Clippers showing a lot of room for improvement… and still winning

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Chris Paul is still trying to get his guys to know what he wants them to do. Chauncey Billups is still firing away without enough consideration and dribbling like he’s the point guard at times. Caron Butler is still finding his legs. DeAndre Jordan is still adapting to being the anchor of the defense down low and how to create offensive rebound opportunities without clogging the lane.

Blake Griffin has to either find or abandon his mid-range shot and has to do a better job of controlling space down low and on the block.

And yet, the Clippers keep winning.

The Clippers beat the Lakers 102-94 Saturday night behind 33 points from Chris Paul and 22 points and 14 rebounds from Blake Griffin. And still it was impossible to walk away from the game and not see that the Clippers are very much still a work in progress. While teams like the Knicks try and sort out who they are and struggle mightily, the Clippers have lodged wins now over the Blazers, Heat, and Lakers. It was assumed that the Clippers would struggle with the great teams considering they were pounded by Chicago and San Antonio and had poor defensive stats. Yet here they are, 6-3 and improving with each game.

They may take a step backwards in the next week with Paul recovering from a strained hamstring he suffered in the fourth quarter of the win over the Lakers, but the point remains. The Clippers are growing up and still producing wins.

This is the start of the hard part of their schedule, and thins may get considerably worse. But there’s a lot to be encouraged by. Their two primary issues of concern this season have been rebounding and defense, and both were stout against the big brother Lakers Saturday night. Kobe Bryant’s 42 points were hard-earned, and the rest of the team was largely held in check.

Griffin had a surprisingly great all-around game on paper, when after a sizzling start, he seemed to fade a little bit. Griffin continues to try and pull defenders away from the rim in order to create space on the drive by shooting mid-range jumpers, which continue to not fall. The shot is awkward and clunky, and his rhythm is stilted off the catch. He too often sprawl out in athletic leap instead of containing his man against his back on boxouts. And yet here is, racking up 22 and 14 and making Pau Gasol look silly the longer the game went on.

The big knock on the Clippers is that it would take some time for them to unravel how their team is going to function. And it is taking some time. But in the meantime, the have the talent to compete right now, and it’s working.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.

Heat snap Celtics’ 16-game winning streak

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Celtics didn’t have another comeback in them.

After overcoming a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Mavericks on Monday to extend its winning streak to 16 games, Boston lost to the Heat tonight, 104-98. The streak ends as the NBA’s longest since the Hawks won 19 straight during the 2014-15 season.

The Celtics trailed Miami by 16 in the fourth quarter then cut the deficit to only one with three minutes left. But Dion Waiters hit back-to-back 3-pointers, helping the Heat pull away.

Goran Dragic (27 points) and Waiters (26 points) led Miami, which needed a reason to feel good after losing three of four to fall to 7-9.

The Celtics, on the other hand, still have a four-game cushion over the rest of the Eastern Conference. This might help them regain focus.

Serge Ibaka gets dunked on by Enes Kanter, hit in face by ball (video)

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Is Enes Kanter mad Serge Ibaka rifted with his family?

(No, not this family. That family.)