Clippers got better this summer, yet in L.A. it’s same old story (all Lakers)


The Clippers are a legitimately good team.

They went 40-26 last season, one game back of the Pacific Division winning Los Angeles Lakers. Then this summer they went out and added Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford. They have the best point guard in the game in Chris Paul — a guy you can argue even today is the single best player in Los Angeles. They have a dynamic and athletic front line with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They are fun to watch and may well be the third best team in the Western Conference right now.

And in Los Angeles, it’s like they barely exist.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Ever since the Lakers moves to trade for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Clippers have felt invisible in Los Angeles (where I am from). You don’t read much about them in the sports pages, you don’t hear about them on sports talk radio, they don’t get much play anywhere. The Clippers may have turned a corner, they are a quality playoff team, but the dynamic in Los Angeles now with the Clippers has not changed. The only time they get mentioned is when we are reminded the Lakers are still better.

Los Angeles is a Lakers town. The NFL moved on from Los Angeles a generation ago (and kind of lost said generation to the X-Games sports). The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t seem to get on track, going from an owner where you didn’t think things could get worse — FOX — to an owner who actually was worse. (The new ownership group is working to change all of that.)

Through it all, the Lakers kept on winning. They did it with Shaq and Kobe Bryant. Shaq went away and they eventually did it with Pau Gasol. You can trace a lineage of winning back to George Mikan. The Lakers maintained a standard of excellence that no NBA team has matched over the past couple decades.

In a Los Angeles that can be transient (a lot of people move here due to the entertainment industry… and the weather), the Lakers are the one generational team right now. The Dodgers are trying to recover that, but it is the Lakers where your grandfather watched Jerry West, your father watched Magic Johnson and you watched Kobe. It is the one constant, the one sporting bond that can be passed down the way Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears fans pass down season tickets generation to generation

And when the Lakers are the story they can drown out everything in L.A.. USC football will get its spotlight this year. But that will not ignite the passions of most Angelenos like the Lakers (half of L.A is still UCLA fans).

The Clippers, for all the changes and for all the excitement around the franchise right now, for all the hope they can generate going into the playoffs next year, they are still the other team. The little brother. Lakers fans don’t look on the Clippers as rivals so much as an annoying roommate.

That roommate is going to be a very good team this year. There are questions — Can DeAndre Jordan step up? Can Vinny Del Negro really lead them far? — but the Clips should be talking about 55 wins or more and getting out of the first round of the playoffs again. They should be talking about taking the next step or steps forward.

They are. It’s just hard to hear them in Los Angeles over the Lakers.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win

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The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

AP Photo/Darren Abate
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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.