Jamal Crawford, Chris Paul

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.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.