Blake Griffin,  Chris Paul,  Caron Butler

Can Clippers pull out one game against Spurs?

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In reality, the Spurs can be looking ahead to their matchup with the Thunder (they match up well).

The Clippers can look at the massive steps this franchise has taken the past two seasons — from league laughing stock to up-and-coming contender on the rise and be proud. They are showcasing the best point guard in the game with Chris Paul and an up-and-coming star like Blake Griffin. They can start to look at what they need to improve on — individually and as a team — to take the next step to title contender.

But first, there is the little matter of closing out this series.

The Clippers are proud, Paul is as fierce and the Clippers will not go quietly. At home in front of a crowd that has rallied behind this team they may have never really thought would be this good. Don’t be shocked if a role player for the Clippers like Nick Young or Eric Bledsoe gets hot and carries them.

The Spurs will come out with their usual efficiency, and they would like to win and get more rest. No need to get into the Xs and Os of how the Spurs execution has the Clippers reeling, you’ve seen it like I have. However, if the Clippers play Game 4 like the first half of Game 3 and take a 24-point lead, don’t be shocked to see Gregg Popovich shut his guys down on a back-to-back and rest them. Not so much for Game 5 but for the next round, where the wildly athletic Thunder await.

What the Clippers have learned this series they need to improve on is defense, although that is tempered with the fact nobody is slowing the Spurs offense right now. Still, the Clipper big men need to be more of a defensive threat. They need to be better individually on the perimeter. They need to rotate better and quicker, to disrupt some of the Spurs actions.

The Clippers also are learning the hard way they need to get to their counters to the Paul pick-and-roll faster. I get that CP3 with you or me setting the screen might still be one of the five best plays in the NBA, but come the playoffs teams take away option one and the Clippers are just learning how to efficiently get points out of their other options. For the Spurs, that is second nature.

In the grand scheme Game 4 will not change the outcome of this series. The Spurs will win, today or in Game 5.

But expect the Clippers to fight. This is a team that sees itself as a contender (I see them now where I saw the Thunder last year, good but a step back of contender status with lessons to learn). They will give the Spurs all they can. That may be enough for Game 4.

After two years off court, Joel Embiid says he “probably” will have minutes restrictions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a shot from the bench prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid could be the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers in a couple of years — many scouts had him the highest rated of all the first-round draft picks the Sixers have had in recent seasons.

But after two foot surgeries and two seasons sitting on the sidelines, we don’t know how good Embiid can be. We should find out starting in October when Embiid is part of the Sixers training camp. Embiid says he feels 100 percent, but he expects there will be restrictions on him at first, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com during the Sixers Beach Bash community event this weekend.

This is the smart move by the Sixers — they are not competing for a title, the games in November have minimal meaning long term, bring him along slowly and make sure he can make each step along the way. Let’s see what he can do, then worry about how much run he can get in games that matter.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all fit together up front — and which one of them gets traded this season.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley on defense: “Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me”

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 09:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Memphis Grizzlies  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Avery Bradley was first-team NBA All-Defensive team last season, and his coach Brad Stevens lobbied for him to get the honor. Bradley picks up guys full court, pesters, and plays physical — we can debate if he is as good defensively as his reputation, but guys like Damian Lillard think he’s tough to go up against.

Bradley, for his part, says he has no fear going up against the best. Here is what he said to Tom Westerholm of Masslive.com.

“I love the challenge,” Bradley said on Friday, making an appearance at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “I love going up against the best players. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care about getting embarrassed. I don’t care. Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me. I know some players in the NBA probably get butterflies before the game, but not me. I’m licking my lips. I come excited. They need to prepare for me at the end of the day. That’s how I think.”

That’s exactly the attitude you want an elite defender to have.

Bradley injured his hamstring in the first game of the playoffs last April and sat the rest of the Celtics’ one series. Then this summer his name came up in potential Jimmy Butler trade rumors (that deal never actually came close to getting off the ground). Expect Bradley to put that all behind him by the time training camp opens.

Watch highlights of LeBron James’ playoffs, Finals run

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LeBron James was dominant — the clear best player on the planet — when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed him most. That’s the reason Cleveland got its first major sports title in 52 years.

It’s the dead part of the NBA season — training camps don’t even open for a month — so why not enjoy a look back at LeBron’s amazing run to a legacy-defining NBA ring. Like you don’t have 15 minutes for this. What are you going to do, watch more preseason football?

It’s Joel Embiid’s turn to swat a little kid’s shot (VIDEO)

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 03: Joel Embiid #11 of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot at MSG Training Center on August 3, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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It’s a summer tradition — tall NBA players swatting away the shots of young kids at camps/clinics.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has yet to step on an NBA court — this fall, finally? — but he is part of the youth tradition now, destroying this young man at the Sixers Beach Bash event Saturday.

This summer Embiid has arm wrestled Justin Bieber and looked good working out in an empty gym, and to add to that list here is Embiid overpowering an average guy at Beach Bash then throwing it down. The man at least provided a little more resistance than a chair.