Spurs control Chris Paul, control Clippers, control Game 1

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Chris Paul is the beating heart of a Clippers offense, one based around him using his immense skill and basketball IQ to carve teams up. Ask Memphis.

But behind Tony Parker, Danny Green and a team effort where San Antonio overloaded Paul’s side of the court they held CP3 in check — 3-for-13 shooting, 10 assists and 5 turnovers — and that kept the explosive Clippers in check. The result was a very Spurs-like 108-92 win in Game 1.

What should concern Clippers faithful is that while the Spurs started to figure out and adjust and go with what worked as the game went on, the Clippers found it harder to go to other options.

The Clippers did a good job of slowing down Tony Parker — 7 points on 1-9 shooting, but 11 assists and 4 turnovers. But the Spurs had other options: Tim Duncan had 26, Manu Ginobili had 22, Kawhi Leonard had 16 points and was 3-3 from beyond the arc. The Spurs core destroyed the Clippers core.

Part of that might have been the Clippers were tired — this was their sixth game in 11 days. But it doesn’t matter, this series goes plays again Thursday then back-to-back Saturday and Sunday. There is no rest coming.

Neither team was sharp all the way around on defense in this game, save for their point guards cancelling each other out. It was 57-49 Spurs at the half but the only real difference was the Spurs were 7-11 from three.

San Antonio finished 13-25 from deep, but they also shot 81 percent in the paint and got a lot of shots right at the rim. When the Spurs are getting baskets from layups and threes they will destroy any defense.

There were bright spots for the Clippers — Blake Griffin was moving better early on and had 10 points in first half. Eric Bledsoe was spectacular off the bench with 23 points and great energy. DeAndre Jordan at home in finesse not physical style of play with 7 points and 8 boards in first half. But the Spurs adjusted like they do and had 1 rebound only on the second half.

That’s because the veteran Spurs behind Gregg Popovich adjust. After a closer first half San Antonio the third quarter with a series of runs (one 8-0, another 7-0) by playing sharper defense, making the extra pass on offense. The Clippers had no answers.

But at the start of the fourth the Spurs started hurting themselves with bad decisions, like Tiago Spliter trying to take Kenyon Martin off the dribble from the top of the key (it wasn’t pretty). The Clippers went small with a Kenyon Martin at center lineup, a few quick Spurs turnovers and the 18-point lead was down to 8.

But San Antonio is not Memphis, they do not melt away.

The Clippers have to find some defensive answers. They have to figure out how to make the Spurs pay for overloading on Paul. It’s not easy, it’s growing pains. Something the Spurs have already been through and come out the other side.

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

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Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

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Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.

Pelicans’ Dante Cunningham jumps on scorer’s table, Anthony Davis jumps on him (video)

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The Pelicans are effectively out of the playoff race, but Dante Cunningham and Anthony Davis are still competing — even if it looks a little silly.

That tone and a big game from DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 16 rebounds, six assists) led to a 121-118 win over the Mavericks.