Didn’t see this coming: Lakers win opener handily because bench too much for Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — Just a little more than an hour before the season tipped off for his Clippers, the team’s new coach Doc Rivers talked about building a winning culture, a swagger, for an organization that never really had it. In Boston that tradition came with the carpet (and the banners), with the Clippers that is something that needs to be forged from scratch.

“Eventually. Hopefully. I think a swagger is gained,” Rivers said. “But hopefully someday.”

Safe to say that is still a work in progress.

His Clippers lost their defensive composure and had no answer for a Lakers bench that scored 76 points on the night — including the Lakers’ final 46 of the game when coach Mike D’Antoni never put his starters back in for the fourth quarter — and the Lakers pulled away in the final frame for a comfortable 116-103 win.

The Lakers’ bench lineup of Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill owned the fourth quarter scoring 41 points on 65.2 percent shooting, and had an off-the-charts offensive rating of 154.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com, for comparison the best offense in the NBA last season was Miami at 110.3). The Lakers took charge of the game in that final frame and got the win.

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It’s just one game out of a long season of 82, and we can debate if this is a sustainable way to win, but for a night the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers got to gloat a little and silence all the doubters.

“We definitely knew there were a lot of doubters out there,” said Jordan Hill, who had 12 points and 7 offensive rebounds, dominating the more heralded Clippers front line. “We just didn’t let it get to us. We still knew what we had to do. We’re still trying to win and we’re still trying to compete for the playoffs so we just went out there and felt like it was another big game and we got the win.

The Lakers starters were just 12-of-33 shooting (although Pau Gasol looked like he was at home as the offense’s focal point), but it was the Lakers bench that showed what D’Antoni means when he says the “ball finds energy” — the Lakers played free, shared the rock, played faster and just overwhelmed the Clippers defense (particularly the bench defense, which was atrocious).

The Lakers were led by Jordan Farmar’s dribble penetration on his way to 16 points, Hill’s effort on the boards and Xavier Henry’s career best 22 points.

“You don’t have to have one guy be the star every night, everybody’s has a chance and everybody’s playing right, and everybody is rooting for everybody else,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni after the game. “It’s just a positive energy. That’s the biggest thing, you could just feel it, you could feel the energy and everybody rooting for everybody. It was a little bit different last year where it was like cold. This time it was pretty warm.”

The Clippers looked at spots like they could pull away during the first three quarters, but they never could really get their small lead comfortably into double digits. For example, in the first quarter J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan (mostly finishing alley-oops) went 10-of-14 and finished with 22 points combined as the Clippers put up 30 points on 59.1 percent shooting in that frame alone. Jordan also was very active defensively to start the game for the Clippers, something Doc Rivers praised him for after the game.

Yet despite that hot shooting the Clippers were up by just 2 after the first quarter, and that was the theme of the night. The Clippers offense wasn’t bad, but the Lakers were playing fast, free and loose and the Clippers defense lost its shape and eventually the game. It didn’t matter when the starters came back in during the fourth quarter for the Clippers, they had no answer for the Lakers’ bench either.

We tend to overemphasize the first game of the season — we know it’s just the first of 82, that the season is a marathon not a sprint, but we can’t help ourselves. And right now, the Lakers feel pretty good about themselves.

A right their bench earned for them.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?

Report: Gordon Hayward will meet first with Heat in free agency, then Jazz, then Celtics

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Gordon Hayward is arguably the biggest available prize in free agency, and his dance card for the first couple of days in July is filling up.

Miami and Pat Riley will bat lead off in a series of meetings, reports ESPN.

Gordon Hayward will take his first free-agent meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday, a source told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. Hayward will then be traveling Sunday to meet Utah on Monday, with Boston coming after that…

Sources previously told ESPN the Jazz regard the Heat as no less a threat to lure Hayward away than the Celtics, whose interest in the former Butler star has been anticipated for some time, largely thanks to the presence of Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, on Boston’s bench.

For the record, there are rumors it’s Miami Saturday, Boston Sunday, Utah Monday, then he will take some time to make a decision. I’m not sure the order matters that much.

Hayward is an All-Star level player at a position of need for a lot of teams out on the wing. He averaged 21.9 points per game last season, shot 39.8 percent from three, can put the ball on the floor and be a playmaker for himself and others, plus can defend everything from stretch fours to point guards (he’s not a lock-down defender, but he is good). Hayward is the kind of versatile player teams need to compete in a modern NBA. He’s an elite wing player who is about to get paid like one.

