Getty Images

Three things we learned Sunday: The Clippers enter their annual stretch without Blake Griffin

2 Comments

The biggest thing to happen in the NBA Sunday? Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan got his number retired. Gregg Popovich was emotional, and Tim Duncan cracked jokes. It’s a must watch. But we knew Duncan was legendary, here are the things we learned on Sunday in the NBA.

1) Looks like the Clippers will be without Blake Griffin for few weeks, which continues an annual trend. Remember when we were asking if the Clippers could sustain their best-in-the-NBA level of play when they came out of the gate 14-2? Well, they have gone 6-6 since then with a middle-of-the-pack defense. So, no, they couldn’t sustain it.

Now things get worse — Blake Griffin is expected to be out a few weeks for knee surgery, cleaning up some soreness in his left knee. (This is not confirmed yet by the team, which was traveling home Sunday, but very likely will be on Monday.)

Griffin has averaged 21 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game this season. He is part of the second-most used five-man lineup in the NBA, the Clippers starting five — they are outscoring opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. The Clippers numbers drop off fast when the bench gets involved, and it’s going to be involved a lot for the next few weeks.

I know what you’re saying, “but the Clippers always go on a run when Griffin gets his annual injury.” Not sure that happens this season when you look at what happens to the rotations. Doc Rivers will likely start his son Austin Rivers at the three, and slide Luc Mbah a Moute to the four spot giving the Clippers a small lineup that, in theory, can shoot. Then they run a lot of Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan pick-and-rolls. Which has worked well as an offense in the past, but I’m not sold on the shooting working as well. Plus we likely see a lot more Alan Anderson and Paul Pierce, which is a steep drop off from the defense Griffin was playing.

The injury also could cost Griffin a lot of money. For several years Griffin was a staple on the All-NBA teams, but he didn’t make the cut last year (he was injured much of the season), and this could be a big setback for him as well — the forward spot is very crowded and it was tough to fit him in the six slots before. Now it gets much harder. Why this hurts is that the new “designated player” rule in the CBA that would allow the Clippers to offer a five-year, $207 million deal to Griffin is believed to be tied to the All-NBA team (either the season or two seasons before, although this is not confirmed). If Griffin doesn’t meet the qualifications, the Clippers can’t offer him that extension this summer, costing him about $6 million a season over the course of the contract.

2) Don’t ignore that the Wizards beat the Clippers and have won five of six. While the Clippers seem poised for a slide, the team that beat them Sunday is suddenly hot — the Washington Wizards have won five-of-six and are suddenly 12-14 and just a game back of the final playoff slot in the East.

What’s been behind the surge is the offense – they are 6.6 points per 100 possessions better in these games (the defense has remained basically flat just 0.4 points per 100 possessions better). Sunday it was the Bradley Beal show, he had 41 against Los Angeles.

The Wizards are making this offensive push for a few reasons — they are running more plays for John Wall off the ball, and his quickness makes him a beast off the weakside. Also, the bench — which was an abject disaster early in the season — has found a bit of a rhythm. Kelly Oubre is averaging nine points a game in December, and Trey Burke is looking like the kind of backup point guard the Wizards hoped he would be. Plus, the Wizards are nailing their midrange shots (we’ll see if that’s sustainable). Look at the shot chart from the last six games.

Wizards shotchart

Before the season we thought the Wizards would be a team in the playoff mix in the East, then they quickly looked like the most disappointing team in the league. Now, they are back in that potential playoff mix. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are having strong seasons, suggesting this isn’t a fluke. Still, sustaining any kind of success has been an issue for the Wizards for years, we will see if it can happen now.

3) It’s been a while since we said, “Damn, Joel Embiid is good.” Time to fix that. Damn, Joel Embiid is good.

He dropped a career-best 33 on the Nets, leading the Sixers to a win on Sunday. Of course he did most of his damage inside, but he knocked down he was 3-of-6 in the midrange and 2-of-3 on straight-away three-pointers. That kind of range makes him tough to guard.

Plus the guy just hustles.

Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers completes pass to become part owner of Bucks

Getty Images
2 Comments

Aaron Rodgers is regularly be seen courtside at Milwaukee Bucks games, having professed his love of the sport many times. Here was there Friday night for the Bucks’ Game 3 win, sitting courtside with girlfriend Danica Patrick.

This time, he was doing it as part owner of the team.

Milwaukee announced between the first and second quarters that the Packers QB1 is now part-owner of the Bucks, having bought a minority stake in the team.

