Clippers hold off Trail Blazers for win… can these two meet in playoffs, please?

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If the playoffs started today, the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers would meet in the first round… please let that happened. Defense? Who needs it? We want Blake Griffin vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. We want dunks and threes. This matchup would just be entertaining.

When these two teams first met the day after Christmas it took a dramatic Nicolas Batum three to send the game to overtime where Portland pulled away.

Wednesday night was similar — 40 lead changes with neither team leading by more than seven points the entire way. But the Clippers went on a late 8-2 run and that was enough to get them a 122-117 win.

That evens the season series 1-1, with the third and final meeting on the final night of the regular season. That game could end up mattering in the playoff chase.

The question about both of these teams heading into the second half of the season is defense and not a lot of it was on display Wednesday — the losing Trail Blazers had an offensive rating of 116.2 points per 100 possessions (the Clippers were at 127.6). Portland has now lost three of four and they gave up an average of 117.3 points in those three losses. This game fit with that — it was tied 61-61 at the half.

The Clippers scored wherever they wanted — they were 25-of-30 in the restricted area and 13-of-27 in the midrange, plus 4-of-10 from deep. Portland’s defense let the Clippers just get good looks, particularly dunks and lay-ups, all night long.

Leading the way was Blake Griffin, who had 36 points on 21 shots, plus he pulled down 10 rebounds. Jamal Crawford had 25 points, Chris Paul 20 points and 12 assists.

Portland on the other hand was taking jumpers, but that’s what they do and they were knocking them down.

LaMarcus Aldridge was answering Blake early. Aldridge was coming off a rough 5-of-22 shooting night so he came out hot in this one — he missed his first shot but then knocked down his next seven in a row. He finished the game with 25 points. Damian Lillard added 21.

But Portland’s shots didn’t fall when it mattered most. The Trail Blazers took a 115-114 lead on Damian Lillard free throws with 3:15 left in the game, but then shot 1-of-8 down the stretch. They were settling for deep threes and the shots weren’t falling.

The Clippers defense wasn’t good, but it was better when it mattered and you can see flashes of them playing elite defense.

I just want to see that tested by the Blazers in the playoffs. It would be a great series.

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

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.