Just how far can Chris Paul, Clippers go in these playoffs?

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I see the Clippers a lot like I saw the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple years ago — very talented, a world of potential, dangerous, but still learning how to win the way they need to win to start talking titles.

Those Thunder lost in the first round to the Lakers (the next year they were in the conference finals). These Clippers maybe can get past the Grizzlies and out of the first round — although that will be far from easy — but beyond that it may be too much. Right now.

For the Clippers, these playoffs will be a learning experience. Learning how to defend at this level — as they have done the last month of the season. Learning how to trust their counters in the offense. Learning how to adjust. It’s about gaining experience because while Chris Paul has made it to the second round of the playoffs before, nobody else on this team — including coach Vinny Del Negro — has.

Yet.

Now it will be a different game for the Clippers. During the regular season, the Clippers raw physical gifts could overwhelm teams — Blake Griffin can overpower defenders in the post, the raw athleticism of DeAndre Jordan leads to highlight packages. The Clippers got out and ran and put on a show.

But that’s not how games are won in the playoffs. These are good teams who have the ability to take away the easy buckets, they do not get overwhelmed with your big dunks.

Playoff wins come with controlled execution on both ends. They come with smart adjustments and execution. Can Vinny Del Negro make those adjustments? Can the Clippers consistently execute them?

The defensive end is the real key for the Clippers — they have been inconsistent there this season. The last month they have been better but it will be their ability to defend, rotate and adjust that will determine if they can get out of the first round against Memphis.

Let’s not think about what the Spurs offensive execution would do to the Clippers defense. Not yet. Let the team cross that bridge when they come to it.

The Clippers have talent. Raw talent. But not experience, from individual players or as a team.

The Clippers against the Grizzlies will be the best first round series in either conference. It will be physical, intense and filled with athletes. I suspect the Clippers will not get past it, but if they do the execution of the Spurs will make them pay in the second round.

Which is another learning experience. If you’re going to learn control and execution under pressure, San Antonio is the team to watch.

The Clippers are still learning. The exams are about to get a lot tougher. But like the Thunder a couple years ago, the path to title contender seems to be there.

Warriors say Kevin Durant doing non-contact drills, could return before end of season

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Kevin Durant has been working out on the court before the last couple of Warriors road games, and people watching have taken note — he was moving well, shooting, and generally looking healthy for a guy coming off a grade 2 MCL sprain and a bone bruise.

Reports were out that Durant was on target to return before the end of the season.

Wednesday the Warriors confirmed that.

Teams are vague, realistically what is that timeline?

Durant likely would be on a minutes restriction for those game, but just getting to shake the rust off and work on his conditioning in a real game would help Golden State heading into the playoffs.

Not that they need much help, having won eight in a row. The Warriors have a 2.5 game lead over the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the game between the two Wednesday night.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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