Are Griffin, CP3 comments the start of pressure on Vinny Del Negro?

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The Clippers are struggling — 1-4 in their last five. The why is that two of the reasons they showed so much improvement at the start of the season have regressed — their defense has been a total mess the past week plus and DeAndre Jordan has reverted to his old self. That and defenses are now paying attention to Jamal Crawford as the sixth man. Teams have adjusted to the Clippers, now they have to counter those moves.

That has yet to happen. And after the Clippers ugliest loss of the season Monday night to the Hornets, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin made interesting comments as relayed by the Orange County Register. First Blake.

“We tried to change some of the things we’ve been successful doing,” Griffin said.

And CP3, via twitter:

 

Be careful reading too much into this last comment, Paul played for Monty Williams in New Orleans and has said in the past how much he respects him. This likely was not intended as a shot across the bow of Vinny Del Negro. Even if it can feel like one.

But the question remains — can Del Negro help turn this Clippers team around and help make them contenders?

And will Chris Paul — who is a free agent next summer and not been afraid to use that leverage to ask for players like Crawford to come to Los Angeles — be willing to use that on the coach?

He wasn’t last summer. Both Griffin (who got a max extension) and Paul had leverage but didn’t use it to pressure for a coaching change. Sources said that was in part because they didn’t want to be seen as coach killers, especially for a coach who had just taken the franchise as deep as it had gone in the playoffs in decades.

But that’s different than trusting him totally.

There is another dynamic here — reports are that then Clippers GM Neil Olshey wanted to make a coaching change in the middle of last season. He wasn’t given the okay. Now Olshey is gone (to Portland) and reports are owner Donald Sterling really likes Del Negro.

There is not a lot of pressure on Del Negro yet, the Clippers are not going to follow the pattern of their building-mates and try to make a pre-emptive move to change coaches. He is safe. But there will be pressure building on Del Negro if the Clippers do not take a step forward as the season wears on and into the playoffs.

And while the Clippers stars are not intentionally hammering their coach in public right now, their inadvertent comments seem to suggest all is not well in Clippers land. Which is obvious from the last five games.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.