Lakers vs. Clippers: Not a battle for soul of L.A., but a real battle

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The soul of Los Angeles is not at stake on Friday night when the Clippers “host” the Lakers at Staples Center.

First off, Los Angeles sold its soul for year-around 70 degree weather  long ago.

Second, Los Angeles is a Lakers town. Trust me, I live there, and while Clippers fans are no longer afraid to admit that in public; while the Clippers are the better and more entertaining team as I write this; while there is a passion for the Clippers, the Lakers are the true love. And that’s not changing because of 17 games.

But that doesn’t make Friday night’s showdown any less compelling.

The Clippers want to establish their dominance in Los Angeles and atop the Pacific Division (which they already have by 9 games over the Lakers, the Clips bigger concern in Golden State).

The Lakers are 15-16 with their next five games against Western Conference playoff teams — Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets, Spurs and Thunder. This is where Los Angeles has to start its run if it really plans on making a serious one.

So what decides this game? Here are three things to watch:

1) Tempo and turnovers: The Lakers may play for Mike D’Antoni but they don’t want to get in a pure track meet with the younger, more athletic Clippers. The Lakers have to defend then push the pace off the misses they make. If the game is pure 1980s up and down the Clips will run away with the game.

And the Lakers can’t turn the ball over. The Clippers lead the league by forcing their opponent to turn the ball over on 16.4 percent of their possessions. That’s what fuels the breaks and the alley-oops and the SportsCenter highlights. Because they have athletic big men behind them the Clips perimeter defenders can gamble with pressure. Steve Nash is capable of handling the pressure, but what about Chris Duhon and Darius Morris? What about Kobe Bryant (he can’t feel the pressure and go into hero mode)? The Clippers also are aggressive with their athletic big men showing out on picks late in the clock, can the Lakers make them pay for that with precision?

2) Lakers defense on the pick-and-roll: The Clippers are as dangerous a pick-and-roll team as there is in the league. Chris Paul is smart and patient and can pick you apart. They have shooters on the wings. They have Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan rolling hard to the rim. What CP3 does as well or better than anyone in the game is recognize the mismatch after a switch on the pick and make you pay for it.

On the season the Lakers have done a good job containing then pick-and-roll ball handler (they shoot just 36.6 percent) but the roll man is another issue, they shot 56.9 percent. The Lakers make the initial help move but nobody helps the helper — move the ball and you can make them pay. Can the Clippers do that like they did on their streak?

3) The Lakers bench can’t totally suck: This is pretty straightforward — the Clippers have the deepest team in the NBA, the Lakers bench is… we’ll be kind and call it inconsistent. This could be the kind of game that is close for the first quarter, then the benches come in, Jamal Crawford exposes Jodie Meeks, and the Clippers are up 12 by the time the starters return. And the Lakers can’t dig themselves out of the hole.

The Clippers need their bench to make sure they win this, the Lakers need theirs to make sure they don’t lose it.

Blazers beat Lakers 97-81, tie Denver for final spot in West

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 22 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81 on Sunday night to pull even with Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Both the Blazers and Nuggets are 35-38 with nine games left in the regular season. They play each other Tuesday in Portland.

Denver lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier Sunday night.

Portland took control by outscoring the Lakers 37-24 in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 points. Los Angeles shot 39 percent from the field and was outrebounded 61-42.

Allen Crabbe added 18 points off the bench for the Blazers, and Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 22 points, and reserve Tyler Ennis scored 14.

Portland led 40-32 at the break after an unsightly half in which the teams took turns struggling from the field. At halftime, both were shooting exactly 32.6 percent.

The Lakers won their previous game against the Timberwolves but have won consecutive games only once since mid-November.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Shot 62.4 percent against Minnesota on Saturday, their best mark since hitting 64.1 percent on March 12, 2003. Coming into Sunday, they had shot 50.6 percent over their last five games.

Lakers: Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, who started the previous 19 games and averaged 12.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, did not play because of right patellar tendinitis. Said coach Luke Walton: “He was out there warming up and it’s not right.” Corey Brewer got his first start for the Lakers.

 

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.