Getty Images

NBA Three Things to Know: Blake Griffin can still dunk, Clippers are legit

Leave a comment

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) Clippers ace first real test, silence Jazz. And if you think Blake Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore… The Clippers came into Tuesday night 2-0, and we all shrugged because they had beaten the Lakers and the Suns. It was little more than extended training camp. Blake Griffin had looked like a maestro running the Clipper offense, Patrick Beverley talked a lot, but how do we judge that against two of the worst defensive teams in the league?

Tuesday night the Clippers owned a good Jazz team in the second half, and Griffin dropped 22 points with nine rebounds and 6 assists — given their first test the Clippers aced it. Griffin set the tone in the first quarter with a throwback dunk over the best defensive big man in the game, Rudy Gobert. Tell me again how Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore.

Griffin has always been an underrated passer, but he has added a legit three-point shot to his arsenal this season, shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc so far. More importantly, he is now their best playmaker and they need him for Doc Rivers pass-and-cut offense to be effective — against Utah it was clear how much the Clippers missed Milos Teodosic to create with the second unit (Lou Williams was off and just 3-of-10 shooting, he has to lead that second unit now). Griffin has been at his peak to start the season, and he’s getting some help — DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 18 rebounds outplaying Gobert, Patrick Beverley had 19 points and was 4-of-7 from three, and Austin Rivers added 16 against Utah.

Three games in, the Clippers also have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 86.1 points per 100 possessions. We’re going to take a wait-and-see on how good the defense really is — the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz are not exactly offensive powerhouses — but it’s a promising start.

From the opening of training camp the question with the Clippers was not “do they have talent?” because they had plenty, the real question was “can they keep that talent on the court?” There are a lot of guys with long injury histories on this team, starting with Griffin. When healthy, however, this is a good Clippers team. Very good.

2) Anthony Davis gives everyone a scare, but MRI is clean and he is day-to-day.
That sound you hear is GM Dell Demps, coach Alvin Gentry, and the entire city of New Orleans exhaling.

Just five minutes into Tuesday night’s game against Portland, Anthony Davis left it with a sore knee. He had banged it in knee-to-knee contact with Damian Lillard, then we saw it buckle a little in a position battle with Maurice Harkless, and we were worried — Davis has been his usual, brilliant self to start the season and the basketball gods have already robbed us of enough talent to start the season. They can’t have Davis, too.

They won’t. An MRI came back negative and Davis is considered day-to-day. Without him on the court DeMarcus Cousins took over scoring 39 points and grabbing 13 boards, and keeping it close. However, Portland closed the game on a 9-0 run, and with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 24 points in the fourth quarter it was too much for New Orleans to match. Portland got the 103-93 win, and the Pelicans fall to 1-3 to start the season (the Blazers are 3-1).

3) LeBron James takes over as Cavaliers point guard, he can play that, too. Isaiah Thomas will not step on the court in a Cavaliers uniform until 2018. Derrick Rose is out with a tweaked ankle. That left Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue with a choice: Start Jose Calderon or LeBron James at the point?

Is that even a question? Actually, it was when Lue started Calderon against Orlando, and Cleveland lost. Lesson learned. LeBron played the point Tuesday and was his MVP-level self: 34 points on 20 shots, 4-of-6 from three, and he racked up 13 assists.

Kevin Love had 10 of his 20 points on the night in the fourth quarter, and the Cavaliers moved past a game Bulls team for the 119-112 win.

This was also the game where J.R. Smith moved back into the starting lineup, but he stumbled shooting 1-of-8 from the floor in this one (he had missed shootaround with a sore back). Dwyane Wade was 5-of-7 off the bench and boosted a Cavs bench that could use it, scoring 11 points. Tristan Thompson also slid into the starting lineup for the Cavaliers in this one, but that was more about Robin Lopez being at center for Chicago and Lue wanting to match up. The Cavaliers are versatile and veteran enough to make all these changes and just keep on winning.

It also helps to have LeBron James.

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
2 Comments

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
3 Comments

When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.