Clippers rally to beat Thunder following ejection of Serge Ibaka

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LOS ANGELES — The Thunder looked to be well on their way to a convincing win over the Clippers on Wednesday, following a strong first half that saw them dominating the game offensively, and doing so with relative ease.

But the results of an entanglement between Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin with 6.2 seconds remaining in the half changed all of that, and the loss of Ibaka via ejection impacted the game to the point where the Clippers took control almost immediately to begin the second half.

A 30-16 third quarter sealed OKC’s fate, and L.A. finished with a 111-103 victory to improve to 6-3 on the season. It was the Thunder’s second loss of the year, but head coach Scott Brooks refused to blame it on the loss of Ibaka, who had already amassed 13 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting in under 17 minutes of action.

“They just got tangled up,” Brooks said, when asked to explain how he saw it afterward. “That’s part of it. That’s nothing that I get into. I respect what they do, my job is to coach. Players play, officials officiate the game. I have no complaints about what happened. The bottom line is they outplayed us, they created some turnovers on our part, and offensive rebounds. That’s why we lost the game. We didn’t lose the game because of that incident.”

The incident, as Brooks put it, unfolded after Ibaka flung Griffin toward the floor after the two became entangled. Matt Barnes was right there as he always seems to be, and immediately shoved Ibaka, escalating the situation. Barnes was also ejected, but it didn’t have nearly the same impact. And not surprisingly, Doc Rivers didn’t think that what Barnes did warranted an early shower.

“The only way I think Matt can possibly get thrown out in that situation is if they say he was the instigator of the whole thing,” Rivers said. “I didn’t see it that way. Clearly, I thought Ibaka grabbed Blake and swung him around, and I thought that was what instigated everything. Matt is a tough guy and he sticks up for his teammates, at least he did on that one. And that’s good.”

Barnes may be done playing the part of enforcer, at least if a since-deleted message he posted to his Twitter account is to be believed. “I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these [n—–]! All this [s—] does is cost me money,” he wrote.

Regardless of how everyone views what happened, the impact on the game’s outcome was undeniable. The Thunder were already without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who is away from the team due to a death in the family, and with Ibaka disqualified that left them extremely thin on the front line. OKC was getting whatever it wanted offensively in the first half — the team scored 33 points in the final 8:05 of the first quarter, by the time they had the lead to 11 in the second they had scored 26 of 42 points in the paint, and the spacing Ibaka helped provide was an important part of the Thunder shooting 54.5 percent from the field over the first two periods.

Ibaka claimed he hadn’t seen a replay of what happened, so he didn’t want to talk too much about it afterward. He also seemed done with it, no doubt empowered by his teammates and their “no excuses” mantra that was everywhere after this one.

“It’s a physical game, and anything can happen,” Ibaka said. “The referee made the decision, so I’ll take it. I didn’t see the video of it afterward, so I’ll need to watch it.

“I was very disappointed, but I’ll learn from my mistake,” Ibaka said. “All I can do know is focus on the next game.”

Kevin Durant did the heavy lifting for his team, finishing with 33 points and 10 assists, with 18 coming in the second half. He blamed everything but the ejection of Ibaka for the loss, while sticking to repeating his coach’s message that there were plenty of other reasons the game was lost.

“We’re not making no excuses,” Durant said. “We’ve got to finish the game out. No excuses. No matter who’s out there, we’ve just got to play. They beat us.”

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.