The only series worth watching, Grizzlies try to get even with Clippers

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In a kind of washout of a first round of the NBA playoffs, the Clippers vs. Grizzlies has been the only series completely watchable for anyone other than diehard fans. (The Oklahoma City wins over Dallas were not bad, but that was a sweep.)

This series saw Los Angeles come back from 27 down to win Game 1. It has seen a physical nastiness — the kind of “we don’t like you” playoff play that we have waited through the regular season to see. It has seen dunks, and it has seen Chris Paul be the best guy on the court. So far we’ve seen a dramatic 2-1 Clippers lead.

What will we see in Game 4?

A desperate Memphis team that knows if they go down 3-1 it’s all over. But desperation alone is not enough — Memphis has struggled to score in the fourth quarter of their losses, and struggled to get the ball inside. When Mike Conley sits, they become a much more perimeter team, the ball doesn’t get inside to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol where they want it. Gasol has just two points in the fourth quarter of this series — that cannot happen for Memphis. He has looked good in stretches, Gasol needs the rock.

The Clippers ball pressure is getting to the Grizzlies and it has been key. Memphis has to get the ball inside then knock down the threes on the kickouts, things they did not do well in Game 3.

Memphis also will continue to be physical with the Clippers until the Clippers make them pay — the Clippers went 13-30 from the free throw line in Game 3. If the Clippers knock down their free throws, they get a much easier win. This is where the private war between Randolph and Blake Griffin is being waged, both are beating up on each other, but Griffin is getting the better of it with the usually efficient Z-Bo only shooting 40 percent in the series.

The Clippers have gotten the better bench play — something likely to continue on their home court for Game 4 — and they got the emotional boost of Caron Butler gutting it out and playing with a broken hand. If Reggie Evans can hit the boards and Nick Young can knock down a few shots, the Clippers will be ahead of game.

Meanwhile, Tony Allen’s sore knee is keeping him off the court — he didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Game 3 — and the Grizzlies miss his perimeter defense. Chris Paul is the best player on the court in this series (24 points and 11 assists last game) and while Allen couldn’t stop him he’d make CP3 work harder than he has had to so far.

Memphis will be desperate, and that likely means a tight Game 5. If Memphis can get the ball inside to their big men in position, if they can get someone other than Rudy Gay to step up in the fourth quarter, they could make this a best-of-three series. But if they don’t reverse the trends — or if the Clippers just knock down their free throws — Memphis will not be taking a step forward off of last year’s run.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelican Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.