Lakers-Clippers: 5 Things to Watch

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Saturday night is the first matchup of the new-look CP3-lead Clippers against the old guard Los Angeles Lakers. The Showdown at Staples, Part 1. The Lakers are coming in hotter than a pistol behind Kobe Bryant’s 40-point streak, while the Clippers have also managed to hold on despite some questions about their defense, standing just a game and a half back of the purple and gold. To help get you set for the biggest game of the night that doesn’t involve Tebow, here are five things to watch.

1. The Low Post Tango… with Giant Clubs: Andrew Bynum struggles with crafty defenders, players who can body him and also know how to disrupt his game in the little ways, by attacking his positioning and ball handling. But he’s very good against raw size, which is what he faces against DeAndre Jordan Saturday night. Bynum has a huge size advantage on most nights, but this is going to be quite he battle with Jordan and the massive frame he’s grown into able to hold his own against Bynum’s girth. The big separator here could be positioning. Bynum’s a terrific rebounder at both ends, while Jordan has struggled this season on the glass. His total rebound rate is 13.8%, the lowest of his career if it holds up. If Jordan can’t keep Bynum from tip-ins, it could be a long night for the Clips.

2. You Should Bring a Help Defender. Or Twenty.: The Lakers have improved greatly under Mike Brown at perimeter penetration, with Brown’s help defense cutting off lanes. But against Chris Paul, they’ll have their toughest challenge. Put simply, the Lakers don’t have a perimeter defender to check him. Derek Fisher is no longer physically in a position to contain him, Kobe Bryant has to save his energy for the offensive end, and can’t check him effectively or risk fouls, and Steve Blake is out with an injury… and couldn’t check him anyway. What the Lakers cannot do is switch on the pick and roll against Paul. In last year’s playoffs, Paul destroyed the Lakers’ defense by getting matched up on a big defender in space, then working him over off the dribble. The best bet for the Lakers is to trap Paul off the pick and roll, bringing a third defender if necessary, and risking the outside shot. As long as the big for L.A. has his hands up and active to prevent Lob City, that forces a reset of the offense or a perimeter shot. The Clippers can hit it, but you take that over Paul in space any time.

3. Encouraging Greatness: Kobe Bryant was brilliant last night. He was dominant, yet again, with 40 points. He is an unstoppable scoring machine, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2007 or earlier. And despite that, the Cavaliers were right in the game at the end, a night after the Jazz forced the Lakers into overtime. Are you sensing a pattern? The more Bryant shoots, the less involved his teammates become. The less involved his teammates become, the harder it is for the offense to function and the more the Lakers struggle. They had this problem against two pretty bad teams (though not as bad as some would suggest, both Utah and Cleveland have looked at least decent this year). If that’s the case with the Clippers, it works to L.A.’s favor. Putting Bryant in a position where he’s encouraged to take long jumpers is going to wind up with him dropping a huge scoring total on you, but if you shut down the rest of the team, it works in your favor. This is nothing new. This is the same formula that worked prior to the Lakers becoming a more evenly distributed team in 2008 with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. With Odom gone and the bench weaker than in years past, Bryant seems to feel obligated to both carry the load and prove a point. If the Clippers are smart, they’ll let him embarrass him with a huge scoring performance while they win the game with a complete set of offense.

4. Party up front, nothing in the back: The Clippers and Lakers have the second-worst and worst bench scoring units, respectively. So both teams are desperate for production off the pine. With Steve Blake out with a chest injury, the Lakers take a hit. Meanwhile, the Clippers have Mo Williams who is shooting 47 percent this season. The Lakers need a bench player to step up and contribute offensively to carry some of the load while some of the big three take a breathe. If they can get the ball out of Bryant’s hot hand, that is.

5. They Love L.A. But Only Really The Popular, Winning One: Crowd tonight at this game should be pretty amusing. It’s a Clippers home game, and yet 65 percent or more of the crowd should be Lakers fans. This “rivalry” will always lean towards which team wins more. It’ll be interesting to see if either team dominates how the fans will react. If Clippers fans will shrug and accept their usual fate, or if Lakers fans will start cheering for the Clippers if CP3 opens up Lob City. It’s going to be entertaining to say the least. The circus has come to town for Battle: Los Angeles.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.