The Extra Pass: A big test for the Clippers; plus Thursday’s recaps

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Pressure reveals character, and the last minutes of the Clippers road matchup with Portland did just that.

Down the stretch, both teams played perfectly to their strengths. The Blazers ran everything through LaMarcus Aldirdge (32 points) on the left block, surrounding him with three-point shooters and daring the Clippers to double. The Clippers, meanwhile, put the ball in Chris Paul’s hands, gave him a simple ball screen and let the magic happen.

None of Paul’s 34 points appeared bigger than his fading jumper on the baseline to give the Clippers a three-point lead with about eight seconds left in regulation. After a frustrating loss to Golden State the night prior, it looked like the Clippers would exact some revenge on another Western Conference foe.

But then Portland did what they’ve been doing to every team around the league. In need of a bucket, Terry Stotts drew up a beautiful sidelines out of bounds play to get a clean look for Nicolas Batum, who buried the open three at the top of the key to tie the game and eventually send it to overtime.

So here the Clippers were, on the second night of one of the toughest back-to-back sets imaginable, playing on the road in overtime against one of the league’s hottest teams.

And right at the beginning of the overtime period, there was Blake Griffin on the floor. Not from exhaustion or the kind of flop he’s most closely associated with now, but because there was a loose ball to go after. Then it was Matt Barnes on the floor, chasing that same loose ball.

There were many moments or highlights to sum up the game for the Clippers, both positive and negative, but this was the one to remember.

I know what you’re thinking. Can a title contender really have moral victories? Isn’t that for, you know, the teams who can’t pull off actual victories?

It’s a fair point, and it didn’t help that the Clippers had their flaws exposed (defense on the perimeter, frontcourt depth) once again.

But still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there were multiple opportunities for the Clippers to pack it in. The excuse of a back-to-back was readily available, and there were a few plays the screamed “it’s not your night.”

For as encouraging as a win this is for Portland in their ongoing quest to prove their sustainability, it was equally positive for the Clippers. It’s important to know just how deep you can dig as a team, both physically and mentally.

It’s a long season, but the Clippers may not be tested like this again. Chances are, they needed that experience more than they need the win.

—D.J. Foster

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Hawks 127, Cavaliers 125 (2OT): What a fun battle of point guards. Kyrie Irving went off for 40 points on 33 shots, plus he dished out 9 assists — he looked like a guy who deserves to start in the All-Star Game. He single handedly had the Cavs up five to start the second overtime. But that is when — with Al Horford having left the game with an injury — it was Jeff Teague who made the plays. He had 12 of his 34 points in the overtimes. He played maybe his best game of the season, plus he drained the game winner.

Rockets 100, Grizzlies 92: Second night of a back-to-back, coming off a signature win on national television, down 13 in the third quarter — if the Rockets had lost this game we would have shrugged and blamed the schedule and the Rockets inconsistency. Instead the Rockets cranked it up in the fourth quarter, held the Grizzlies to 27 percent shooting, got 14 points from Jeremy Lin and 11 from James Harden (27 for the game) to storm back and win. That’s the sign of a team that is maturing, growing together.

Spurs 116, Mavericks 107: This was vintage Spurs. Just a day ago after the Spurs lost to the Rockets on national television, I noted that San Antonio had struggled some against teams over .500. Thursday night they came out against a more rested Mavericks team, went on a 12-2 rum late in the first to take the lead, one they never relinquished. Tim Duncan was brilliant with 21 points and 13 rebounds, including four straight points in the fourth when it looked like Dallas would make a little run. Tony Parker added 23 points. They are still the Spurs and they still execute.

Trail Blazers 116, Clippers 112 (OT): Tonight it was the Clippers turn — the Blazers have done this to teams all season at home. They looked beaten, down three with eight seconds to go after a Chris Paul baseline jumper. But then a clever play freed up Nicolas Batum and he nailed the three, and we were headed to overtime. LaMarcus Aldridge had a big night — he had barely eaten for four days after having his wisdom teeth pulled, yet he went out and dropped 32. Chris Paul had 34. In the end we had another thrilling Trail Blazers game, and once again they found a way to win.

Report: Knicks interested in Kyrie Irving trade, but Kristaps Porzingis is off the table

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Kyrie Irving wants out of LeBron James‘ shadow and has asked for a trade in what seems a preemptive “if he’s going to leave then I’m going to leave first” kind of move.

Irving also gave the Cavaliers a list of preferred destinations. Which is nice. Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause, he has no real power in these negotiations because he has two years on his deal — it is basically a child’s Christmas list to Santa starting with “a Dragon-themed Luxury Playhouse.”

The Knicks are on Irving’s preferred list, and they are interested but know the team’s best player is off the table, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The Knicks, obviously, have strong interest in Kyrie Irving (just like 29 other teams) but I’m told people in the Knicks front office would not be willing at this point to include Kristaps Porzingis in a trade. Some with the organization would be willing to include future first-round picks and Carmelo Anthony in a deal for Irving, per league sources.

