Jazz put Clippers on brink of elimination in playoff race

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points, Rudy Gobert had 15 point and 10 rebounds and the Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 117-95 on Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.

Derrick Favors scored 16 points, and Jonas Jerebko and Alec Burks each had 13.

The Clippers were playing for their playoff lives but the Jazz displayed the intensity and urgency from the opening tip and never trailed. L.A. trails eighth-place New Orleans by 2 1/2 games with just three to play.

The Jazz have pole position for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs – win out and they will host at least the first round, an almost inconceivable notion before they went 27-5 the last ten-plus weeks.

Austin Rivers led Los Angeles with 19 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 17.

Clippers, who shot just 3 for 17 from beyond the arc, have lost three of four and have nearly been eliminated from the postseason.

The Jazz put the game away a 9-2 run early in the second half and led by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers had trouble staying with Utah’s multiple screen-and-roll actions and seemed to be chasing the ball all game.

Utah claimed the season series 3-1.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Tobias Harris got a technical with 5:58 left in the second quarter for arguing. … Danilo Gallinari missed his fourth game in the last six with a sore right hand. … The Clippers failed to reach the 100-point mark for just the second time in their last 12 games.

Jazz: Rubio, who missed the Memphis game with a sore left hamstring, scored nine points in the first quarter but did not return as his leg tightened. … Jae Crowder also left the game in the first quarter after getting poked in the eye. … Gobert got a technical in the second quarter. … Mitchell had scored at least 20 points in his last 10 games but sat the last 14 minutes of the blowout.

GOOD FROM DEEP

Ingles became the first Jazz player to make 200 3-pointers in a season after hitting a jumper from beyond the arc in the opening minutes of the second half. The Aussie forward is fourth in the league in 3-point percentage at 44.2 coming into the game. Mitchell, who is six behind the all-time rookie record for 3-pointers made, has the second-best mark at 179 and counting. Both passed the 178 that Randy Foye made in the 2012-13 campaign.

UP NEXT

Clippers: Host Denver on Saturday.

Jazz: At Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Austin Rivers hits go-ahead 3-pointer to help Clippers beat Spurs (VIDEO)

AP
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Thanks to the Los Angeles Clippers and Austin Rivers, the San Antonio Spurs’ 18-season streak of hitting the half century mark in wins will end.

During Tuesday night’s matchup between the two Western Conference rivals, San Antonio’s streak of 50 or more wins each season since 1999-00 hung in the balance. The Spurs, with the ability to move up in the standings as they chase the Portland Trail Blazers, needed to come out with a victory on the road.

But it was not to be.

The game came down to the final minute, with the teams trading 3-pointers by both Lou Williams and Patty Mills. The Spurs led with 37 seconds to go after Mills hit a deep three, making it 108-106 in favor of San Antonio.

Less than 10 seconds later, Rivers responded with a 3-pointer of his own, giving the Clippers the lead for good.

Via Twitter:

Mills would miss on the next Spurs possession, and Los Angeles closed the game on free throws.

The win was good news for the Blazers, who dropped a game to the lowly Dallas Mavericks earlier on Tuesday. That allows Portland to remain in third place, three games ahead of both the Utah Jazz and the Spurs.

DeAndre Jordan at center of multiple battles

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DETROIT – DeAndre Jordan says he didn’t stress Thursday’s trade deadline, which passed with him – despite frequent rumors and maybe a close call with the Cavaliers – remaining on the Clippers.

“They were talking about trading me for three years, so I don’t really care about it anymore,” Jordan said. “If it happens, it happens.

“I just want to be somewhere I’m wanted. If it’s here, it’s here. If it’s not, then, hey, it’s a business.”

Do you feel wanted by the Clippers?

Jordan looked around for nine seconds before answering.

“What do you think?” he said.

I contemplated for a moment then answered honestly: “I don’t know.”

“Me neither,” Jordan replied immediately.

Jordan is caught in a series of clashes, the results of which will determine how he spends the rest of his prime. One is a genuine mystery. In a couple others, he’s fighting an uphill battle. The combination creates for immense uncertainty.

