success in his career, instead going hard at referees with some consistency. Cousins has tried to change that approach this season, but instead has found that his prior actions have earned him a reputation the Pelicans forward believes doesn’t befit his actions in 2017-18.

Speaking to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Cousins said that despite letting more calls go and changing his candor, NBA refs are not responding proportionately.

Via The Undefeated:

I am going out of my way. I am going over and beyond,” Cousins said. “I am coming in saying, ‘We can’t do this, this and this …’ Even calls I know I should be arguing, I’m letting go. And they’re still like … it’s a one-sided thing. Everything is changing from one end. But with them, it’s like, ‘We are not letting go of the past. You are who you are. You’re getting a tech.’

“So, when it comes to me getting a tech for saying, ‘Good call, referee …,’ vets and coaches tell me to butter them up. Switch it up a little bit. Do a little reverse psychology. Tell them it’s a good call. And you still getting a tech for it? They’re not trying to make it work. They’re stuck in their ways, and it is so obvious.”

Cousins added that he believes foes are taking advantage of his troubles.

“Now it’s to the point where teams are saying, ‘Yeah, just go over there and beat the s— out of him.’ I don’t get calls, and I’m not protected like other players are,” he said.

It’s interesting to see that Cousins has at least tried to change things up, and indeed acknowledges that he should be trying to work with the officials rather than antagonize them.

Still, we’re not sure what the tone of his “good call” comments are toward the refs. Are they sarcastic? Or are they contrite? You can see how one might earn Cousins a tech from an official — who seem to be particularly sensitive this season — and the other might endear you to them.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.