Clippers, Doc Rivers try to focus past Sterling distraction, but they know there is more to come

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LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers would much prefer to focus on basketball.

Instead the fallout from the Donald Sterling fiasco keeps landing in his lap.

At the press conference he is required to give just more than 90 minutes before his team tips off in a crucial Game 3 of their playoff series with the Thunder, the first question Rivers is asked is about Richard Parsons — the league appointed CEO who will run the Clippers until the ownership situation with Donald and Shelly Sterling is sorted out.

“We did talk a couple times, (Friday) morning we did talk and it was really nice,” Rivers said. “I don’t know Dick very well, but from what I heard from everyone who knows him and talking to him today I think he’s a very good hire for us.”

And so it went through the press conference, questions alternating between how the Clippers will try to get Blake Griffin going or defend Kevin Durant, and then how he and the players are dealing with the fallout of team owner Donald Sterling being suspended for life and the franchise being in limbo in the wake of a tape of racist comments he made being leaked. The league has started the process to force the Sterlings to sell the team, both Donald and his wife have separately said they will fight this.

When asked if the appointment of Parsons as CEO allowed him and the team to move on and just focus on hoops, Rivers gave an honest answer.

“I would love to feel that way but we all know that’s not true,” Rivers said. “But from my standpoint we’re focusing on basketball and if something else comes up it comes up and you just gotta deal with it. But it’s not like I’m going to sit around and wait for it to come, I’m going to sit around and coach my team. Then if something comes up you just deal with it. That’s basically what I’ve told our guys. You know what? Life happens. And you just got to deal with it.”

It seems every day there is a new revelation, a new addition to the story. The latest is a second recording of Sterling’s comments (this one taped by a “friend” if his) where he basically says he made those racist comments because he wanted to sleep with mistress V. Stiviano (let’s just call it an odd relationship and leave it at that), and also that the league can’t force him to sell (the league has seeming solid legal footing on him, his wife may be a different story).

While interest in the initial shocking story may be subsiding some there are more waves to come — the league’s owners likely will vote to strip Sterling of the team this summer, then there will be the lawsuits to block it all.

Then there is Shelly Sterling — who attended the game Friday night at Staples Center — saying she is going to fight to keep the team in the family (she owns half the team in a trust with Donald). Magic Johnson went public Friday telling the USA Today the players will not play for Shelly — he is both right and self serving in that. Right because members of the players’ union have basically said as much (and other reports have players saying that privately). Rivers has said he’s not sure if he’ll return if she still owns the team next year. All that said, for Magic — who with his business partners wants to buy the team — to come out and say something pushing the team’s sale is clearly him promoting his own self interests.

Rivers and the players are still caught in the middle.

“It’s still a very murky situation and I don’t think that’s going to change for a while. It is what it is and we’re going to deal with it,” Rivers said.

Rivers is doing his best to shield his players on this, to take the questions and deflect the attention, to let them actually focus on the games. How well that is working is up for debate, but Rivers is certainly doing all anyone could ask.

But he knows, the players know, this is not going to end soon. It almost certainly will follow them into next season if it heads into the courts as the Sterlings have promised.

And that’s not going to let him or his players just focus on basketball.

Report: James Harden, Chris Paul and Gerald Green were holding back Trevor Ariza in back hallway

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Rockets players James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and Chris Paul reportedly went through a back hallway to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin in the Clippers’ locker room after last night’s game.

That’s one version of the story, at least.

But it apparently isn’t the only one – at least when it comes to Harden’s, Green’s and Paul’s involvement.

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

A hallway runs between the Clippers locker room and the visitors locker room, where players from opposing teams often see each other and catch up. According to a Rockets source, Ariza was waiting on Griffin, and when the game ended he charged from the hallway into the Clips locker room. When Rivers spotted Ariza near the entrance, according to the source, he said: “Let his b—– a– come in.” Ariza then turned his attention to Rivers.

