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Three Things to Know: Clippers falling apart, Sixers hand them sixth straight loss

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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. Here’s what you missed while trying to figure out a coffee puzzle

1) What is wrong with the Clippers?Joel Embiid puts up 32 as Sixers hand them a sixth straight loss. The Clippers were a great story when the season tipped off, Chris Paul was gone, and they still won four straight and looked like a team, led by Blake Griffin, that was going to be a playoff team. The offense was great led by Griffin knocking down threes — he’s still doing that at 36 percent and taking a third of his shots out there, no longer living on long twos — and the defense was good enough.

Since then the Clippers are 1-7 and after the Sixers came into Staples and beat them Monday 109-105, Los Angeles has lost six in a row.

What happened? They stopped defending.

During the six tame losing streak, the Clippers still have a solid offense (scoring 106.1 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the NBA in that stretch) but they have the NBA’s worst defense (113.8 per 100). Teams are shooting 49.9 percent against the Clippers, and while the Clips are forcing midrange shots they are not contesting them enough. The defensive issues start with DeAndre Jordan, who has been an All-NBA level anchor on the defensive end for the past few seasons but has been a step slower this season. Monday night, Joel Embiid had far more energy and dropped 32 points and 16 rebounds on DJ (and backup Willie Reed, who got in a tussle with Embiid and motivated him). Another sign of his Jordan’s rim protection not being the same — and the Clippers rotations being lax — is Ben Simmons having seven dunks on the night.

Putting on a show… @bensimmons throws it down seven times in the @sixers W!

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We shouldn’t let the Clipper offense entirely off the hook, there has been a lot less player movement and a lot more isolation than there was, the ball is not switching sides of the court anymore, it’s just that Griffin and the Clippers are talented enough to keep scoring with the ugly ball. They just can’t get stops.

Injuries are part of this. Three starters have been out: Milos Teodosic with a plantar fascia injury since the second game of the season, Danilo Gallinari with a strained left glute, and Patrick Beverley, who has a sore right knee that was drained of fluid last week. Their team doesn’t have the depth to survive injuries for long. But that’s still not an excuse for the defensive effort.

The Clippers head back out on the road for five straight, starting Friday in Cleveland. Things could get worse before they get better.

2) LeBron James, Kyle Korver turn it on for one quarter, and that’s enough to beat Knicks. The Knicks thought they were going to have a statement win — they were up 23 points in the third, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter each had 20 points, and Madison Square Garden was rocking and climbing all over LeBron (both for his pregame comments and then having words with Kanter during the game).

Then the Cavaliers woke up and played one hard quarter — Cleveland put up 43 points on 26 shots, Kyle Korver hit five threes on his way to 19 points in the fourth, LeBron had eight assists, the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds and three blocks.

All of that got the Cavaliers back in it, then LeBron isolated against Kristaps Porzingis and put Cleveland up for good.

This was an ugly win for the Cavaliers, but it pulls them up to .500 at 7-7 so they will take it. For the Knicks, improving in the NBA as a young team comes with some hard lessons. This is one of them, but at 7-6 and with Porzingis playing well this looks like a playoff team. Just not on the level of the Cavaliers when the Cavs care.

3) Pelicans get Rajon Rondo back… and win over Hawks thanks to Darius Miller. Two of the most significant questions coming into this season in New Orleans were how well Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could pair along the front line, and how well Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo could mesh in the backcourt? The answer to the first question is very well — the Pelicans were +7.7 points per 100 possessions when both Davis and Cousins are on the court together coming into Monday night’s game against the Hawks.

We don’t know how well Rondo and Holiday will pair yet because Rondo has been out all season following a sports hernia surgery. But answers to that question is coming soon as Rondo was back on Monday night — on a minutes limit where he only played 4:55, but at least back. Rondo entered in the middle of the first quarter and made his one shot, and the Pelicans were +6 in the just over one minute he was paired with Holiday. It’s a start.

Atlanta somehow kept Anthony Davis in check despite Luke Babbitt being his opposite number most of the night, but New Orleans came back thanks to five threes from Darius Miller, who had 14 points in the fourth quarter to spark the win. It’s not a win the Pelicans should celebrate — they struggled with a bad Hawks team at home — but you take the wins where you can get them in the NBA.

Steven Adams says Thunder late-game struggles on him, not Westbrook/George/Anthony

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In the first half of games this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. In those first 24 minutes, the Thunder are outscoring teams by 12.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA (Houston is first).

However, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder defense is 18.1 points per 100 possessions worse. Their offense stagnates late in games with a lot of “you take a turn and then it’s my turn” isolation between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.

The Thunder have nine losses this season, and OKC lost double-digit leads in six of those. Monday night it was a 19-point lead against New Orleans where the Pelicans — without DeMarcus Cousins — came back to win 114-107.

