Suns move to 2-0 under new head coach with win over Clippers


PHOENIX — The Suns said the team needed a “jolt” when it parted ways with Alvin Gentry last week, and replaced him with Lindsey Hunter as the interim head coach for (at least) the rest of this season. Hunter said from day one his first priority would be defense, and he’s been a man of his word, at least through his first two games on the bench.

Phoenix is now 2-0 under its new coach, after a nationally televised 93-88 victory over the Clippers on Thursday.

L.A. dropped its third straight game, and did so for the second straight game without Chris Paul, who was sidelined with a bruised kneecap. Even with the losing streak, the Clippers have lost just 12 times all season against 32 wins, so they’re not exactly going to be in any hurry to rush him back before he’s 100 percent.

In this one, Paul was sorely missed. While the Suns busted it on defense all night long, the Clippers struggled for the most part to get good looks or easy shots. It didn’t help that Blake Griffin aggravated a previous ankle injury by rolling it in the first quarter.

“I really injured it three days ago against Golden State,” Griffin said afterward. “It got better, but I just kind of re-tweaked it. It’s not terrible. To me, ankles are one of those things where you’ve just got to tolerate the pain, so I’ve just got to do a better job.”

Griffin finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, and two blocked shots in 36 minutes. That’s not going to be enough for his team on a night where its All-Star point guard is missing, and he knows it.

“Our offense was stagnant,” Griffin said. “Our defense wasn’t great. We just did a poor job overall, and it starts with me. I’ve just got to do a better job of setting the tone early and being a leader out there. Especially when Chris is not there.”

There were several stretches where the Clippers needed offense, but it was hard to come by against a Suns team that has embraced its new coach’s defensive principles for now. L.A. ranks fourth in the league in offensive efficiency and field goal percentage, but was held under 90 points for just the third time all year, and finished the night shooting 39.8 percent from the field — a mark that wouldn’t be good enough for anything but the league’s worst if averaged over the course of the season.

Jamal Crawford led L.A. with 21 points in 37 minutes off the bench, but should have gotten more opportunities, especially in the final period. But when asked about it afterward, Crawford said he simply was trying to make the plays that made the most sense.

“We have some very capable guys,” Crawford said. “Guys that make plays. I try to step up when my number’s called, but they did a lot of double-teaming. So I had to make the right play and give the ball up and trust in my teammates to make plays, and we did that for a long time.”

The most capable on this night was wearing the home whites. Goran Dragic finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and eight assists for the Suns, while energizing his team throughout.

Without Chris Paul, this loss won’t matter in the grand scheme of things for the Clippers; this is a team that has aspirations of playing deep into the postseason, so there won’t be much in the way of dwelling on a shorthanded loss to a team playing with a renewed spirit under a new head coach.

For the Suns, however, consecutive wins have been very hard to come by this season, so the team will take them no matter how they are earned, and no matter which of their opponent’s stars is forced to sit due to injury.

There’s been a lot of off-the-court turmoil in Phoenix over the past week. But management has been validated to a certain extent by the team’s effort in its first two games under Hunter, and the results have only served to reinforce the thinking — at least internally — that the correct decision was made.

Cavaliers get Nance Jr., Thompson, Hood back from injuries

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers are closer to being at full strength.

Forwards Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood all returned from injuries on Friday night as Cleveland, which has been riddled with injuries all season, hosted the Phoenix Suns. Acting coach Larry Drew said none of the players will start and all will be on minutes’ restrictions.

Drew, who is filling in while coach Tyronn Lue is on leave to address his own health, plans to keep his starting lineup intact and ease the returning players into the rotation.

LeBron James, Jose Calderon, George Hill, Jeff Green and Kevin Love were scheduled to started against Phoenix, which has lost nine in a row. Drew said he and Lue will talk again Saturday about lineup changes for the upcoming trip to Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte.

“I really didn’t want to disrupt the starting five that we have out there right now and those guys will be playing limited minutes, so I wanted to get them slowly back and acclimated to what we’re doing,” Drew said. “There’s a chance that there could be some early substitutions to get the guys in there. I’m not ruling that out, but right now I just kind of want to stay with the flow, stay with what we’ve done the last couple of ballgames and then we’ll probably after tonight we’ll see as far as where we stand as far as starters are concerned.”

Thompson missed nine games with a sprained right ankle, Nance Jr. was out four with a hamstring issue and Hood was out the past three games with a bad back.

Drew said he did not know if Lue will accompany the team on its trip.

But while the Cavs are healthier than they’ve been in weeks, the team is still missing Kyle Korver, who is with his family in Iowa following the death of his brother, and rookie Cedi Osman, who is sidelined with a left hip flexor strain.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Bulls with ankle injury

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss the Milwaukee Bucks’ home game Friday night against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The Bucks ruled out Antetokounmpo earlier Friday.

Antetokounmpo got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.


PBT Extra: What is going on in San Antonio?

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For the last two decades, there was less drama around the San Antonio Spurs than the recent Russian election. The Lakers were the soap opera, the Spurs and Tim Duncan just kept winning titles.

Not this season. Kawhi Leonard has missed all but nine games, his teammates are asking when he’s going to returnTony Parker — who is playing — says his quad tendon injury was far worse, and the Spurs organization is springing leaks like the Titanic.

What does all that mean? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra.

Short term, Leonard’s return or non-return will have a serious impact on the Western Conference playoffs.

Long term, after the Spurs offer Leonard the designated player max extension this summer (as is expected), everything will get back to normal.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.