Clippers winning now vs. Clippers rebuilding

When the Clippers traded Blake Griffin, they said they wanted to keep winning, add young talent and increase flexibility. Cool. So does every team.

More often, teams face forks in the road where they must decide to prioritize one goal over another. That’ll almost certainly be the case with Jordan this offseason.

He holds a $24,119,025 player option. If he exercise it, all the trade considerations reemerge. If he declines it, the Clippers must determine how much to invest in someone who turns 30 this summer.

The Clippers just extended the contract of Lou Williams, who’s a couple years older than Jordan. That could indicate their thinking with Jordan.

Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic, who’ve started every game they’ve played for the Clippers, are also older than Jordan. Another starter, Danilo Gallinari, is just a couple weeks younger.

It wouldn’t be simple to pivot into a new direction without Jordan.

That’s even more true after signing Williams. Even if the Clippers let Jordan walk in free agency, they’d project to have about the mid-level exception to sign a replacement. With a re-signed Jordan, they’d have… the mid-level exception to spend on free agents. They have so much money committed to next season already, losing Jordan wouldn’t make much difference without other moves.

But commit to Jordan long-term, and his salary would be an impediment in 2019, when Tobias Harris‘, Austin Rivers‘, Boban Marjanovic‘s, Teodosic’s, Wesley Johnson‘s and Beverley’s contracts expire. (Rivers, Teodosic and Johnson have player options for next season that only complicate planning, but the bet here is all three opt in.)

This team probably tops out as a low playoff seed with Jordan. Without him, the lottery looks more probable – not an ideal outcome for a team already locked into so many veterans.

That’s why Williams’ extension appears telling. That seems to be the Clippers accepting a short-term plan, prioritizing a window that matches Jordan’s.

Then again, Williams extension could just be a value play. He’ll earn $8 million each of the next two years and has just $1.5 million of $8  million guaranteed the third year. Clippers executive Jerry West predicted Williams would have earned $11 million on the open market.

“Yeah, it’s the truth,” Williams said.

Williams said he signed for the security and comfort with his teammates. But this is the same franchise that just fawned over Griffin then traded him. The Clippers could eventually deal Williams – or significantly change the roster he wanted to stay with.

Williams said he didn’t think about the possibility of getting Griffinned, nor did he get any assurances of the team keeping Jordan. West said the Clippers also offered Jordan a contract extension, but the center denied that.

“I can’t wait around,” Williams said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make decisions for yourself, do what’s best for your family, and hopefully everything else falls into place.”

Jordan could still sign a contract extension until he opts out, but that seems like a remote possibility. He and the Clippers can’t even agree on whether an extension was offered. They’re going to agree to specific terms?

From the outside, it’s also difficult to tell who’s running the Clippers. Lawrence Frank holds the highest front-office title, but West is influential. And then there’s Doc Rivers, who remains coach after getting stripped of his presidency last summer.

Jordan’s value probably plummeted as soon as that happened.

“D.J. means a lot to me,” Rivers said.

The Clippers now look like most organizations, where there’s an implicit tug-of-war between the coach trying to win now and the front office looking toward the future. Rivers’ years of team-building and exit from the Celtics show his aversion to rebuilding. That’s why Rivers was pleased Jordan stayed with L.A. past the trade deadline.

“He’s the anchor,” Rivers said, “and it’s nice to keep your anchor around.”

But for how long?

Centers vs. small ball

The Clippers trading Griffin was treated as them losing their only star. But Jordan has made three All-NBA teams, including a first team, since Griffin’s last All-Star selection.

The catch: Jordan’s All-NBA accolades came at center, essentially a protected class in All-NBA voting.

The league decreasingly values centers like the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Jordan. Teams are too good at exploiting traditional centers’ flaws – their lack of floor-spacing offensively, their slowness defensively. These bigs generally haven’t figured out how to exert their will in small-ball matchups, especially deep in the playoffs.

Jordan is a dinosaur, on the verge of extinction.

Of players averaging 32 minutes per game, just 8% are attempting fewer than one 3-point attempt per game. That mark has never been lower since the NBA added the 3-point arc:

image

Only Jordan, Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and Taj Gibson are doing it this season.

