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Three things to watch: Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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As we dive into the playoffs, we at PBT are going to break down each first-round playoff series and give you three things to watch in each. The Clippers have owned the Jazz the past few years (won 18 of the last 20), but with the Jazz healthy will this series be different? Let’s break it down.

Which team controls the tempo? The Utah Jazz are deliberate, playing at the slowest pace in the NBA last season (93.62 possessions per game, according to NBA.com). It’s a good strategy — if you have a great defense led by Rudy Gobert, limit the other team’s chances with the ball and keep the scoring low. The Clippers are a middle-of-the-pack pace team, and we’re used to seeing Chris Paul casually walk the ball up the court — or, often, “walk the dog” letting the ball roll for as long as he can before picking it up — and not rushing into sets.

Except when the Clippers play the Jazz, then CP3 pushes the tempo. You will see Paul run off missed shots and try to get shots early in the clock — this is an elite Utah defense when it gets set, so why let it get comfortable before attacking? The Clippers starters can put up points — the starting lineup of Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan — was the third most used lineup in the league and outscored opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions. However, against the Jazz this season the Clippers got fewer assists than normal thanks to that Utah defense. Get offense early in the clock and the Clipper ball movement should open more things up. If the Clippers pull away in games, look at the tempo while that happens.

Can Derrick Favors — or another Jazz power forward — have a monster series? For Utah to have a real chance in this series, Derrick Favors needs to show he is healthy and have a big impact. That matters when he is on the court next to Gobert, but also when he plays as a backup center and maybe can space the floor and pull Jordan away from the basket.

When Favors was out injured Boris Diaw started at the four for Utah, and he has played well offensively, but he is a big problem defensively where a healthy, active Favors can help limit Griffin. The Clippers will likely run a lot of Chris Paul/Griffin pick-and-roll, with Jordan lurking off ball and cutting to the rim from the baseline if Gobert has to help (although Gobert can recover on that thanks to his length) — if Favors isn’t healthy and Diaw has to be out there, the Clippers will have a lot more success with that play.

Due to injury we just haven’t seen a lot of Utah’s preferred starting five, but when Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Gobert have played in a game together the Jazz are 20-5. However, add Favors to that mix and they have only played 159 minutes together all season. Compare that to the Clippers starting five which is over 800 minutes.

There is a Clippers’ corollary to Favors here — Marreese Speights. If Gobert is having a strong game (or series) expect to see more of the veteran Clipper big man because he can shoot the three and pull Gobert away from the basket. The risk there for Doc Rivers is that Speights is a weak defender and the Jazz will exploit him in the pick-and-roll at the other end.

Ultimately, where will Utah’s points come from? Utah plays a lot in the half court, and they have strong ball movement there, but the Clippers have the defenders to challenge what the Jazz do well.

Mbah a Moute has done a good job this season holding Hayward in check and not letting him dominate in the half court. CP3 is a good defender who can limit the damage Hill can do. Los Angeles is strong against the pick-and-roll with Paul and Jordan. Points are not going to come easily for Utah in this series and some guys are going to have to step. Hayward is one of them. Joe Johnson coming off the bench needs to have a big series.

Utah is going to need to knock down its threes. The Jazz were top 10 in three-point percentage in the league but middle of the pack in attempts — they are going to need those extra points. Utah needs at least 10 and even more made threes per game this series (they averaged 9.6 per game in the regular season)

Prediction: Clippers in six. I’m tempted to say in five here. Yes, the Jazz are an up and coming team, the problem is this is not a good matchup for them — there’s a reason the Clippers have won 18 of the last 20 head-to-head meetings.

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard:

Kevin Durant kisses fan hit by ball (video)

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Kevin Durant‘s final line in the Warriors’ win over the Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks… and one kiss.

He has done this before.

Three Things to Know: LeBron James talks to Lonzo Ball and that means… nothing

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Cavaliers beat the Lakers… but who cares because LeBron James talked to Lonzo Ball. Everyone loves a good mystery. Apparently to the point of obsession. Thursday night the NBA got its big unanswered question to obsess over:

What did LeBron James tell Lonzo Ball after the game?

