Chris Paul,  Eric Bledsoe

The biggest advantage in basketball

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A quarter of the way through the season, which team do you think possesses the greatest positional advantage in basketball? Is it the Heat with LeBron overwhelming every 3 in the league? The Thunder with Durant at the 3 and the 4? Carmelo thriving at power forward with the Knicks? Kobe beating up on the secretly shallow shooting guard position with the Lakers?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The biggest positional advantage in the league this year, incredibly, belongs to the point guards of the Los Angeles Clippers. And it’s not even all that close.

There are about a million reasons why this shouldn’t be the case. The existence of the aforementioned players and their unstoppable offensive games is one of those reasons.

The depth of the point guard position around the league is another. Think about it — there are about 20 different point guards in the league right now who could very realistically become All-Stars within the next three seasons. Every team seems to have a great one, or at the least, a pretty good one.

Then, of course, there’s the whole handcheck thing. Stopping lightning bug point guards is practically impossible with the way the rules are enforced, and with offenses in general shifting more towards spacing and speed, playing defense as a point guard is sort of like trying to catch a hummingbird in an open field.

That’s the logic, but two 6-foot guys in Los Angeles are defying it on a nightly basis. Here’s how.

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The data

Thanks to 82games.com, Hoopstats.com, and John Hollinger’s brain (congrats to him, by the way), you can see just how dominant the Clippers point guards have been this year.

Offense: The Clippers point guards are shooting 48.5 percent from the field, which is the third best mark in the league. They also rank third in the league with 11.7 assists and 25.3 points a game. They’re first in rebounds with 6.1 a game and have a league best efficiency number of 33.4 — a whole 7 points ahead of San Antonio in second place.

Defense: The Clippers are holding opposing point guards to 36.6 percent shooting and are causing them to turn the ball over 5.2 times a contest, which are both leagues bests. They’re also 5th in points allowed and are allowing the league’s lowest opponent efficiency rate at 15.9.

Player Efficiency Rating: Both Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe are top 10 players in the league in PER (Paul at 5, Bledsoe at 8). The Clippers point guards this season have posted a PER of 24.9, while their opponents post a number of 8.8. That PER differential of 16.1 is the highest of every position by a longshot. The next closest are San Antonio’s centers (Duncan and Splitter) with a differential of 10.4.

The only player who could have a beef with these rankings is Kevin Durant, who plays both the 3 and the 4 for Oklahoma City. Impressively enough, the Thunder rank 1st in both SF and PF in PER differential, but the difference at those spots still isn’t nearly as big as the Clippers point guards. LeBron James plays both forward spots as well, but the Heat’s shoddy defense this far doesn’t have James in the discussion.

Introducing Eric Bledsoe

Believe it or not, Chris Paul’s shooting percentages and scoring numbers are actually down this year based on his career averages. While he’s certainly still been great, by no means is Paul doing something unsustainable — which might be the conclusion you’d draw from such a small sample size.

While Paul has been very pesky defensively with those lightning quick, strong hands (Zach Harper of CBS Sports coined him the Lobster — which is perfect on multiple levels), don’t overlook the defensive performances of breakout star Eric Bledsoe. The third-year, 6-foot-1 point guard is built like a tank, but his wingspan is incredible. The pressure Bledsoe places on ballhandlers and his nose for the ball in passing lanes gives him Per36 numbers of 3steals and 1.4 blocks a game, something only one player (some guy named Michael Jordan?) has accomplished over a full season.

Bledsoe isn’t a one trick pony though. He possesses otherworldly speed and leaping ability, allowing him to fly up the floor and finish way above where any other point guard not named Russell Westbrook dreams of going vertically. The nickname “Mini LeBron” sounds insane on the surface, but then you watch him block a shot with his face, put in tip dunks on Josh Smith and send away Dwyane Wade at the rim and you begin to wonder just how good this guy can be. Bledsoe has talent you can dream on, and he’s learning behind one of the smartest players in the game. It’s scary to think of how good the Clippers could be if they played Paul and Bledsoe (instead of Willie Green) together, because the plus/minus numbers of that backcourt in limited time are off the charts.

But let’s focus on reality, which is plenty impressive as is. Going from Chris Paul to Eric Bledsoe is like 8 innings of a knuckleballer and then a 9th against a guy who throws 100 MPH, and opposing point guards are befuddled by it. 48 minutes of hell against those two seems a little unfair, but for the Clippers? So far this season, it’s the biggest advantage in basketball.

Gregg Popovich: Sidney Lowe, Wizards got off easy

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe went onto the court and, according to Knicks guard Courtney Lee, verbally imitated a player.

The NBA fined Lowe $5,000 and Washington $15,000 and warned everyone more fines would follow for coaches displaying similar behavior.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t believe the league went far enough.

Popovich, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

“It’s unsportsmanlike, it’s childish, it’s inappropriate,” Popovich said. “There’s no place for it.”

“I think they got off easy,” Popovich said.

“What if that shot costs a playoff game because somebody does that?” Popovich continued. “Maybe that affects a coach being fired. Maybe a franchise winning a series. So if you think about it, maybe it’s worth it for 5 or 10 thousand to go do that.”