“I have proudly called Wisconsin my home for the past 13 years, and I am thankful for the friendships and the opportunities I have been given to live and play here,” Rodgers in a released statement. “I am excited and honored to deepen my connection to the region by joining Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Dinan, Mike Fascitelli and the ownership group of the Milwaukee Bucks. As a huge fan of the NBA and the sport of basketball, this is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to furthering my affinity for Wisconsin sports as a minority owner in a team I love and support.”

Rodgers is a California native who attended Cal in the Bay Area for college and now — like many an NBA player — splits his time between living where he works in Wisconsin and Southern California.

This is a smart time to buy into the Bucks — and not just because they won Friday. Milwaukee moves into a brand new building next season which should generate a lot more revenue for the franchise. Plus, the Bucks are poised to make a leap forward in the East as a team behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and a solid supporting cast (likely led by a new coach next season), which will lead to more revenue as they become a team to see on the road, one that fills buildings.

Pelicans look to pull off sweep of Trail Blazers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Before the 2017-18 regular season began, any conversation regarding the New Orleans Pelicans and brooms had something to do with the possibility the team would clean house.

That would have meant parting ways with coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps if the Pelicans missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year despite having one of the NBA’s best players in Anthony Davis.

But now, the broom means something very different.

Energized on both ends of the court, the Pelicans have the broom ready Saturday at the Smoothie King Center to sweep the faltering Portland Trail Blazers out of the Western Conference playoffs with a fourth consecutive victory in the first-round series.

With a win Saturday, the Pelicans would become the first playoff team seeded sixth or lower to sweep a first-round playoff series since the 2001 Charlotte Hornets swept the Miami Heat 3-0 in a best-of-five series.

“Closeout games are the hardest,” said New Orleans guard Rajon Rondo, a 32-year-old veteran who is the Pelicans’ second-oldest player, someone who has served as an on-court coach to his younger teammates. “That’s what I’m going to try to explain to these guys. The first three might have been tough, but this last one is going to be very tough.”

In routing the Blazers 119-102 on Thursday to take a 3-0 series lead, the Pelicans fed off a raucous sellout crowd and led by as many as 33 points in the second half, allowing Gentry to rest his starters. Davis finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds while nursing a sore left thumb, and forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired after center DeMarcus Cousins went down in late January with a season-ending Achilles injury, scored a career-playoff-high 30 points, with 14 in the first quarter.

Even though Portland’s normally potent guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had their best game of the series — combining for 42 of the Blazers’ 102 points — Lillard had trouble shaking free of the Pelicans’ trapping defense, which forced the ball out of his hands. Lillard made just 5 of 14 shots, including 3 of 9 from 3-point range.

“They whooped our butt,” said McCollum. “They beat us in every facet of the game: loose balls, rebounds, free-throw line, energy plays, 3-pointers in transition. … You name it, and they did it.”

The Pelicans have made a conscious decision to swarm Lillard and McCollum at every opportunity, daring other Blazers to beat them. Portland hasn’t adjusted properly to the strategy. Lillard has shot 32.7 percent in the three losses.

“I don’t think (defensive assistant coach) Darren Erman has gotten the credit that he deserves,” Gentry said. “He put together a great defensive game plan. It was him that brought the game plan to me and said, ‘This is what I want to do against them.'”

“You have to continue to mix it up and give them different looks,” Gentry added. “Even doing that, those guys got some shots off and made some real difficult shots. We’ve just got to make sure that we stay locked in and not let them get into one of those zones when it starts to go in and it doesn’t matter what kind of shot they’re shooting that it’s going to go in.”

Making matters worse for the Blazers is their injury status. Both Moe Harkless (left knee) and Evan Turner (right toe) are questionable for Game 4.

Portland coach Terry Stotts said the Pelicans have been tough to handle because a different player each night has shredded the Blazers’ defense.

“Going into the series, those four guys (Davis, Jrue Holiday, Mirotic and Rondo) have played extremely well,” Stotts said. “(Mirotic) is the third different guy who’s had a 30-point night. He’s very efficient, and he made a lot of smart basketball plays as well.”

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid’s mask

7 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) Miami’s Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for attempting to damage Philadelphia center Joel Embiid‘s facemask during Game 3 of their playoff series.

Winslow intentionally stepped on Embiid’s mask after it had fallen onto the court with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the 76ers’ 128-108 victory on Thursday night.

The NBA cited Winslow for unsportsmanlike conduct in announcing the penalty Friday.

Embiid was wearing the mask for the first time after returning from a 10-game absence caused by a broken orbital bone around his left eye.

Philadelphia leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

Associated Press
2 Comments

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.