A few thoughts here. At the top of the list, this is the absolutely right and only call for the Knicks, no way KP is available. And on social media, Porzingis liked a fan’s tweet of Irving in a Knicks’ uniform, so we know what he is thinking.

We know Carmelo would want to go to Cleveland, the question is would the Cavaliers want him with Irving gone? If they feel LeBron is leaving next summer, would this help change that dynamic and help get the Cavaliers back to the Finals?

If I were in the Knicks front office, I’d pitch the Anthony idea (heck, I’d pitch a Joakim Noah trade too, just to lighten up the room with a laugh). Then we could talk about doing a trade without Anthony or Porzingis, which would mean picks, Courtney Lee, Willy Hernangomez, Frank Ntilikina, and another player to make the numbers work.

The Cavaliers can afford to be patient, and they aren’t beholden to Irving’s list. See if teams with young assets — Phoenix, Dallas, Denver, etc. — come up with better offers. Wait the market out, don’t rush. If no deal blows you away, move into the season with Irving.

The Knicks are as realistic an option as anything right now. The doors are wide open.

Report: Cavaliers to officially make Koby Altman GM

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“Congratulations, Koby. Here’s your new corner office with a view, meet your new executive assistant, and finally here are the keys to the Cavaliers franchise… oh, and by the way, Kyrie Irving wants to be traded. And LeBron James is a free agent next year. Good luck with all that, we’ll leave you to it.”

Since Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert inexplicably let go of David Griffin as the team’s general manager, assistant GM Kobe Altman has stepped into the lead role for the franchise. Now Gilbert is going to remove the interim tag from Altman’s title, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN was first.

Now that he has the job, all he has to do is find a new home for Irving, who has demanded a trade… or he doesn’t have to. Irving may be traded this summer, but he has two years left on his deal so Altman could just bring him back with LeBron and Kevin Love and make another run at it. Or he could sit back and listen to trade offers from a lot of teams, and if he sees one he likes pounce — Irving (unlike Carmelo Anthony) doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so he can go anywhere. Altman has leverage.

Altman respected around the league, but he took over a team up against the cap and tax, a team that needed to find a way to get more athletic to compete with the Warriors. Instead, the Cavs re-signed Kyle Korver (age 35), signed Jose Calderon (age 36), and re-signed Richard Jefferson (age 37). The Cavs have essentially treaded water this offseason, while Warriors, Celtics, and Rockets all got better. That’s not all on Altman, he was thrown into the job and with the team well into the tax his options were limited. He was handed a near impossible task.

Now Altman gets to own that task. Enjoy.

Report: LeBron James being hands off, letting Cavaliers front office handle Irving trade

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Okay, Koby Altman — the Cavs interim general manager about to have the first part of that title removed — and Dan Gilbert, the ball is in your court.

Kyrie Irving has told the Cleveland Cavaliers he wants to be traded, and he’s given them a list of preferred landing spots. Normally in this kind of situation, the team’s biggest star would not only be informed but consulted and asked his opinion, however this time around LeBron James is going to be hands off, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

LeBron James intends to let the Cleveland Cavaliers front office and owner Dan Gilbert take the lead in dealing with Kyrie Irving’s trade demands, sources told ESPN.

As the Cavs consider their options, sources said James has expressed to the team that he is focused on his offseason workout regimen and is planning to report to training camp with the intention of leading his teammates to a fourth consecutive Finals — no matter who those teammates are.

Despite the perception — and some reality, the team did try to make him happy — LeBron has not wanted to play GM of the Cavaliers in recent years. He has wanted to be more hands off, but has let his feelings be known at times. Part of that was he grew to trust David Griffin to make decisions. With Griffin out of the way, a lot of things feel different in Cleveland.

Consider this part of the crumbling of the foundation in Cleveland. LeBron is acting like an employee, one who shows up to do his job and that’s it — which is what he is, but stars can take on a larger role in the franchise. LeBron has, and does still to a degree, but he has scaled it back after his experiences over the years. Things feel like they are closing in on the Cavaliers, the only question is how fast?

Report: Cavaliers unhappy Kyrie Irving news leaked because it hurts trade value

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The news Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland came as a bolt of lightning to a finally slowed NBA offseason. Speculation about the future of LeBron James had been rampant, but discussions of Kyrie Irving’s future were usually tied to LeBron (if he left the Cavs, Irving would go, too).

Cleveland wanted to keep it under wraps, because it’s easier to do business that way. Now the word is out — including that he prefers to be traded to San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or New York — and the Cavaliers are not happy, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

It means that there will be a lot more leaks — teams that want to look like they are trying to do something but have no real interest/assets will make a call then leak it so it looks like they are trying. It will mean a lot of distracting headlines.

However, unlike Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks, the Cavaliers have leverage here. Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause so the Cavaliers can take the best offer. Irving is an All-Star level point guard, one of the five to eight best in the NBA (depending on how much you knock him for his defensive lapses, and who you classify as a point guard). He also has two seasons left on his contract, so teams that trade for him have a chance to win him over to stay.

That said, leaked info or not, they are not getting equal value back. It doesn’t work that way with stars generally. That said, everyone knowing he wants out doesn’t help the Cavaliers cause here.