Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul (3) drives around Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Associated Press

Clippers ace first big test of season, blow out Cavaliers 113-94

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It’s December, not the second round of the playoffs.

The “are these Clippers really different?” question remains.

But faced with their first big test of the season — having three ugly road losses in a row then taking on the defending NBA champions — the Clippers aced it. Los Angeles got red-hot shooting from J.J. Redick, strong defense from Luc Mbah a Moute on LeBron James, and Los Angeles just simply outworked and out-executed the defending champs.

The result was a 113-94 Los Angeles win.

For the Cavaliers, it is the kind of game they can shrug off as one where they just came out flat. It happens. Kyrie Irving did have 28 (and picked up a technical) if you want a bright spot.

For the Clippers, this is the kind of victory that suggests the maturity they will need to get to the conference finals come the playoffs. There’s a lot of basketball between now and May, the big questions remain to be answered, but for a Clipper team feeling the pressure of change next summer, the Clippers couldn’t have looked better acing their first test.

“We actually played to our potential,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said postgame. “I thought we had some adversity, which is great, Chris (Paul) gets in foul trouble, and we actually extend the lead.”

What had gone wrong the last three games — road losses to Detroit, Indiana, and Brooklyn — was a combination of offensive struggles and the bench, which had been playing well early, struggling on defense.

Nobody should have thought the Clippers offensive woes would be a long-term issue. It seemed like this one might be another when Chris Paul got two early fouls, but J.J. Redick was brilliant — 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 5-of-6 from three, plus a lot of great playmaking, and that was all before halftime. Redick only finished with 23 because it was plenty because of Paul (16 points, nine assists) and Los Angeles’ ball movement — 33 assists on 42 made baskets.

As for the Clipper bench, they played like they had to start the season and finished the game with 18 more points than their Cavaliers’ counterparts. More importantly, the Clipper bench defense was good all night.

But if you’re talking defense, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute performance keeping LeBron James in check — 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting — was huge. Quietly this season Mbah a Moute has been doing what the Clippers have needed from the three spot for years: play great defense and knock down corner threes. Mbah a Moute is having his best defensive season in years, and he entered the game shooting 42 percent from the corners.

“I thought defensively, we were just locked in, and the reason was we respected them,” Rivers said postgame, not meaning to but throwing shade at Indiana and Brooklyn. “They’re the Cleveland Cavaliers, they get your respect. They get your attention.”

The first quarter had been very back-and-forth, which was good for Los Angels considering CP3’s foul trouble. In the second quarter, the Clippers kept executing and were able to stretch the lead out to 58-50 at the half. Then Clippers opened the second half on an 8-0 run that extended to 13-2 when Tyrone Lue called a time out and should have asked his team if they were tired and just wanted to go home, because they were playing like it.

By the time that run was over the Clippers were up by 19 and the game was never in doubt after it.

Report: Bulls shopping Rajon Rondo, Nikola Mirotic as trade deadline apporaches

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 02: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls watches from the bench as the Bulls take on the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center on January 2, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hornets 118-111. The NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Chicago’s front office chose to make quick-fix, treading water moves this summer. They wisely traded Derrick Rose and kept Jimmy Butler as a franchise cornerstone, but when the possibility of getting Dwyane Wade became a reality they decided to push to win more now, adding Rajon Rondo to the mix. The fit seemed awkward from the start and the result is exactly what everyone outside Chicago predicted — a roughly .500 team (22-23) that is terrible at shooting the three.

The Bulls are barely in the playoff mix and are now looking to make changes, shopping Rondo and Nikola Mirotic in hopes of finding players that are better fits, reports Joe Crowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to multiple sources, the Bulls have been actively shopping Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic in hopes of shaking up the roster, as well as making a second-half run in the wide-open Eastern Conference. However, according to one of the sources, neither player is moving the needle as far as what general manager Gar Forman deems a worthy return.

“Obviously, you knew that would be the case with Rondo,’’ the source said. “But they don’t like what they’re hearing back on [Mirotic] either. Then again, that’s a [front office] that tends to overvalue its assets.”

This isn’t really news to anyone following the Bulls, they have been looking for deals — particularly for Rondo — for a little while.

The bigger question is: What do the Bulls think they could get back for Rondo? It’s not going to be anything of value. The summer free agent market for him was not strong and, while he was arguably the best point guard still on the market when they went looking, the $14 million they gave him this season was more about money they had to spend than pure market value. Since then, Rondo has had clashes with the coaching staff and been sent to the bench which plays into his reputation (whether that is fair or not is another question), making it even harder to find a taker for him.

Mirotic has taken a step back this season and is inconsistent with what his supposed to be his strength, outside shooting — he is hitting just 31.1 percent from three this season. While a change of scenery could be good for his touch from the outside, he is also a major defensive liability, which limits his value.

All of which is to say, the Bulls are not going to get a lot in return here. The Bulls may realize that Cristiano Felicio is the future at that spot for them, but it doesn’t mean others are biting on Mirotic.

Also, just a reminder that the Bulls are shooting down all trade interest about Butler.

 

Baron Davis figured out why Russell Westbrook isn’t starting All-Star Game: Russian hackers

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When the starters for next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans were announced this week, there was a mini-uproar on Twitter because Russell Westbrook — the guy averaging a triple-double this season — wasn’t picked. It’s hard for me to get worked up over two-time MVP Stephen Curry getting the nod, but if you want someone to blame it was the fans’ call — they voted Curry first overall, James Harden second, Westbrook third. The players and media had Westbrook first, Harden second, but the tie is broken by the fan vote.

Enter Baron Davis with the timely joke.

We just need to tie in a Zaza Pachulia joke and it will be perfect.

Report: Bucks brought Jabari Parker off bench for discussing with media team’s meeting

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, center, looks for an open teammate as he is surrounded by Miami Heat players during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Bucks 109-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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The Milwaukee Bucks had lost four in a row and had slid out of a playoff slot in the East. It’s not one end of the court — in their last five games, the Bucks had the second-worst defense and fourth-worst offense in the NBA. After that fourth loss, the team held a players’ only meeting, one where Jabari Parker reportedly ripped his teammates for a lack of togetherness.

In the postgame media sessions that followed, Parker told the press he confirmed there was a meeting and said he had been “thrashed” by his teammates for what he said.

It was that speaking to the media that got him benched for a game — as decided by his teammates — reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker did not start in Saturday’s road loss to the Miami Heat for violating a team rule that prohibits disclosing locker room discourse to the media, league sources told ESPN…

Parker’s teammates deliberated and decided the appropriate punishment for the violation was to bring him off the bench against the Heat, league sources told ESPN. It was the first time this season that he did not start.

The meeting and the benching didn’t help, the Bucks fell to the lowly Heat 109-97. (Team/players meetings are overrated in how often they help teams turn things around.)

The good news for the Bucks is that in a tight East they remain just a game out of the playoffs and three games out of the five seed. It’s going to be a tough week to turn that around with the Rockets, resurgent Sixers, Raptors, and Celtics on the schedule.

 

Denver’s Kenneth Faried gets up, blocks DeAndre Jordan dunk attempt (VIDEO)

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Without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the lineup, the Clippers don’t have much going for them offensively. However, there is one thing: DeAndre Jordan can still run to the rim and dunk with authority.

Denver’s Kenneth Faried took that away Saturday.

Faried hustled back in transition, showed he still had some hops and swatted away a Jordan dunk attempt.

The Nuggets went on to win the game comfortably, 123-98, behind 19 points and 10 boards from Nikola Jokic.