Clippers still searching for consistent defensive identity

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The Clippers lost to the Hawks because of their defense on Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 51 percent as a team overall, hit 12-of-23 from three, were able to get more than a third of their shots inside 8 feet and shot 64.3 percent on them. The Clippers starting five had a horrible defensive rating of 118.2 points per 100 possessions.

The Clippers defense hasn’t been strong all season (currently 21st in the league in points allowed per possession) but it’s been a work in progress. And one that at times has shown progress.

Then there is the step back like Wednesday. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin talked about the search for defensive cohesion Wednesday after the game, as reported by ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“We got to find a defensive identity,” Paul said. “That starts with us in the locker room. We know what we do. We just got to do it. We’ve got to stop talking about it and we have to figure out how to stop teams.”

“I thought yesterday we had a great defensive practice and covered all the things we messed up on tonight,” Griffin said. “We slipped but hopefully we’re not slipping. … It’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating just to lose a game but to lose in the manner we lost tonight. We’ve got to do something different.”

The Clippers regular starting five —which we did not see Wednesday and will not for a while until J.J. Redick returns from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his hand — has a respectable 101.6 defensive rating (that would be 12th in the league). But once you start to reach into the Clipper bench the numbers worsen quickly.

For example, sub Willie Green in for Redick — as the Clippers are doing now to start games — and their defensive rating jumps to 116 (granted, in a small sample size of 30 minutes). The numbers are not that dramatic but you see it across the board, the bench is not holding up well on defense most of the time.

It’s a process. The Clippers have a season to figure it out; their stellar offense will carry them to a good playoff seed. Rivers gets that.

“We’re not there,” Rivers said. “I was disappointed in our 3-point defense because that’s one area we had cleaned up. Maybe I have to make an adjustment. I don’t think we played the game with a lot of force. … They’ll get it. It’s early in the season.”

Maybe. But fixing this may fall more on the front office and its deadline moves than it does on Rivers and the guys in the locker room.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.

Report: Other small-market teams championing Pacers’ tampering allegation against Lakers

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The NBA, at the Pacers’ request, is investigating whether the Lakers tampered by making impressible contact with Paul George.

Bob Kravitz of WTHR

In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”

Small-market teams whine too much about the disadvantages they face, but tampering isn’t really a market-size issue. Remember, under Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers were known as the only team that didn’t tamper.

The Lakers have advantages because George is from the area, and Los Angeles offers immense marketability. That’d be true whether or not they contacted George or his agent before he officially became a free agent.

I understand the desire to take down the big, bad Lakers – especially now that they appear poised to become truly big and bad again. But it’s hard to find a team that can cast a stone at them from anywhere other than a glass house.