Somehow overshadowing the fact LeBron had a triple-double in leading the Cavaliers past the Lakers in an actual basketball game that counts, the topic of discussion has been LeBron pulling Lonzo Ball aside after the game on the court to talk to him, with LeBron wisely pulling his jersey up over his lips to foil lip readers.

This video will be analyzed like it was the Zapruder film.

When asked what he said, LeBron answered: “None of y’all business.” Good. It’s not.

LeBron is one of the few people on the planet who has been in Ball’s shoes — overhyped coming into the league, drafted and instantly thrown into the role of franchise savior. LeBron has lived up to the hype over his career, he’s been through the wars, and he has advice to pass along. LeBron also has praised Ball’s level-headedness and said he liked what he saw in the rookie’s game. Ball had 13 points and 11 assists Thursday to push a Lakers’ team that did not roll over for the Cavaliers, another game where Ball is showing improvement this season. LeBron likely said some variation of what he’s said publicly — “You have the talent kid, just put in the work, honor the game, and ignore the circus around you.”

That will not stop the speculation, rumors, and conspiracy theories. If the political world has proved one thing in the past year or two, it’s that logic and facts will not stop people from believing what they want to believe.

The “LeBron will come to the Lakers” rumors run so rampant that the man himself skipped talking to the media after shootaround or before the game Thursday just to avoid the ridiculousness. The rumors persist despite reports that call it a “longshot.” They persist despite logic — LeBron (and his agent Rich Paul) have made it clear that winning and chasing more rings will be the priorities in deciding where LeBron plays next season, and even if the Lakers could land LeBron and Paul George they are the third best team in the West right now. “But he bought a new home in Brentwood! He’s coming!” Ugh. One thing is for sure: LeBron is not basing his decision based on anything he saw in a December regular season game.

Still, the postgame conversation was fuel for the conspiracy theorists. Whatever. At least some on Twitter just had fun with it.

2) Kristaps Porzingis leaves Knicks game after tweaking knee, to be examined Friday. The scariest injuries are non-contact ones, so when the Knicks’ star forward Kristaps Porzingis went to the locker room Thursday night with one Knicks’ nation held its breath.

The good news after the game is that Porzingis was standing on his leg without a brace or crutch. Both he and coach Jeff Hornacek said it was not serious. Porzingis will be examined Friday and said he felt a little pain when his knee buckled, so the team is being cautious. Hopefully, this really is nothing, but don’t be shocked if Porzingis is out Saturday when Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder come to Madison Square Garden.

By the way, the Knicks beat the Nets behind 27 points from Courtney Lee.

3) Kevin Durant goes off for 36 points, 11 rebounds in another Warriors’ win.Stephen Curry? We don’t need no stinkin’ Stephen Curry.”

Okay, the Warriors aren’t exactly saying that, but they also are 4-0 without the point guard who was having a monster season but went down with a sprained ankle. The main reason is Kevin Durant. (Well, that and a more focused defense.) Durant went off against the Mavericks, taking control of the offense as he has done since Curry went down, scoring 37 points plus grabbing 11 boards and dishing out 7 assists. The Warriors won comfortably 112-97.

That makes eight straight wins for the Warriors, who statistically are on pace for 67 wins according to Ben Falk’s Cleaning The Glass (if you just extrapolate out the Warriors current record it’s “only” 65 wins).

Bucks’ Mirza Teletovic out with blockages in lungs

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Mirza Teletovic is out because of blockages in his lungs.

The team said Thursday that pulmonary embolisms were discovered in both of Teletovic’s lungs (these are usually blood clots, often which have traveled from the legs). While we lack medical details on Teletovic’s case, this is not unlike what sidelined former Miami Heat player Chris Bosh.

The 32-year-old Teletovic consulted with Bucks team physicians after experiencing unusual fatigue earlier this week.

Following a 10-day rest period, Teletovic will begin a supervised rehabilitation program. The team provided no other for what it considers a long-term injury.

Teletovic has missed the last 16 games, including 10 after arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee on Nov. 21.

In 10 games this season, Teletovic is averaging 7.1 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range. Teletovic has been in the NBA for six seasons.