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Three questions the Los Angeles Clippers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 51-31, but fell to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs (continuing a disappointing string of playoff performances)

I know what you did last summer: Maybe only the Celtics have seen the kind of roster turnover the Clippers have this past summer. Chris Paul forced his way out of town — and the Clipper front office recovered from that better than anyone expected. (That front office was one of the significant changes — Doc Rivers is no longer the GM, it is Lawrence Frank who now has the hammer, and Jerry West is consulting with him). Paul forced a trade to Houston, but the Clippers got back a good haul with Patrick Beverley, Sam Decker, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell. Los Angeles also quickly re-signed Blake Griffin to be the face of the franchise. The Clippers also lost J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Luc Mbah a Moute from the rotation. They did well to add Danilo Gallinari, Willie Reed, and Milos Teodosic.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CLIPPERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can the Clippers pull off a motion offense with Blake Griffin at the center of it? For years, the Clippers’ offense has been fully in the hands of Chris Paul — as it should have been. When you have one of the best point guards, one of the best floor generals the game has seen, you give him the rock. For the past six years, the Clippers’ pick-and-roll heavy offense was never worse than eighth in the league (usually top five).

With CP3 gone, Doc Rivers says the Clippers want to run, move the ball move utilizing Griffin’s passing — which is very good — and get guys moving off the ball. That sounds good on paper. Patrick Beverley is a good spot-up shooter, DeAndre Jordan can roll to the rim or make cuts down the baseline to get open for lobs, and Gallinari can both catch-and-shoot or create shots depending on the matchup. But things that look good on paper don’t always translate the same way on the court. There are questions. It’s going to be interesting to see how teams defend Griffin — will they use a long wing, a power forward, or maybe a center on him? Will they play passing lanes and dare him to drive and shoot? Griffin needs to both hit some threes (or at least mid-range jumpers) and drive to dunk/get to the line to keep teams honest.

Los Angeles will seek more balanced scoring — while Griffin and others can do it for a night, we’re not going to see a lot of 25-30 point games out of the Clippers. It’s going to be more like six guys in double digits with the leading scorer at 18. Balance can work against most teams, so long as the players buy in.

So far in the preseason, the Clippers’ offense has been up-and-down and landed in the middle of the pack (the rebounding and defense have been atrocious). It’s preseason, so we shouldn’t read too much into that. When Teodosic started for Austin Rivers against the Raptors the offense looked better, and we could see that for stretches, but Rivers is the better defender and will get most starts.

2) Can Griffin, Gallinari, and the rest of the Clippers just stay healthy? Blake Griffin missed 21 games last season, 47 the season before that, 15 the season before that. Gallinari’s 19 games missed last season was the fewest he has missed in four years. Patrick Beverley missed 15 games last season and has had his own injury issues throughout his career.

How many games is Doc Rivers going to have his preferred starting five out there? The Clippers have the best bench they have had in years this season, but that only works if those guys don’t have to slide up into the starting lineup to replace injured guys.

In the West, there are seven teams — the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Jazz — fighting for four playoff spots. The Timberwolves should be in, which would leave six relatively evenly matched teams for three spots — staying healthy will be a deciding factor. Can Rivers have his preferred starting five for 65 games? If so, the Clippers will make the postseason. If not, it gets risky.

3) The Clippers will entertain with Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic, but can they get enough stops (especially with the bench)? You need to tune into Clippers games just to see Teodosic play — he is already one of the best passers in the NBA. He has that gift. He sees things before they happen then puts the ball in the perfect spot. He is going to rack up a lot of Sports Center highlights this season. Thrown in the fearless gunner off the bench in Lou Williams and you have a Clippers second unit that should be able to score.

The question is the defense. When DeAndre Jordan and Patrick Beverley are on the floor, the Clipper defense should be passable. However, the Clippers don’t have great wing defenders in a conference loaded with elite wings. Then there is the issue that neither Teodosic or Williams are good defenders. We will see how Rivers spaces out his rotations, but the Clippers have some weak defenders who need to get heavy minutes, and that creates challenges.

NBA: Clint Capela never knocked on front door of Clippers’ locker room

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The most fantastic reported detail of the Rockets-Clippers post-game brouhaha Monday: As Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, James Harden and Chris Paul charged the Clippers’ locker room through a back entrance, Clint Capela knocked on the front door and was turned away.

Was Houston attacking on two fronts? Was Capela serving as decoy? If so, did he know his role, or did other Rockets set him up? Was he on a solo mission?

According to NBA executive Kiki VanDeWeghe – who suspended Ariza and Green two games for the incident, but penalized no others – it amounted to practically nothing. And whatever happened involved Tarik Black, not Capela.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

VanDeWeghe said he had reviewed footage from a security camera in the main hallway and it showed that no player attempted to enter the Clippers’ locker room from the front entrance the team generally uses.

“It was reported that (Clint) Capela was out there,” VanDeWeghe said. “We have no video evidence that Capela was out there.”

Rockets center Tarik Black was on his way to lift weights at the time, as he does after each game, and heard the noise from the back hallway, VanDeWeghe said.

“He heard some commotion and called in, but never got any farther,” VanDeWeghe said. “I think we’d all do the same thing.”

VanDeWeghe violated the rule of the Old West: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. Now, we’re left with a dull story.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry captains as All-Star starters named

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LeBron James, you are on the clock.

