Clippers 92, Spurs 87: Making a list, checking it twice

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Doubting the legitimacy of the Los Angeles Clippers is not a new or particularly uncommon practice. Despite laying waste to the Grizzlies, Spurs, Lakers and Heat in convincing fashion already, there was a sense that this would be the first true test for the Clippers. They’d be out on the road, against the team that swept them in last year’s playoffs, in a revenge game, in a matchup the Spurs have historically owned since Tim Duncan was in diapers. This would be the game they would crash back down to earth. Right?

Not exactly. The Clippers are a team on a warpath right now, steadily checking off all the questions being asked about them one by one. What would happen when they finally had a bad shooting night from Jamal Crawford and as a team? What would happen if they had an injury to a starter? What would happen to that defense when it ran up against a well-coached team?

Check, check, check. It was never pretty, but the Clippers grinded out a win against the San Antonio Spurs, 92-87, behind their whack-a-mole depth and a vastly improved defense that keeps churning out impressive performances.

It was Matt Barnes who popped up first off the bench for the Clippers, playing 35 minutes with Caron Butler suffering a shoulder sprain. Barnes didn’t do anything special, but he made smart cuts and cleaned up the trash around the rim, sparking a 23-5 run in the second quarter that changed the game completely. Barnes led all scorers with 12 points at halftime — which is both an indictment on a first half where everyone looked like Bambi on ice, and a testament to the Clippers depth, which has carried them all season.

After being called “one of the most underrated players in the league” by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before the game, fellow bench stud Eric Bledsoe (9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals in 23 minutes) showed exactly why that’s true, terrorizing passing lanes and making eye popping plays with his athleticism offensively and basically doing all the things he always does. Even with Jamal Crawford struggling (4-for-14, 4 turnovers) and the Clippers going a Grizzlian 1-for-12 from behind the arc, it was all disguised by the defense, which shut down every player not named Duncan (20 points, 14 rebounds) or Matt Bonner (10 4th quarter points) almost completely.

Last year’s bench for the Clippers played in survival mode, just hoping to hold leads until Chris Paul could come save the day, but now Paul’s heroics seem to be used only for emergencies. Once Bonner got hot from deep, the Clippers did have to break the glass and rely on Paul for a clutch little jumper in the lane to push the lead to two possessions late, but it was the defense that ultimately smoldered a Spurs team that looked a little lost offensively without Stephen Jackson (finger injury) or Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs shot just 35 percent from the field, thanks in large part to a swarming defense that mucked up the game and cut off the steady diet of ball rotations the Spurs offense usually lives on.

A Clippers win over the Spurs last year might have felt flukey, but this, again, felt sustainable. It was ugly, but the Clippers won with plenty of avenues for improvement (turnovers, perimeter shooting), which might be the scariest thing of all. The Clippers sport a top five offense and defense through the first 10 games, and they might not even be playing their best ball (no Grant Hill or Chauncey Billups), or utilizing their best players (lots of minutes poured into Lamar Odom and Willie Green). Add in that DeAndre Jordan is beginning to figure it out on the block (he went right at Duncan multiple times tonight) and Blake Griffin is improving as a pick-and-roll defender, and this is a team that could realistically keep rising, even with a stretch of road games ahead of them. They just seem to have an answer for every question, even as the questions change.

In reality, the Clippers’ body of work through 10 games is unparalleled throughout the league. The Knicks have been great, and so have the Grizzlies, but the Clippers have beaten better opponents in a more convincing fashion. They really may be the best team in the West and the league as of right now. Of course, that moniker only means something in June, but if the best team in the league right now is only supposed to keep getting better and better going forward? That list, the one with the Spurs checked off twice and the NBA Finals at the way down at the bottom, might need to be taken a little more seriously.

Rumor: After spurning Celtics, Lonzo Ball is considering working out for 76ers

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UCLA guard Lonzo Ball is expected to be a Top 2 pick in June’s 2017 NBA Draft, but he won’t be working out for the Boston Celtics. If Danny Ainge wants to select Ball No. 1 overall, he will have to do so without seeing him up close and 1-on-1.

But if the Philadelphia 76ers (owners of the No. 3 pick) want to see Ball … well that could be arranged. Maybe.

According to a report from ESPN, Ball’s camp is considering a workout with the Sixers if they can get more information about the team situation.

Via ESPN:

A final decision will be made once Ball’s agent, Harrison Gaines, and Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo have had an extensive conversation centered on the identity of the team, sources told ESPN.

That dialogue is expected within the coming weeks. Most expect Ball to be off the board after the first two selections.

Of course, the situation in Philadelphia for Ball is excellent. The thing they need is backcourt help, which is why a move up for Markelle Fultz might make sense for them, or drafting one of the two if either fall to No. 3. The Sixers have also been linked to Kyle Lowry, who is a free agent this summer. The Sixers have talked for a year about using Ben Simmons as their point guard, so they’ll need some amalgam to get a working situation put together.

In short, Philadelphia’s plan is to:

  • Sign / draft a guard
  • Win a lot of games

Where Ball doesn’t fit into that is a mystery, even if the 76ers end up grabbing another guard.

If you can’t read between the lines — or read the giant sign LaVar Ball might as well be holding up behind his son everywhere he goes — this seems mostly like a hilariously transparent way to add pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to select Ball at No. 2.

Will this strategy work? No. Is this necessary? Probably not! Magic Johnson already said he thinks Ball is the player that most resembles him in this draft, an equally transparent signal.

The Lakers are going to select Ball at No. 2. Or they won’t.

If they don’t it will be for reasons outside what Ball’s camp can influence, the potential for workouts with the team directly below them (but not the team above them) in the draft notwithstanding. He certainly won’t slide beyond No. 3. But the combination of both not working out for the Celtics and offering the idea that Ball might work out for the Sixers is extremely clumsy — and unnecessary — media work.