ESPN reported that Ariza was flanked by three teammates—Harden, Paul and Gerald Green—but their purpose was unclear. “They were holding Trevor back,” the source said.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Harden was sitting out his seventh straight game with a strained hamstring on Monday night, and Rockets sources believe that he’ll be ready for a return to the lineup on Thursday night against Minnesota.

Austin Rivers challenging Ariza is juicy, but the type of thing people say during altercations. The rest of this sounds like the Rockets trying to position themselves ahead of the NBA handing down punishments.

If they were just trying to restrain Ariza, then Harden, Paul and Green shouldn’t be fined or suspended. But if Harden is suspended, he could serve his penalty Thursday – even if the Rockets are fibbing about him being ready to play (though they at least previously laid the groundwork for that one).

There’s a lot for the league to untangle.

Russell Westbrook ejected (video)

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Russell Westbrook jumped from fifth to second in the NBA in technical fouls in about two seconds.

The Thunder star received two technical fouls and an automatic ejection late in Oklahoma City’s win over the Kings last night, leaving his nine technical fouls behind only Draymond Green‘s 11.

Westbrook got hit in the face on a drive, but instead of a foul being called on Sacramento, Westbrook was whistled for travelling. That’s quite a turnaround from the expected call to the actual call, so I understand why Westbrook was so upset. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook said something that warranted ejection. Thunder coach Billy Donovan also got a technical foul in the sequence.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

The league used to crack down on that more with public fines, but the Thunder have skirted the rule this season.

Report: ‘Several prominent’ Cavaliers express concern about aging, defenseless, redundant roster

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The Cavaliers look like they can’t hang with the Warriors, which is troubling enough for a team with championship aspirations.

But for that realization to come during a miserable 2-8 stretch only puts more stress on the Cavs, who already appeared to be ripping at the seems. LeBron James is performativity howling at his teammates. They’re pointing the finger back at him. Coach Tyronn Lue is talking about personal agendas.

And tensions aren’t easing.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 118-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, multiple players acknowledged growing discontent and a strong sense of concern that unlike past seasons, the team does not have the capability to fix its problems and get back on a championship track.

Several prominent players, speaking on condition of anonymity to ESPN, Cleveland.com and The Athletic, expressed doubt that the problems — an aging roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players — could simply be worked out through patience and a chance to coalesce when fully healthy.

The Cavaliers have one preeminent player: LeBron. It’d be disingenuous to frame this article this way without including him, and I doubt McMenamin is doing that.

These concerns are perfectly valid.

Cleveland is the NBA’s oldest team, weighted by playing time, in a decade. That doesn’t bode well for building up steam toward and in a long playoff run. This is an even more extreme version of the problem LeBron’s last Heat team succumbed to.

Isaiah Thomas is a defensive liability, and Kevin Love – playing a lot of center – isn’t a rim protector. Several other players – LeBron, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Channing Frye and Derrick Rose – are well past their defensive peaks, which weren’t necessarily high in the first place. The Cavs’ defense ranks 29, ahead of only the Kings.

Wade, Calderon and Rose can’t all serve as lead playmaker while LeBron sits – leaving the other two without clear roles when everyone is healthy. Smith and Korver would both be spot-up 3-point specialists if Smith were hitting shots. Jae Crowder and Jeff Green look similar (a compliment to Green, but a telltale sign of how underwhelming Crowder has been). Frye is a lesser version of Love as a stretch five. Tristan Thompson can’t get going, and Iman Shumpert can’t get healthy.

To be fair, the Cavaliers are 26-17 – hardly bad, but not quite championship-caliber. This portrait of doom and gloom is accurate only when measured against the highest of expectations.

The Cavs can still trade the Nets’ first-round pick to upgrade the roster, though they’re reportedly disinclined to do so. This report sounds like a plea from top players for the team to reconsider. And if owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman don’t, it’ll read as LeBron framing his exit in free agency next summer.

Danny Green tugs down Dennis Schroder’s shorts (video)

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We collectively made a federal case out of J.R. Smith untying shoelaces.

We probably ought to at least question what the heck Danny Green was doing to Dennis Schroder here.

At least Schroder got the last laugh with 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the Hawks’ win over the Spurs.