Red-hot Clippers put on a show at Rockets expense, win big

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LOS ANGELES — This happens a few games a season.

It was a perfect storm of the already explosive Clippers offense really finding its flow in an up-tempo game, a Rockets defense that was just floundering, some foul trouble to the Rockets defensive anchor, and to top it all off Chris Paul had the Midas touch.

The result was a highlight-filled blowout, a 137-118 Clippers blowout win that the fans in Staples Center could really savor. They got to boo Dwight Howard lustily — when he wasn’t on the bench with foul trouble — and they got the full compliment of highlight alley-oops, impressive handles and long-range threes.

“It was one of those games,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Everything. We were making everything. They were in foul trouble. It was for us tonight, a lot of things went right.

The Clippers have the best offense in the NBA this young season — they are averaging a ridiculous 116.6 points per 100 possessions after this game. They have been hot all season on that end but the 125 points per 100 they put up this game — they shot 52.1 percent overall and hit 15-of-38 from three — bolstered that number.

“They had 15 threes and a ton of paint points (50), they had the best of both worlds,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We wanted to keep them out of the paint and shoot long jump shots. We didn’t do that.”

The route started started from the opening tip, where the Clippers came out sharp and the Rockets looked like they enjoyed the night out in Los Angeles the night before a little too much. Early on the Clippers started running J.J. Redick off screens like he’s vintage Ray Allen and James Harden did not want to fight through them. Harden was a few steps slow and the result was 15 first quarter points for Redick as the Clippers just kept going to his hot hand.

“I’ve always been a guy who bases his game on movement and moving without the ball,” Redick said.

Pretty soon everyone on the Clippers got a hot hand — Los Angeles put up 42 points on 69.6 percent shooting (4-of-6 from three) in the first quarter. CP3 had 9 assists in the first 12 minutes and the Clippers were so hot even Blake Griffin nailed a couple midrange jumpers. The Clippers put up a franchise record 78 points in the first 24 minutes, and check out their shot chart from the first half.

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The Clippers were up 17 after one and while the Rockets tried to make a game of it with some runs, all that was left was to put on a show. Which they did.

In the end Chris Paul had 23 points and 17 assists, Redick had 26 points, Jamal Crawford 21 and seven Clippers were in double figures.

Credit the Rockets for not giving up, they cut the lead down to 10 or 8 a few times, but each times the Clippers responded.

CP3 abused Jeremy Lin with a stepback then drove past him. Redick just took Harden off the dribble. The Clippers would get out and run and the Rockets transition defense was nonexistent.

While it was not the team he played for Howard’s return to Los Angeles still got him getting booed from the opening introductions, followed by a rough night. He picked up two quick fouls and three in the first quarter, limiting him to 6:27 in the first half.

“The foul trouble messed me up a little bit but I just tried to have a better second half,” Howard said. “I missed a lot of easy shots tonight.”

As for the booing?

“I don’t care, they can boo me a million times and I’ll still play,” Howard said, who went on to repeat his standard lines about moving on from his decision and feeling happy now.

Just not so much after that loss.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.

PBT Extra: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for LeBron James?

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In the end, the entire Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade was about LeBron James. It started because Kyrie Irving wanted out of LeBron’s enormous shadow. Cleveland went with this trade because Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder help them win now, and whatever LeBron decides to do next summer the Brooklyn pick (and maybe Ante Zizic) helps them build for the future.

But what does this trade mean to LeBron James?

Honestly, it doesn’t change much. That’s what I get into in this latest PBT Extra. LeBron is leaving his options open, but maybe this deal could help Cleveland keep him if it makes them more competitive with the Warriors.

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.