Matt Barnes, Manu Ginobili

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


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.

Report: Hawks signing Dennis Schroder to four-year, $70 million contract extension

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Update: Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s an even better deal for the Hawks.


The Hawks traded a former All-Star in his prime (Jeff Teague). They waived two experienced backups (Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum), leaving only rookie Malcolm in Delaney in reserve.

Atlanta is putting all its point guard eggs in Dennis Schroder‘s basket – not just as the starter on a team that expects to make the playoffs, but a long-term building block.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Paying Schroder $17.5 million per year seems fair, because he could wind up drastically underpaid or drastically overpaid.

Schroder drives into the lane with abandon and usually produces quality outcomes as a result. He possesses impressive tools and is already beginning to utilize them, including in several clutch situations.

But he must make better decisions with the ball, finish better at the rim and shoot better from outside for Atlanta’s bet to pay off. It’s also help if he becomes more than just an occasionally pesky defender.

Just 23, time is on his side.

If Schroder develops into a quality starting point guard, he’ll be a bargain. The Hawks will have done well to lock him up before he proved his ability, and their other moves indicate they believe in him making this step.

But if a larger role just exposes Schroder’s flaws, this could backfire. For all the justifiable reasons to have faith in Schroder’s ascension, it’s important to remember he’s not there yet.

This is a relative high-variance bet by Atlanta, which I like in principle. Teams are generally too conservative with rookie-scale contract extensions.

If Schroder doesn’t break out as they hope, the Hawks will have problems regardless of whether or not they extend him. It’s not as if handling him restricted free agency would be a walk in the park.

Now, if Schroder lives up to the hype in Atlanta, the Hawks’ return on investment will be even greater.

Steven Adams spent NBA opening night watching Anime

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Last night you were likely watching the Cavaliers destroy the Knicks, then flipping over to watch the Indians and Cubs. It was a great sports night (especially if you live in Cleveland).

That’s not what Steven Adams was doing, he was watching Anime. Which probably had a lot more drama than either of the NBA games last night. Via Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

You have to love Adams.

One Piece is… like I know. From Wikipedia:

One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, a young man whose body gained the properties of rubber after unintentionally eating a Devil Fruit. With his diverse crew of pirates, named the Straw Hat Pirates, Luffy explores the Grand Line in search of the world’s ultimate treasure known as “One Piece” in order to become the next King of the Pirates.

Insert your own joke about that being better than watching the Knicks offense (or the Warriors’ defense) here.

Adams will be more focused on basketball Wednesday night when OKC opens the season in Philadelphia. Joel Embiid will keep his mind on the game.

Sixers CEO: Ben Simmons will play for Sixers this season

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Ben Simmons is out with a broken foot — a Jones fracture — and that has led to rampant speculation about when the Sixers’ No. 1 pick might return to the court. Coach Brett Brown said January (the short end of the timeline) then walked those comments back, while there are rumors people in Simmons camp may want him to sit out the season.

Sixers CEO Scott O’Neill was on TCN’s Breakfast on Broad and made it clear Simmons will be back this season. He blew off the idea that Rich Paul (Simmons’ agent) wants him to take the season off.

“No, it’s not true,” O’Neil said. “Yeah, he’ll be back.”

There is no timeline for Simmons’ return, which isn’t just the team managing expectations (well, it’s partially the team trying to manage expectations). Jones fractures involve the bone that runs from the base of your little toe up to near the ankle, and the problem is that area of the foot does not have great natural blood flow, which means healing can be slow and harder to predict. We know that Simmons had surgery to repair the break, but recovery times will be flexible.

Brett Brown told me in a ProBasketballTalk Podcast how much he just wants to get Simmons, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and Nerlens Noel all healthy at the same time so he can start to see what lineups work, which guys play well off each other and which don’t (we learned last season Noel and Okafor are not a great fit). Maybe Simmons can be part of that process in the second half of the season.

Mavericks’ Devin Harris sprains big toe, out at least three weeks

DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Devin Harris #34 of the Dallas Mavericks poses for a portrait during the Dallas Mavericks Media Day held at American Airlines Center on September 26, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. 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 Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Devin Harris is the kind of veteran, versatile player Dallas coach Rick Carlisle likes in his backcourt — he can run the point or be a small two-guard off the ball. Carlise wants multiple ball handlers on the court and Harris allows him to do that with a number of different combinations.

Or rather, Harris will allow Carlisle to do that once he gets healthy. From Earl K. Sneed of

Harris had surgery on the big toe on his other foot, this injury is to the “good” one. Harris can be a bit injury prone and the Mavs likely will bring him along slowly.

This likely means more J.J. Barea and Seth Curry in the short term in Dallas.