Spurs close out school, season for Clippers with clean sweep

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For the Spurs, it was another step toward their goal — they wanted plenty of rest before they take on the Thunder next series (sorry Lakers fans), now will get a week (rumors are the Western Conference Finals start May 28).

For the Clippers, this was school — Chris Paul does not want to admit it, but teams learn how to win in the NBA. They run into a wall in the playoffs, learn what they need to improve (or sometimes what kind of players to add) and then next season take the next step.

Sunday night was the end of this school year for the Clippers, the Spurs swept them out of the second round of the playoffs in the closest game of this series by far, 102-99. The win advances the Spurs to the Western Conference finals, where they will take on the Thunder, unless you believe in Lakers miracles (Thunder lead that series heading home for Game 5 Monday). No starting date for the next round has been set.

Winning is a process in the NBA, one the Spurs have down and the Clippers are figuring out.

“Just learning, just watching that team maneuver,” L.A. guard Randy Foye said. “And understanding how they execute game plans, and what they do is definitely something you can take from it…

“Just watching guys like (Manu Ginobili), just watching guys like (Tony Parker), just watching how they maneuver, how they continue to attack — they’re down 1, they’re down 10, they’re up 10 they just continue to keep the pressure on and keep the defense on their heels. Tim Duncan does that, too. That is something I will definitely take from this.”

The Clippers seemed to be learning and improving in this series. In Game 4 their offense seemed to attack the Spurs defense the best it had in any of the games. But then, when it got to the end of the game, the Spurs were able to get a couple stops. The Clippers struggled all series to get stops, with Tim Duncan scoring 21, Tony Parker 17 and the Spurs as a team shooting 52.8 percent on the night.

Clippers had the expected rush to start the game, but by five minutes in the relentless Spurs had started to grind them down. At one point in the first half the Spurs led by 12 and were shooting 53 percent to the Clippers 33 percent. The crowd at Staples sounded like it was a Tuesday night February, not a playoff game.

But Los Angeles made a push behind some entertaining play by Eric Bledsoe and Mo Williams, and it was just 51-47 San Antonio at the half.

Then the third quarter saw the kind of scrap, fight, and stepping up of their game the Clippers are going to need in future years. They did it behind their stars — Chris Paul had nine points in the third, Blake added 10 and had three dunks in a row. The Clippers were attacking again, Bledsoe was putting on a show again on his way to 18.

Los Angeles was up 92-88 with 4:54 left in the game Reggie Evans checked in for DeAndre Jordan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately called for hack-a-Reggie — intention fouls to send him to the free throw line. It worked, just like it did Saturday — Evans missed both free throws and Vinny Del Negro had to call a timeout to get him out of the game for a decent free throw shooter. When the Clippers needed a three with 1.7 seconds left, the Clippers didn’t have a time out to use to set up a play or advance the ball.

“It worked. It worked,” said Manu Ginobili. “In Game 3 it was huge, today it was less times, we did it only twice, but they had to make changes, they had to call a time out and it really helped us.”

The Clippers hung in until the end, down 1 with :11 seconds to go Paul drove the lane but he lost control on what appeared to be a kickout pass, with the Spurs Danny Green draped all over him. It was a turnover and it was the ballgame.

To a man the Spurs talked about wanting the rest that is coming their way now. They know their next series will be a physical challenge beyond what they have yet seen.

The Clippers were taken to school, but like any education what really matters is how they apply it next time around.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.