There’s a lot of blame and finger-pointing going on in Oklahoma City, but Steven Adams said less of that should be at the three stars and more of it should be at him. Via Royce Young at ESPN:

“Mainly me, to be honest (should be blamed). Because the play itself you have to execute it properly and it has to be legit down to the t. I screwed up my feet on a couple of them in terms of spacing. … Everyone plays a part in the plight so you can say yeah the shot doesn’t go in which sucks. But to get them that shot I didn’t help them.”

Adams can take on a little of the blame, but this is a team thing right now — everyone has earned some blame. Billy Donovan as coach, role players like Andre Roberson or Patrick Patterson who have not lived up to expectations this season, and yes Westbrook/George/Anthony have earned some blame, too. It’s a little bit of everything.

There’s also time for the Thunder to figure it out, but they are on the clock as this is a one-year experiment in Oklahoma City (no way they pay the whopping tax coming next season to keep all three stars and Adams, no matter what ownership says publicly).

C.J. McCollum: I told Evan Fournier during altercation ‘ you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat’

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C.J. McCollum blew kisses at Evan Fournier when they got into a confrontation during the Trail Blazers’ win over the Magic last week:

But apparently the incident was even better than that!

McCollum on The Flagrant Two podcast, as transcribed by Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com:

“I just felt like he disrespected me by putting his hands on me,” McCollum said. “Obviously, I’m not trying to get any fines or anything of that nature and I told him he was sweet. He’s French, and I said that, ‘you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat.’ “

Did McCollum actually say that in the moment, or did he come up with the line after the fact? I want the former to be true, so I choose to believe it.

Report: Nuggets Paul Millsap out three months due to wrist surgery

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There were big sighs of relief in Denver when Paul Millsaps’ X-rays on his injured wrist came back negative. There were fears of a fracture suffered against the Lakers last weekend, but word from the team is it was just a sprain. He sat out the game against the Kings, but the timeline for his return was not expected to be long.

Except it has turned out to be a little more than a simple sprain. From Sham Charania of Yahoo and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Millsap — who signed a three-year, $90 million contract with Denver over the summer, after spending seven seasons with the Jazz and Hawks — is averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. More importantly, he has been key to Denver’s defense going from one of the NBA’s worst to the middle of the pack this season. He’s started the season getting a handful fewer shots a game then he did in Atlanta last season, and Millsap was slightly less efficient, but like the team as a whole he seemed to be finding a groove and looked better during the recent streak when Denver won 4-of-5. He and the Nuggets were figuring out how to play together.

The Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap has been on the court this season, and that will not be easy to replace.

While Kenneth Faried got the start with Millsap out last game, it was Trey Lyles who stepped up — and who Denver needs to step up with Millsap out. Others will have to step up with some defense while he is out.

LaVar Ball on Luke Walton: “They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son.”

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Luke Walton is trying to create a professional environment around his young Lakers’ core. One where they expect the players to put in extra work without being told they have to, one where the coaches guide the development, but it’s ultimately the player in charge of his own course. Basically, Walton is treating his young players like adults and is asking them to respond to it like professional adults. It’s what he’s seen Steve Kerr do in Golden State and it works. It’s how Gregg Popovich has created a dynasty in San Antonio.

LaVar Ball sees the world very differently. He’s old school, from the “do as I say” mold.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that after the Lakers’ ugly loss last Friday to the Suns, the Lakers media spoke to LaVar Ball about his son’s play and Ball took a shot at the Lakers’ coach. Here are the quotes, via Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him,” LaVar Ball said. “I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”

Does he have a problem with coach Luke Walton?

“No, I have a problem with losing,” Ball responded.

I have multiple thoughts here, which means bullet points.

• I am breaking my own rule with this post, which is “don’t cover LaVar Ball, he’s just meaningless click bait.” I debated the point, but I think there is a legitimate basketball reason to cover this post (keep reading).

• Things Luke Walton cares more about than what LaVar Ball thinks of his coaching style: How much extra guacamole costs at Chipotle; if Netflix has “Golden Girls” to stream; what shoes Lakers’ sideline reporter Mike Trudell is wearing during postgame interviews; which Van Halen album “Dance the Night Away” is on; which show won the 1974 Tony for Best Musical.

Lonzo Ball‘s struggles with his shot this season — 31.3 percent overall, and he is struggling from three and around the rim — are well documented. It’s clear he is in his own head about it at this point. What can keep him there longer is conflicting advice from his father and his coach. So far, Lonzo seems to be siding with the coaching staff, for example, he credited assistant coach Brian Shaw for telling him to rebound more aggressively, then push the ball himself. LaVar will want to take credit for that, too. Lonzo needs to listen to his coaches, take his father’s advice for what it’s worth, and find his path.

• LaVar is lucky that the level-headed, mature-for-his-age, hard-working Lonzo was his oldest son. Just from what I see on the outside, not sure either of the other two Ball children could have handled this scrutiny nearly as well.

• Luke Walton is working to create something sustainable with the Lakers, they are not going to let anything (or anyone) bump them off that path.