Blake Griffin, Chris Paul

NBA season preview: L.A. Clippers

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Last Season: Perhaps it was the start of a cultural change in Clipperland, or maybe it was simply the beginning of a very short-term spike of relative success. Either way, your 2011-12 Clippers were competitive, fun to watch, and a team that made its way into the playoffs — three qualities that have been completely absent from the team for most of its tortured existence.

Key Departures: Randy Foye was serviceable as a starter for most of the season, and the rest of the dearly departed — Mo Williams, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, and Reggie Evans — made up the majority of the contributions off the bench.

Key Additions: The combination of Lamar Odom (one year removed from receiving the league’s Sixth Man honor), Grant Hill (an excellent on-ball defender and still a top fast break finisher), and Jamal Crawford (instant offense, or at least instant shot attempts) should be immediately better than the combination of players who filled those minutes a season ago. But the biggest addition might be that of a healthy Chauncey Billups, who was lost to injury early in last season’s campaign. Offense was the Clippers’ strength last year, but they should be even better with this group heading into this season.

Three keys to the Clippers season:

1) The evolution of Blake Griffin. There’s no question that Griffin is one of the most powerful and athletic players in game today. His dunks are already the stuff of legend, and his physical style of play is both effective for his team and aggravating for opposing players (see: Cousins, DeMarcus). If Griffin can extend the range on his jumper and be a better positional team defender, those things will do wonders for the Clippers’ chances to compete with the league’s elite.

2) Chauncey Billups playing alongside Chris Paul. The return of Billups should be a huge boost to the Clippers offensively. However, there is a little issue here, and that’s the fact that Billups likes to play with the ball in his hands. Paul is one of the game’s elite point guards, and he was the one most responsible for guiding the team’s explosive offense a season ago. Billups will need to slide into the two-guard role without kicking and screaming, and when he does have the ball, he’ll need to show patience instead of constantly looking to launch as many three-pointers as humanly possible.

3) Which Lamar Odom shows up? The reality show aspect of Odom’s persona worked out just fine for the Lakers, but that, along with some other much more serious family issues, eventually took their emotional toll on the mercurial one whose unique skill set makes his potential team contributions almost limitless. After a season where he essentially sat out in Dallas, we’ll see if Odom’s head is in the right place, and if he is able to get back into peak physical condition to be able to contribute as we all know he can. It was a calculated risk for the Clippers to bring him back, but one that’s really all upside.

What Clipers fans should fear: This season couldn’t be more crucial for the immediate, long-term future of the franchise. A dramatic statement, sure — but one based in fact. Consider that Vinny Del Negro is in the final year of his head coaching contract, and that not many observers believe he’s strong enough to lead a talented team to the next level. How he does managing this veteran squad will go a long way in whether or not he’s asked back. But more importantly, his relative success will undoubtedly affect the decision of Chris Paul, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

If Del Negro underachieves with this group, Paul — as much as he says he likes L.A. and wants to stay — will surely consider other options. The super-team model in the NBA isn’t going away anytime soon, and while the Clippers have plenty of talent on paper, the grass can always seem greener unless winning goes along with playing in that comfortable large market, and all of the ancillary benefits it can provide.

Prediction: A top-four seed in the Western Conference playoffs should be an attainable goal for this team, especially with the talent upgrade it was able to pull off this summer. But it won’t be easy or guaranteed, with teams like San Antonio, Denver, and Memphis right there in the mix behind the Lakers and Thunder juggernauts. A three-seed out West at best, a six-seed at worst.

Antetokounmpo brothers, Porzingis play streetball in Athens

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 16:  Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks stands for the National Anthem before their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks battled it out in Athens in a game of streetball Sunday, watched by a crowd of 5,000.

Played in an open court in Greece’s largest public high school, the “Antetokounbros Streetball Event” ended 123-123. No overtime was played.

Porzingis scored 21 points but was overshadowed by team member Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ older brother, who scored 69. The two had played for a few games together last season, when Thanasis was signed by the Knicks on a 10-day contract. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the other team with 64 points. The other players were a mixture of veteran pros and amateurs.

On Saturday, Porzingis and the Antetonkoumpo brothers were given a private tour of the Acropolis Museum.