LeBron was the top overall vote-getter in the NBA All-Star balloting by the fans (2,638,294 votes) and that — along with votes from the media and current players to ensure he was in — has him as one of the two captains for the All-Star Game (Feb. 18 in Los Angeles). Stephen Curry was the top vote-getter in the West (2,379,494 votes) and he will be the other captain.

This year those two captains will pick the team — playground style — first from the pool of other starters selected by fans, media, and current players, then from the list of reserves selected by the coaches (which will be announced next week). With the most fan votes, LeBron gets the first pick. LeBron and Curry do not have to choose from their own conference, but here are the starters (two backcourt, three frontcourt players):

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry
James Harden
Kevin Durant
Anthony Davis
DeMarcus Cousins

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving
DeMar DeRozan
LeBron James
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Joel Embiid

This is Embiid’s first All-Star Game, it’s LeBron’s 14th (one behind Kobe Bryant’s all-time record of 15). Anthony Davis is back after dropping a record 52 points in last year’s All-Star Game, and with him and Cousins starting it’s the first time New Orleans has had two starters.

In the East, Victor Oladipo and Kristaps Porzingis both just missed the cut (the players had him as a starter over Embiid, but the fans and media did not), and in the West it was Russell Westbrook and Draymond Green who were just on the outside looking in (the fans voted Green a starter, while the media had LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting five. All of them are basically locks to be selected by the coaches for the All-Star team.

Here is the voting breakdown, where each player’s score is weighted based on 50 percent for fan vote, 25 percent for player vote, and 25 percent for media vote [if you care, the formula to get the weighted score is (Fan Rank * 2 + Player Rank + Media Rank)/4].

Eastern Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#LeBron James (Cleveland)      1      2      1      1.25
2. *Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)      2      1      1      1.5
3. *Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)      3      4      3      3.25
4. Kristaps Porzingis (New York)      4      3      4      3.75
5. Kevin Love (Cleveland)      5      6      7      5.75
6. Al Horford (Boston)      7      8      5      6.75
7. Andre Drummond (Detroit)      9      5      6      7.25
8. Jayson Tatum (Boston)      6      12      8      8.0
9. Enes Kanter (New York)      8      9      8      8.25
10. Dwight Howard (Charlotte)      10      13      8      10.25

 

Eastern Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kyrie Irving (Boston)      1      1      1      1.0
2. *DeMar DeRozan (Toronto)      2      2      2      2.0
3. Victor Oladipo (Indiana)      4      3      3      3.5
4. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)      3      6      6      4.5
5. John Wall (Washington)      6      4      4      5.0
6. Bradley Beal (Washington)      9      5      4      6.75
7. Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland)      7      9      6      7.25
8. Kyle Lowry (Toronto)      8      7      6      7.25
9. Dwyane Wade (Cleveland)      5      15      6      7.75
10. Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee)      12      10      6      10.0

 

*–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Western Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kevin Durant (Golden State)      1      1      1      1.0
2. *Anthony Davis (New Orleans)      3      2      2      2.5
3. *DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans)      4      3      4      3.75
4. Draymond Green (Golden State)      2      7      6      4.25
5. Paul George (Oklahoma City)      5      6      7      5.75
6. LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio)      8      4      3      5.75
7. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)      9      5      4      6.75
8. Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)      6      8      9      7.25
9. Carmelo Anthony (Oklahoma City)      7      9      9      8.0
10. Kyle Kuzma (L.A. Lakers)      10      12      9      10.25

    

Western Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#Stephen Curry (Golden State)      1      1      2      1.25
2. *James Harden (Houston)      3      2      1      2.25
3. Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)      4      3      3      3.5
4. Manu Ginobili (San Antonio)      2      8      7      4.75
5. Klay Thompson (Golden State)      5      9      5      6.0
6. Chris Paul (Houston)      7      7      5      6.5
7. Damian Lillard (Portland)      8      4      7      6.75
8. Jimmy Butler (Minnesota)      9      6      4      7.0
9. Devin Booker (Phoenix)      10      4      7      7.75
10. Lonzo Ball (L.A. Lakers)      6      13      7      8.0

 

*–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Pharrell and N.E.R.D to headline NBA All-Star halftime show

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA announced Thursday that 11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip-hop-rock band N.E.R.D will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles next month.

Fergie, who has eight Grammys, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to tip-off. Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies will perform the national anthem of their home country.

The Feb. 18 game will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern on TNT from the Staples Center. It will be seen in more than 200 countries.

Pharrell and the band, which released its fifth studio album last month, will perform a medley of chart-topping hits. Fergie released her second full-length album, “Double Dutchess,” and a companion visual album in September. She is a host of the new Fox show “The Four: Battle for Stardom.”

Kevin Hart will open the night.

 

Magic’s Aaron Afflalo suspended two games for swing at Nemanja Bjelica

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This wasn’t two guys yelling into a locker room after a game, this was an actual fight. With an actual haymaker punch being thrown — and missing.

Aaron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica had been going back-and-forth all game Tuesday night, then it bubbled over when Jamal Crawford missed a jumper, Bjelica charged right at Afflalo while going for an offensive board, Afflalo blocked him like an offensive lineman, and then it got out of control.

The league announced Thursday that Afflalo has been suspended two games for throwing a haymaker. Both men were ejected from that game, but there is no further punishment for Bjelica (which is fair, Afflalo was the instigator here, Bjelica ended it with a headlock).

Glad to see this suspension was more than one game — if Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green get two games for an incident where there wasn’t a punch thrown, this had to be at least equal to that.