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.

LeBron James drives, Pau Gasol stands no chance of stopping dunk (VIDEO)

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Monday night was an ugly night for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They got thrashed by the Spurs 103-74 in a game where they looked nothing like a title contender. The Cavaliers fell to second place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron had 17 points but needed 17 shots to get there.

But there were some Cavs highlights. One was LeBron pushing the ball in transition, becoming a one-man break, and while Pau Gasol was in the right place there was nothing he was going to do to stop this dunk.

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.

 

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavaliers, 103-74

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

His status was not immediately known.

Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.

James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. . Cleveland F Kyle Korver missed his third straight game with a sore left foot, and the team plans to sit him for several games to see if rest and treatment helps. Korver will sit out Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia before being re-evaluated, a team spokesman said. The shooting specialist missed seven games earlier this month with an inflamed tendon in his foot. . G Iman Shumpert missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O’Neal has 28,596 career points. . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding its opponents to an average of less than 100 points for the 22nd straight season. . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

 

Russell Westbrook dominates final minutes, hits game winner for Thunder (VIDEO)

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This game looked over. The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to take the loss.

Then Russell Westbrook happened.

He scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, then capped it off hitting the game winner for the Thunder (video above). For the game-winner, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender, a smart play when you have a guy this talented.

It was the kind of game that the Westbrook for MVP crowd will point to — he had 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and he absolutely dominated the final minutes of the game (he shot 5-of-9 down the stretch).

This was Westbrook’s 37th triple-double of the season, and the Thunder are 30-7 when he does reaches that mark. Westbrook takes heat in some quarters for “empty stats” or trying to pad his numbers, but the fact is the Thunder are 11-24 when he doesn’t put up the huge numbers and carry the offense. If you’re going to define “MVP” by value to his team, it’s hard not to choose Westbrook this season, this team is toast without him.