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.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.