For the league to send a sterner warning about such antics, Popovich suggested steeper fines of $250,00 for the team and $50,000 to $75,000 for an offending coach.

“Everybody would sit their ass down,” Popovich said.

Regardless of circumstances, it’s notable that Popovich sided with the NBA against a fellow coach – especially over an incident that didn’t directly involve the Spurs. Most coaches, even those who share Popovich’s opinion, would stay out of it. Popovich and Lowe are both represented by the same union, which ostensibly tries to protect coaches’ paychecks. It’s one thing to criticize the highly unpopular president. It’s another to lash out at someone with whom you have a shared financial partnership.

Beyond that, Popovich is right. Coaches encroaching onto the court should be eliminated. Popovich’s claim of it being unsportsmanlike rings a little hollow, considering his own behavior. But coaches toeing the sideline to distract players detracts from the quality of the game and is unsafe. There are plenty of reasons to loath the behavior beyond it offending sensibilities.

That said, Popovich has the wrong plan to eliminate it. His proposed fines would be overly punitive to lower-paid assistant coaches – and still worth the tradeoff in certain situations.

The better solution: Call technical fouls, which the league acknowledged should’ve happened with Lowe. That eliminates all cost-benefit analysis and punishes teams directly within the game if they cross that line.

Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers clown President Donald Trump’s press, secretary Sean Spicer

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr calls out instructions during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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President Donald Trump’s press, secretary Sean Spicer, lied about about the number of people viewing Trump’s inauguration. Spicer’s “alternative facts” have turned him into a laughingstock – and a couple NBA coaches are participating in mocking him.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers got Spicer on Saturday. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

Talking to a group of roughly a dozen reporters, Rivers joked it was OK to inflate the attendance figures. “The largest media crowd in NBA history came to see me today, and I really appreciate it,” he said with a laugh.

Then, Warriors coach Steve Kerr took his turn. Kerr was introduced as “former Orlando Magic star” before Golden State’s game in Orlando yesterday. He scored 122 points in 47 games with the Magic.

Kerr:

Sean Spicer will be talking about my Magic career any second now. Yeah, 14,000 points, greatest player in Magic history.

Gottem.

Lakers’ 49-point loss to lowly Mavericks the NBA’s worst defeat in decades

Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) sits on the the bench during a timeout as the Lakers play the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 122-73. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
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Lakers coach Luke Walton called the Lakers’ 122-73 loss to the Mavericks yesterday “embarrassing for us as a team, for us as an organization.”

Um, yeah.

At 49 points, it was the most lopsided loss in franchise history. Moreover, it came to 15-29 Dallas, the NBA’s fourth worst team.

The league hadn’t seen a loss that big to a team that bad in 24 years.

Here’s every game ever decided by at least 45 points, plotted by scoring difference and the victor’s full-season win percentage (or to date for the Mavericks and Warriors, who beat the Trail Blazers by 45 earlier this season). The Lakers’ loss yesterday is marked in purple:

image

Here are more details of similar games, which appear in the black box:

Game Difference Winner’s record
March 18, 1972: Portland Trail Blazers 133, New York Knicks 86 47 18-64 (.220)
February 20, 1976: Chicago Bulls 130, Portland Trail Blazers 74 56 24-58 (.293)
January 2, 1993: Sacramento Kings 154, Philadelphia 76ers 98 56 25-57 (.305)
December 29, 1992: Sacramento Kings 139, Dallas Mavericks 81 58 25-57 (.305)
January 22, 2017: Dallas Mavericks 122, Los Angeles Lakers 73 49 15-29 (.341)
February 1, 1983: Chicago Bulls 129, Houston Rockets 76 53 28-54 (.341)
February 27, 1992: Charlotte Hornets 136, Philadelphia 76ers 84 52 31-51 (.378)

The Lakers’ loss isn’t the worst in NBA history. Four teams have lost to worse teams by bigger margins, and a couple lost by more to barely worse teams.

But, barring a Dallas turnaround, the league hasn’t seen a loss like this in quite some time.

NBA: DeMarcus Cousins got away with (more important) travel before incorrect foul of Dwyane Wade

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The NBA acknowledged the attention-grabbing officiating error late in the Bulls’ win over the Kings on Saturday: DeMarcus Cousins shouldn’t have been called for fouling Dwyane Wade, who hit the go-ahead free throw with 14 seconds left.

But before Sacramento claims the referees cost it a win, the Last Two Minute Report reveals a more significant missed call that favored the Kings.

Cousins should have been called for travelling with 56.3 left as he drove for a basket, according to the league:

Cousins (SAC) moves his pivot foot. The official is looking for any illegal contact and does not pick up the pivot foot.

The non-call directly allowed Cousins to score two points. Wade made only one free throw.

The officiating errors in the final two minutes helped the Kings more than the Bulls.

(Sacramento center Kosta Koufos also got away with a shooting foul on Jimmy Butler with 37.8 seconds left, according to the league, but Robin Lopez tipped in Butler’s miss, anyway. The Bulls weren’t shorted any points on that possession.)