Chris Paul says Clippers will go as far as Griffin takes them

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The Los Angeles Clippers got better this summer — they needed shooting and got it with the additions of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. Those two will space the floor when Chris Paul drives the lane, they will give defenders something to think about as Blake Griffin makes a cut to the rim. Plus, both additions are solid team defenders.

The Clippers are potential contenders.

Paul thinks Griffin is the key, he told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne.

“Blake is one of those guys, where his age has nothing to do with anything,” Paul said in a wide-ranging interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com this week. “People may say he’s a young guy, but he’s been special in this league, he’s been an All Star. His voice carries a lot of weight and I think our team will definitely go as Blake goes.

“He’s our guy, and he’s good enough to do so.”

There was friction in the Paul/Griffin relationship before, although how much of that is tied to former coach Vinny Del Negro (who sided with Paul constantly in an effort to keep his job) is up for debate. With Doc Rivers in charge the coach will not be the source of friction.

Paul and Griffin have spent a lot of time together this summer — they were both part of the Jordan Brand tour through Asia. With CP3’s new max contract, he and Griffin are now the locked together cornerstones of the franchise. They will win or lose together for years.

Griffin has become a more efficient shooter each season as he worked on his game — his handles have improved allowing him to attack and get to the rim more. And he should do that — when you finish like Griffin you shouldn’t settle for midrange shots, you should get to the rim every chance you get. Every coach would take a dunk over a midrange jumper every time down. That said, Griffin shot 72 percent last season in the restricted area, 41 percent in the rest of the paint and 35 percent in the midrange (he only took 28 threes, and that’s probably too many). He’s improved from the left side midrange (he shot 39.1 percent from zones closer to the baseline on the left side) but he needs to be more consistent.

To me though Griffin isn’t the real key for the Clippers, neither is the offense. They will be a top three NBA offense next season. They will go as far as their defense takes them — Doc Rivers is going to bring in a more consistent system, but it comes back to DeAndre Jordan. Can he be a defensive force like they need? Even if he is, can he hit enough free throws to stay on the court at the end of games when they will need his defense and energy?

Chris Paul is a guy who wants to win, who wants to play deep into the playoffs, and he’s hungry for it. Part of that is tied to Griffin, part to the rest of the Clippers.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelican Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.