And to think we have a whole career of this to go. Strap in! I’m here for it if you are.

Rashad McCants believes he would be a $60 million player if not for Khloe Kardashian

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Rashad McCants was the last pick in the lottery back in 2005, taken 14th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He had what could be called a pretty much average NBA career: He played four seasons, one season averaging 14.9 points per game with a solid true shooting percentage of 55. He was a decent three point shooter.

But Minnesota unloaded him to Sacramento in the middle of his fourth season, and after his rookie deal expired he never hooked on with another team. He tried a couple comeback stints in the D-League, but NBA teams wouldn’t bite. He’s a volume scorer in a league moving away from that model, and he wasn’t seen as the easiest to deal with (he has had issues with North Carolina as well, saying they gave him fake classes to keep him eligible).

McCants told the Charlotte Observer there were other forces at play in why his career flamed out.

“I’ve been told, numerous conversations and numerous sources, that I’ve been blackballed,” McCants said. “And it’s just the way the league is sometimes. When one person who is a higher-up, Hall of Famer, says don’t touch him, they won’t. And that’s just how it is…”

But McCants’ biggest regret was his highly-publicized relationship with reality TV star Khloe Kardashian late in his career, which he said gave people an opportunity to doubt his commitment to the NBA.

“Without that situation in play, I’m a $60-70 million player,” McCants said. “Easily.”

Did NBA teams see dating a Kardashian as a red flag? Can you blame them if they did? If you have James Harden talent they’re forgiving, but for an average player… not so much. That said, it was his game that was the ultimate issue.

Is McCants a $15 million a year player in today’s NBA? He thinks so.

If you want to see what he’s got left, he was the No. 1 pick in Ice Cube’s Big 3 League playing this summer.

After 73 underclassmen pull out of NBA draft, here are the final early entries

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The NBA and NCAA made a smart move a couple years ago, altering the withdrawal date from the draft so that underclassmen could declare, get feedback from NBA teams, then make an informed choice and either stay in or pull out of the draft.

This year, 73 underclassmen got that feedback and pulled out of the draft.

Below is the list of who is still in. Yes, there are far more people there than there are slots in the draft (and we’ve not even gotten to international players, who can pull out later). Some of them are just ready to move on from their college program and start making money overseas, some others will find their route to the NBA will have to go through Summer League, the D-League, and more.

Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky, 6-10, Freshman
Jarrett Allen, Texas, 6-11, Freshman
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
OG Anunoby, Indiana, 6-8, Sophomore
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, 6-7, Sophomore
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, Freshman
Jordan Bell, Oregon, 6-9, Junior
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana, 6-4, Junior
Antonio Blakeney, LSU, 6-4, Sophomore
Tony Bradley, North Carolina, 6-10, Freshman
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky, 6-2, Sophomore
Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, Junior
Thomas Bryant, Indiana, 6-10, Sophomore
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA), 6-8, Junior
John Collins, Wake Forest, 6-10, Sophomore
Zach Collins, Gonzaga, 7-1, Freshman
Chance Comanche, Arizona, 6-11, Sophomore
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon, 6-4, Sophomore
PJ Dozier, South Carolina, 6-6, Sophomore
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State, 6-1, Sophomore
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX), 6-7, Sophomore
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 6-4, Freshman
Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, Freshman
Harry Giles, Duke, 6-10, Freshman
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky, 7-1, Sophomore
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State, 6-10, Freshman
Frank Jackson, Duke, 6-3, Freshman
Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, Freshman
Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, Junior
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge, 6-5, Junior
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville, 6-9, Junior
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State, 6-8, Freshman
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan, 5-9, Junior
Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, Sophomore
Kyle Kuzma, Utah, 6-9, Junior
TJ Leaf, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, 6-9, Sophomore
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-1, Freshman
Eric Mika, BYU, 6-10, Sophomore
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville, 6-3, Sophomore
Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, Freshman
Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, Junior
Austin Nichols, Virginia, 6-8, Junior
Semi Ojeleye, SMU, 6-7, Junior
Cameron Oliver, Nevada, 6-8, Sophomore
Justin Patton, Creighton, 7-1, Freshman
L.J. Peak, Georgetown, 6-5, Junior
Ivan Rabb, California, 6-11, Sophomore
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State, 6-4, Junior
Devin Robinson, Florida, 6-8, Junior
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay, 6-2, Junior
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State, 6-7, Sophomore
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio, 6-1, Junior
Kobi Simmons, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State, 6-3, Freshman
Edmond Sumner, Xavier, 6-6, Sophomore
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, Sophomore
Jayson Tatum, Duke, 6-8, Freshman
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State, 6-4, Junior
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State, 7-1, Junior
Melo Trimble, Maryland, 6-3, Junior
Craig Victor II, LSU, 6-9, Junior
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA), 6-10, Sophomore
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, Junior
D.J. Wilson, Michigan, 6-10, Junior

Will Steve Kerr coach the Warriors in Finals? Still no timetable for his return.

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The Warriors are 12-0 in the playoffs, advancing this far with historic numbers.

They’ve done it with Mike Brown on the bench instead of Steve Kerr, but with the challenge of Cleveland awaiting in the Finals (let’s just admit that’s what’s happening, even if they haven’t closed it out yet) will the Warriors have the architect of their system in a suit on the sidelines for the Finals.

That hasn’t been decided. But don’t bet on it, listening to the tone of what Warriors GM Bob Myers told Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

Hopefully, this latest procedure lets Kerr live a pain-free life. Whether he returns to coaching — in the Finals or beyond — is secondary.

Plus just having him in the room planning as the Warriors move into the Finals will be huge. He’s still the architect of this team.