Associated Press

Wither Lob City? Clippers facing possible big changes

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Together for six years now, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs. Heck, the Los Angeles Clippers haven’t even gotten out of the first round two years running.

And that’s not the worst of it.

The Clippers are the first team in NBA history to blow a series lead in five consecutive playoff appearances.

“Once again, we’re done,” a dejected Paul said. “Too many times.”

Their latest failure came Sunday, a 104-91 loss in Game 7 at home against the Utah Jazz. After six closely contested games decided by an average of 5.1 points, the Clippers turned in a flat effort with their season – and perhaps future – at stake.

They fought all season to earn home-court advantage only to lose three of four to the Jazz at Staples Center. Their 2-1 series lead vanished along with Griffin, who went down with a season-ending toe injury in Game 3.

He wasn’t around to watch the team’s demise, having traveled to consult with a doctor about possible surgery.

Whether Griffin’s around next season is one of the big questions facing the franchise.

Griffin and Chris Paul can opt out of their contracts this summer. J.J. Redick – who made one basket in Game 7 – becomes a free agent.

Ultimately, they hold the future of the franchise in their hands.

For his part, third-year owner Steve Ballmer would have to shell out upward of $200 million, including the luxury tax, to keep the trio together.

“We’ve been reading about our obituary for about three months now,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure everyone will have their own suggestions.”

The Clippers began the season as the league’s best team at 14-2. They ended the regular season as the hottest team with a seven-game winning streak. Then they blew a 2-1 lead against the Jazz, leaving their fans wondering if the Lob City era is over.

Here are some things to know about the Clippers heading into the offseason:

GRIFFIN & PAUL

They can choose to exercise the early termination options on their contracts and become free agents. By doing so, they could still sign richer long-term deals to stay in L.A. Griffin has missed portions of the last two postseasons with injuries, and although he’s only 28, Ballmer will surely ponder whether he wants to continue focusing his franchise around such an injury-prone player. Paul carried the Clippers through the first six games against the Jazz before they shut him down with 13 points in Game 7. He turns 32 on Saturday and while he is still an All-Star, Ballmer must consider whether to commit bigger bucks over several years to Paul. Or Griffin and Paul could decide it’s time to go elsewhere to pursue an elusive title.

INJURIES

During the regular season, Griffin missed 19 games with a sore right knee that required a procedure, while Paul sat out 21 games with a hamstring issue and a ligament tear in his left thumb. A year ago, Paul broke his hand and Griffin re-aggravated a quad injury in a first-round playoff loss against Portland. Griffin had missed 41 games because of the quad during the regular season, in addition to losing time after breaking his hand punching the team’s assistant equipment manager. Because of the injuries, Ballmer may decide it’s worth keeping them around to take another crack at winning the franchise’s first NBA championship.

DOC RIVERS

He just completed his fourth season in L.A. working the dual roles of president of basketball operations and coach. Under him, the team has a .662 winning percentage in the regular season. But the Clippers have consistently failed to contend for a title, going 18-21 with a .462 winning percentage in the playoffs. None of the team’s draft picks under Rivers has developed into solid support for the Big Three of Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan. The team had a short bench against the Jazz, including 39-year-old Paul Pierce, who played 21 minutes in Game 7 and scored six points in his career finale. Four players – Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Brice Johnson and Wesley Johnson – saw little or no minutes in the series. Given his role as part of the brain trust, Rivers shares responsibility for the continued playoff failures.

REDICK

He didn’t boost his stock with a three-point effort on 1 of 5 shooting in Game 7 after slumping the entire series. Redick averaged 15.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists during the regular season, when he made a career and franchise-high 201 3-pointers. He’s one of five players to make 200 or more 3-pointers in three or more consecutive seasons. At 32, he may be ready for a change of scenery.

 

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.