Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers

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.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.

Watch Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant trade shots Saturday night

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Kevin Durant won the one-on-one battle — he dropped 40 points on the Golden State Warriors, while Stephen Curry had “just” 26 and needed 26 shots to get there (but did add 10 assists).

But the Warriors built up a lead thanks to their depth and were able to withstand a late Thunder run to get the win.

Enjoy watching Curry and Durant putting on a show Saturday night in the Bay Area.