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Three things we learned Tuesday: Sometimes good teams have bad nights. At the same time.

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Three of the top four teams in our latest NBA power rankings lost on the same night (the only one that didn’t had the night off). Obviously, this is all Donald Trump’s fault. Nonetheless, here is what we learned Tuesday night around the league.

1) What is going on? Clippers blow 18-point lead in Brooklyn, Spurs flat at home against Magic. There must have been something in the water in Brooklyn and San Antonio because it was an ugly night for the two teams that believe they have a shot at knocking off the Warriors in the West this year.

With a 127-122 double-overtime loss to the Nets Tuesday, the Clippers have now lost three straight on the road. Their problems start with their bench — it was a surprising strength for them early on but now has either come apart or regressed to the mean, depending on how you want to view it. The Clippers led by 16 early in the fourth, but it was the bench at the start of the fourth that had no answer for Sean Kilpatrick — 20 points in the fourth (after shooting 3-of-13 through the first three) — and gave up most of the 19-5 Nets run that made it a ballgame. Well, that and the fact the Nets went 6-of-6 from three in the fourth. From there, it was a scramble and Chris Paul alone could not save Los Angeles.

The Clippers were without Blake Griffin who rested for the night, but this is Brooklyn (without Jeremy Lin), losers of seven in a row, it shouldn’t have mattered. Los Angeles has looked slow and tired on the road of late, with dead legs. The Clippers defense has been a little worse during their recent losing streak, but the bigger problem is on offense, where for the last three games they are 15.8 points per 100 off their average. In those three games, the Clippers are shooting 40.9 percent overall, 28 percent from three, and have been outscored by 12.3 per game. Next up on the road trip? The Cleveland Cavaliers. Play like this and it could get ugly.

(As an aside, I think Doc Rivers is right to have lost it on official Kenny Mauer for giving him technical foul, which led to Rivers’ ejection in the first OT. Rivers did cross over half court on the sideline to complain to Lauren Holtkamp about a call, but she was calm and talking to him while Mauer clearly thought he heard something (which Rivers denies), rushed in from across the court and played her protector. It was an overreach in my book. The league won’t see it that way, Rivers will get fined for losing his… cool. But at an emotional point late in a close game Mauer needlessly injected himself into the story.)

As for the Spurs, it was the first game home after a road trip and the Spurs mentally never showed up in a 95-83 loss to Orlando. Starting in the second quarter San Antonio just sagged back on defense and Orlando took advantage — that is the Magic team with the worst offense in the league, but these are NBA players and if you give them room they will hit shots. For example, Serge Ibaka has struggled this season but was 7-of-11 for 18 points on the night. The Spurs struggled to find their footing on offense, but credit Frank Vogel and the Magic defense here — we thought coming into the season they would be good defensively, and this has quietly become a top-10 defensive team. Still, it’s nights off like this that make you kind of wonder just how good the Spurs are and can be.

2) Cavaliers have off night, but give Giannis Antetokounmpo some credit for Bucks win. Cleveland took the day off mentally in Philadelphia on Sunday, but the Cavs were still able to come back and get the win in that one. Milwaukee is not Philly — the Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo and some real talent on the roster, coast on them and you will pay. Which is what happened, Cleveland’s bench (once LeBron James and J.R. Smith sat) blew and early lead and the team was listless the rest of the way.

Let’s give credit where it’s due: This may have been the Bucks best game of the season. It all started with Antetokounmpo, who was attacking the basket against a Cavs team that lacks a true rim protector (outside of LeBron) — the Greek Freak was 12-of-15 in the restricted area for the game, finishing with 34 points on 19 shots (plus 12 boards and five steals). The book on Antetokounmpo is clear — make him a jump shooter. The Cavs failed at that. Check out his shot chart.

Giannis shotcart

The Bucks are risk takers under Kidd, which has had mixed results, but the one where he put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands has been a stroke of genius. Jabari Parker added 18 points and Michael Beasley had 17 off the bench for the Bucks.



3) Thing we will learn in next months: Can Grizzlies keep their heads above water?
The Memphis Grizzlies are 11-7 and if the playoffs started today would be the four seed in the West. The question is where they will be in late January. That’s when they should get point guard Mike Conley back from the transverse process fracture in his spine (which sounds worse than it is, this was the injury Cam Newton had).

Here’s the concern: The Grizzlies are 19.3 points per 100 possessions better when Mike Conley is on the court. Pair Conley and Marc Gasol on the court together the Grizzlies are a raw +81 this season, without them they are -88. Throw in the fact that Chandler Parsons (bone bruise), Brandon Wright (ankle) and James Ennis (calf strain) have missed games due to injury lately, and the depth of a thin Memphis side will be tested.

When (if?) the Grizzlies get healthy somewhere just before the All-Star break, will they still be in striking distance of the playoffs in the West, or will this team fade so far it can’t quite climb back? Will some bench players step up? I love the culture in Memphis, I love what David Fizdale has done as coach, but what comes next is a tough ask.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.