Klay Thompson credits Yoda socks for Game 6 performance

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors drives with the ball against Andre Roberson #21 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the NBA Western Conference Final at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Warriors’ most important adjustment in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals didn’t occur on the court — it occurred on Klay Thompson‘s feet. Thompson scored a playoff career-high 41 points against the Thunder on Saturday to force a Game 7, and afterwards, he credited it all to a pair of Yoda socks from Stance’s Star Wars lineup.

From The Vertical‘s Michael Lee:

As he quietly got dressed, Thompson rolled up a pair of Stance socks with a cartoonish image of the green, pointy-eared Jedi master from Star Wars, Yoda. Thompson packed his lucky socks especially for Game 6, knowing he’d need something a little extra to fend off the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I brought my Yoda socks to bring out my Jedi powers,” Thompson told The Vertical after a performance in which the least heralded, but no less important, member of the Splash Brothers saved Golden State’s season.

Here’s a picture of Thompson wearing the socks, which are pretty sweet:

Thompson will need whatever special powers the socks gave him again on Monday, if the Warriors hope to overcome what was once a 3-1 deficit and advance to the Finals.

NBA’s official Facebook page prematurely lists Warriors in the Finals

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shakes hands with Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors after the Warriors defeated the Cavs 105 to 97 to win Game Six of the 2015 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA Finals schedule will not be determined until Monday, when the Warriors and Thunder play Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in Oakland. The Cavaliers already advanced to the Finals out of the Eastern Conference, but the dates of their home games are not set in stone: they’d have home-court advantage over the Thunder but not the Warriors.

On Sunday, the NBA’s official Facebook page jumped the gun slightly, listing the seven Finals games under their “Events” tab under the assumption the Warriors won Game 7. They later took the listings down.

Via SB Nation:

It was obviously an honest mistake, but if the Warriors win on Monday, this will do nothing to quiet the crowd that believes in some sort of conspiracy theory, however ridiculous that notion is.

For what it’s worth, ESPN also accidentally aired a commercial for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Cavs and Raptors, even though Cleveland has already closed out that series:

These things happen.

Report: Heat, Chris Bosh clashed over Bosh wanting to play while on blood thinners

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on January 26, 2016 in New York City.   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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Chris Bosh missed the second half of the 2015-16 season with a reoccurrence of the blood clots that kept him out much of last season, and the situation was clouded by a lack of clarity. Reports emerged closer to the playoffs that Bosh and the Miami Heat disagreed about the handling of Bosh’s condition, that he wanted to play and doctors wouldn’t allow it. The Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson has some new details of their disagreement, which centered around Bosh wanting to play while on blood thinners.

According to a team source, the Bosh camp spent considerable time exploring the idea of Bosh continuing to take those blood thinners, but at a time of day (such as early morning) that the medication would be out of his bloodstream by game time.

Someone with knowledge of the situation said blood tests indicated the medication was out of Bosh’s system after 8 to 12 hours, which would significantly lessen the risk for Bosh playing. But the Heat and team doctors rejected that idea.

None of the doctors involved in Bosh’s case is commenting, but Robert Myerburg — an expert on treatment of athletes and a cardiologist at U-Health – said even though some of the newer blood thinners can be out of a patient’s system within 12 hours, “I would not use that strategy [that the Bosh camp explored]. There’s too much at risk.

“The drug being out of the system is not what worries me as much as the unprotected time” during games and other times when the blood thinner is out of his system, even more so if he’s subjected to trauma in an area where there was past clotting (in his leg and calf). He said patients with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be taken off thinners when they go on a skiing trip, but this is different.

As much as Bosh believed the blood thinners would be out of his system, the Heat were right to handle it the way they did. Even if timing the medication differently lessened the risk of playing, the Heat were still the ones responsible for what happened when he played. If something were to happen to him, the Heat would have to be the ones to explain how they let their medical staff be overruled by Bosh and allowed him to be placed in a life-threatening situation. Both Bosh and the Heat are apparently optimistic that he’ll be able to return next season, but blood clots are nothing to play around with, and taking an overly cautious approach this season was better than the alternative.