The question is by whom? Around the league teams are convinced it will be one of those three, but which one depends on who you talk to. The Jazz seem confident they can retain him, where others seem confident he’s got one foot out the door. Only Hayward truly knows, and he’s wise to not speak on it and take the meetings. (If he takes his time deciding that could impact the chase for Blake Griffin, Miami and Boston reportedly have interest if they don’t land Gordon, but that can’t be Gordon’s concern. He has to do what’s right for him in his own time.)

Doc Rivers says Chris Paul left to be with James Harden not because of Clipper players

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Chris Paul essentially forcing a trade to the Houston Rockets was an earthquake that shook the Los Angeles Clippers and destroyed them as any kind of contender. (How much of a contender they really were is up for debate, they did win 50+ games five of the past six years, but a combination of injuries, mediocre chemistry and toughness questions never let them get past the second round.)

Then came the aftershocks — or spin. First, there was the report that Paul had it with Doc Rivers because he and the team felt Austin Rivers gets favorable treatment. That was followed by the Clippers spin saying they never formally offered Paul a five-year max deal because they were concerned about paying a 37-year-old CP3 more than $40 million.

Now Doc Rivers entered the fray, defending his players saying Paul left he wanted to play with James Harden, via Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times (below is his comments from a series of Tweets combined).

“At the end of the day, when you lose a CP, it’s a big loss. I thank him for the years he was here. He left because he wanted to be with James Harden. Let’s not get that twisted. I wish him well. I have no problem with that. Do I disagree? Yeah, I think he would have been better served here. But that’s not for me. That’s CP to decide and he decided against that. We’ve heard all the stories about Blake and DJ and Austin. I can’t comment just on Austin because it’s just not right. We’ve heard he left because of all three today. He left because of DJ, he left because of Blake and now he left because of Austin. We know he didn’t leave because of that. There is a lot of speculation on why he left. The one thing I know is he didn’t leave because of any of those three guys. He left because he felt like he would have a better chance to win somewhere else.”

Doc is right. And wrong. Almost all spin is like a myth — there’s some truth in it, then everything around that gets blown up to put that truth in the light that best suits one side. All of the aftershocks in the wake of Paul’s exit from L.A. have some truth, what any one person believes to be “the truth” speaks more to their viewpoint.

Did Paul leave the Clippers because he wanted to play with Harden and saw that as his best chance to a ring? Absolutely. After six years of playoff frustration, it was clear what the Clippers were not: A team getting to the Finals past the Warriors. These Rockets have a better chance of that and CP3 is a very competitive person.

Were Paul, and many of his teammates, frustrated with what they saw as favoritism toward Austin Rivers? I can tell you that is also unequivocally true. Any reporter that has been around this team at all in recent years has heard that from a variety of sources, myself included.

Were the Clippers worried about the fifth year of CP3s deal? Of course they were, any sane executive would be. Now, if Paul had demanded a five-year max to stay with the Clippers I also have no doubt they would have given it to him, they just would have done it knowing the last year or so of that deal was an anchor. Teams do that all the time.

Life is rarely something black and white, it’s always shades of gray. Major decisions — like changing where you work and live — are not based on just one factor, but a variety of them. Did the chance to win weigh more on Paul than money or frustration with Doc Rivers? Only Paul can answer what the ratios were, but winning probably was the biggest factor. That doesn’t make the other factors less true.

It also doesn’t change the fact Doc Rivers and the Clippers have some hard choices — and some recruiting of Blake Griffin to do — coming up this summer.

Ex-financial adviser gets 4 years in federal prison for defrauding Tim Duncan

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) An ex-financial adviser to retired San Antonio Spurs player Tim Duncan has been sentenced to four years in federal prison for defrauding the former NBA star of millions of dollars.

Federal prosecutors say 49-year-old Charles Banks of Atlanta was sentenced during a court hearing Wednesday in San Antonio.

A judge also ordered Banks to pay $7.5 million in restitution.

Banks had pleaded guilty in April to one count of wire fraud.

Investigators say Banks manipulated Duncan -who retired last year after five NBA championships with the Spurs – into guaranteeing payment of a $6 million debt related to a merchandising business.

Prosecutors say Banks failed to disclose commissions and loans he received in the deal.

Banks is set to report to federal prison as early as Aug. 28.