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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.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.