Clippers have no trouble blowing out your defending champion Miami Heat

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The Clippers can make a legitimate claim to the title of the league’s top team, or at the very least, the best in the Western Conference. Their record now stands at 6-2 after an impressive routing of the Heat on Wednesday 107-100, and the teams ahead of them in the standings — the Spurs and the Grizzlies — have already fallen to L.A. this season.

Perhaps it’s a little early to get into all of that, so let’s focus on the way the Clippers had little issue with dismantling the defending champs. It started with really off nights from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and it ended with Chris Paul.

Wade was a game-time decision coming into this one, after twisting his ankle in Monday’s win over Houston. It was evident that he was not himself; Wade finished with just six points on 2-of-10 shooting, and suffered this humiliation at the hands of Eric Bledsoe.

Bosh wasn’t hampered by injury, but the team defense of the Clippers’ bigs down low made it tough for him to get clean looks. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, but was a miserable 3-of-13 from the field himself.

Given the rough night from two of the Heat’s main men offensively, it was a bit of a surprise to see Miami leading at the half, and still within just two at 72-70 with 3:22 to play in the third quarter.

Chris Paul decided he’d had enough, apparently, because he went on a personal scoring tear to finish the third quarter which put the game permanently out of reach.

Paul started with a couple of free throws, then drained a long three-pointer from almost 10 feet behind the arc. The next trip down, Paul hit another three in rhythm, and the Clipper lead was now eight. He was feeling it, and drove to the hoop on the next possession, but was fouled. He hit two more free throws, then two more, then converted the technical free throw after Wade got tangled up with Ryan Hollins and shoved him with two hands to get free.

When it was all said and done, it was 13 straight points from Paul to end the period that began to put this game away for the Clippers. And to start the fourth, the bench unit finished the job.

Bledsoe picked up right where Paul left off, and scored eight straight Clippers points of his own to push the lead to 17. This, by the way, came while the Heat had their starters in to try and close the gap.

LeBron James finished with 30 points for Miami on better than 50 percent shooting, but he got virtually no help from anyone else. Midway through the fourth he could be seen yelling to the bench, “Don’t take me out, man. Don’t take me out.” He remained in and helped cut into the lead that reached as many as 20, but once it was still at 14 with about two and a half minutes to play, Spoelstra waived the white flag and James went to the bench.

Really solid win for the Clippers, one of many early in the season. L.A. has size, depth, and most importantly, a superstar who’s as competitive as they come, and who is capable of completely dominating the game in stretches when his team needs him the most.

For the Heat, there’s far from anything to worry about, and you wonder if the team is still in “whatever” mode a little bit and experiencing the effects of a championship hangover; it’s rare that you would see Miami get blown out like they did in L.A. and like they did in Memphis a couple of games ago, and the Heat (save for James) didn’t seem all that interested in clawing their way back once the lead reached the mid-double digits early in the fourth.

That’ll likely change as the season rolls on. But for now, teams like Memphis and the Clippers are more dialed in, more hungry, and are happy to flex their muscle like this to get big, confidence-fueling wins over the defending NBA champs.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.