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With Rudy Gobert out, Clippers throw party in paint, win Game 2 99-91 to even series

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This was what the Clippers had expected this series.

With Rudy Gobert sidelined with a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise, Los Angeles threw a party in the lane — 60 points in the paint, eight offensive rebounds, and just two shots were blocked. They played downhill, to use Doc Rivers’ postgame phrasing. DeAndre Jordan thrived most of all, the Clippers’ center had 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter, he was getting dunks at the rim and dominating the glass. Clipper guards were driving the lane with impunity — heck, even Paul Pierce had a driving layup at one point.

“We just wanted to be aggressive,” Chris Paul said after the game. “DJ (Jordan) was great, Blake (Griffin) was great, but our guards were just getting in the paint.”

The Jazz scrapped and stayed within striking distance, but the Clippers held on for a 99-91 win. That evens the series at 1-1 heading back to Utah for Game 3 Friday night.

This game was what the Clippers wanted in that their three stars had big outings. Jordan was a force early and finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, Blake Griffin led the way with 24 points including the dagger three, and Chris Paul had 21 points and 10 assists, and he owned the game in the fourth quarter.

But the key was Los Angeles attacking the vacuum left by Gobert’s absence — Los Angeles shot 27-of-33 in the restricted area Tuesday. Defensively, other Jazz players did not step up and help enough.

Utah also could not generate consistent offense. They struggled mightily early, shooting just 29.4 percent in the first quarter, and while that improved the Jazz were rarely efficient for longer than a short stretch. Gordon Hayward led Utah with 20 points on 5-of-15 shooting, while Joe Johnson became the guy the team leaned on to create shots and he finished with 13 points on 15 shots.

Derrick Favors, who was so crucial for the Jazz in Game 1, had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting but didn’t have the same impact.

The Clippers came out of this game both even in the series and with something to build upon. They were the aggressors and will look to carry that over, plus they didn’t have a great shooting game from the outside (6-of-20 from three), and that should change with time. Los Angeles would like to get J.J. Redick going next game, he hasn’t had a lot of space to work in the first two (it’s not like the Jazz are worried about Luc Mbah a Moute, so they have stuck tight with Redick and helped).

For the Jazz, they fought and kept the game close, and going home they have to think some role players will step up (such as Rodney Hood or Joe Ingles, both of whom were okay but not great in Game 2).

Utah got the split on the road to start the series. Now they need to protect their home court.

Gobert would help with that, but it’s not known when he will return. Coach Quin Snyder said recently Gobert would be out “a week or two,” which would seem to make at least Friday unlikely. But nobody really knows.

Reports: Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets among teams calling about Eric Bledsoe

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Eric Bledsoe is done with the Suns. His excuse that his “I Dont wanna be here” Tweet was about a hair salon is as believable as myself, Bruce Willis, and Andre Agassi Tweeting about our time in hair salons. The Suns have told him to go home, and they will work to trade him. Most likely, the Suns are going to get crushed in this deal — they have no leverage, Bledsoe is a free agent in less than two years (2019), plus most teams are not looking for another point guard. But he is being shopped, and he’d like to go to a winning team.

Where will Bledsoe get traded?

A few names have come up — the Knicks, Bucks, and Nuggets are the ones out in public now. There are more, but let’s take a look at those three.

The Knicks have one of the two worst backcourts in the NBA (the Bulls are in that mix, too) so they certainly could use Bledsoe short term. However, long term he doesn’t fit on the Kristaps Porzingis timeline so how much would New York give up to get him.

That price is too high, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

The Suns have asked about young Knicks such as Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in trade talks about guard Eric Bledsoe, sources confirm. But New York have been opposed to trading either young player, sources told ESPN. Hernangomez has not been in head coach Jeff Hornacek’s regular rotation in the first two games of the season, which has left the second-year center frustrated. But Hernangomez’s lack of playing time isn’t a sign that the club is looking to move him. Ntilikina has dealt with several injuries early in his career but the point guard remains part of the young core New York wants to build around and management, as of Monday afternoon, did not want to move him in a Bledsoe deal.

Then there is Milwaukee.

On the court, this makes some sense. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the point forward who has the ball in his hands, but Bledsoe is adept off the ball and can hit the three. The move would send Malcolm Brogdon back to the bench, which he may not like but is a good thing for a team looking to bolster its depth.

The trade likely would involve Jabari Parker going West, along with salary filler such as Matthew Dellavedova. Parker is coming off multiple injuries, but he still knows how to score inside and in the right system has value. Whether that system is in Phoenix depends on what kind of system they want to run and roster they want to build.

Then there is Denver.

Denver likes Jamal Murray at the point guard spot and is ready to move on from Emmanuel Mudiay, so there could be a point guard swap but with some more salary coming back to Phoenix (Denver likely would want to dump Kenneth Faried but the Suns will want something that helps them out more than that). This makes some sense as it gives the Suns a young point guard with some skills to try out, while the Nuggets get deeper at a spot of need.

Other deals are lurking (yes LeBron James and Bledsoe are tight, but that deal is a long shot), and the Suns rightfully are going to take the best deal they can find, regardless of whether Bledsoe wants to be there or not. The only questions are how fast do they get it done, and what are teams offering?

J.R. Smith replacing Dwyane Wade as Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard

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The Cavaliers are 2-1, but their starting lineups have been outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes. Dwyane Wade has been so bad as the starting shooting guard, his struggles have overshadowed J.R. Smith‘s miserable play as the backup.

But at least Wade volunteered a solution to this predictable problem.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Dwyane Wade is headed for the Cavaliers’ bench at his own request and J.R. Smith is returning to the starting lineup.

Wade, 35, a 12-time All-Star who struggled in his first three games with Cleveland, asked coach Tyronn Lue to make the change, Lue said. But this wasn’t exactly Wade’s idea, either.

Lue told him when he signed with the Cavs Sept. 27 that the second unit may be the best fit for him.

“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”

Cleveland’s starting lineup needs more shooting and defense around LeBron James – especially with Derrick Rose starting over an injured Isaiah Thomas (though Rose is out a couple games with his own ankle injury). Smith provides that.

Bench-heavy units need more playmaking. Wade provides that.

This was a tricky situation given Wade’s status as a future Hall of Famer and friendship with LeBron. Whether Wade simply suggested the change or Lue is trying to give Wade public credit after coaxing it behind the scenes, the result is the same.

The Cavs can now use their most logical rotation, and they should be better for it.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough: Eric Bledsoe hair-salon claim about tweet was unbelievable

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Eric Bledsoe reportedly requested a trade from the Suns before the season then tweeted yesterday:

Clear message?

Apparently not.

After sending home Bledsoe today, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough explained his rationale:

The hair salon! What a wonderful excuse.

Is it true? I’m not going to call Bledsoe a liar. It might be.

It’s also probably true that Bledsoe isn’t long for Phoenix.

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.