This hardly renders Jordan worthless, but he must excel in other areas to compensate for his hindrance on floor-spacing. The resulted are mixed.

Jordan remains an elite rebounder. He has excellent size, strength, hops, coordination and timing.

But many of those same attributes also make Jordan such a strong finisher, and there’s slippage there. He’s shooting just 68% in the restricted area – good, but well down from the 74% and 75% he shot the last two years:

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Maybe that’s just a consequence of no longer playing with Chris Paul, who excelled at setting up Jordan for lobs. Or maybe Jordan has lost explosion due to aging.

Neither potential explanation bodes well for Jordan’s value.

More troublingly, Jordan look doesn’t look nearly as agile defending the perimeter. Jordan was fairly nimble for his size. But even moderate decline there could be disastrous in the modern NBA.

It’s not because Jordan is just hanging low to protect the rim, either. Jordan is also averaging less than one block per game – a disturbing and once-unthinkable stat for him.

Maybe he just need to be reinvigorated. It can be tough going from aiming for a championship to just trying to sneak into the playoffs. Jordan and Austin Rivers are the only players left from the Clippers team that peaked with a seven-game, second-round loss to the Rockets in 2015.

But this also at least resembles age-related decline.

Jordan has plummeted to 22nd among centers in real plus-minus this season – down from third, third, fourth and sixth the previous four years. There’s already a stigma around centers like him. Only the best of that player type thrive anymore.

The pendulum could swing back. Size is still helpful. It’s just that other skills matter more now. Teams always adjust.

Maybe another team believes it could maximize Jordan’s contributions. But can that team afford him?

2018 and 2019 free agents vs. salary-cap reality

Jordan was heavily (and infamously) recruited during 2015 free agency. He has since produced the best seasons of his career.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Jordan expects even stronger courting next summer, especially considering the salary cap skyrocketed in 2016.

But teams are still burdened by long-term contracts signed that year, and the cap is only trickling up now. Free agents face harsh conditions the next two summers. Only a handful of teams project to have max cap space.

That’s especially tough on Jordan, who’d otherwise be in line to sign his last huge contract.

He ought to seriously consider opting in. He might not draw $24,119,025 next season if he opts out, though he might. It takes only team to value him that much. Or maybe he gets enough long-term security to outweigh a salary reduction next season.

His new agent, Jeff Schwartz, will have his work cut out assessing the market. Remember, Jordan must decide his player option before free agency even begins.

Teams can always trade to clear cap space, but will anyone be motivated to do that for Jordan, a traditional center in this league? His best bet to getting paid was ending the season with a team that values his Bird Rights. That way cap space wouldn’t be a concern.

Jordan will end the season with the Clippers. Are they that team?

Back to the original question: I don’t know.

Clippers handle Blake Griffin, Pistons 108-95

Associated Press
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DETROIT (AP) — Lou Williams scored 26 points, and the Los Angeles Clippers handed former teammate Blake Griffin his first loss with Detroit, beating the Pistons 108-95 on Friday night.

It was a bit of an off night for Griffin, who scored 19 points but shot 7 of 19 from the field. The whole Detroit team faded down the stretch. The Pistons led 80-77 after three quarters but scored only 15 points in the fourth.

Detroit had won five in a row, with Griffin playing in four of those games.

Tobias Harris scored 12 points and Avery Bradley had 10. They were the key players the Clippers acquired in last week’s deal that sent Griffin to Detroit.

Austin Rivers scored 16 points for Los Angeles in his first game back from a right ankle injury.

Bradley and especially Harris received ovations from the Detroit crowd when they were introduced in the starting lineup, but when the teams came out for the opening tip, there wasn’t anything too unusual in terms of pregame greetings. In fact, Griffin and Bradley were hit with simultaneous technical fouls in the first quarter after battling for rebounding position.

After the game, Griffin headed straight toward the locker room and did not stick around to commiserate on the court.

 

LeBron James “not expected to consider” Clippers in free agency

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Whatever decision LeBron James makes in July as a free agent will be based on two simple questions:

Can he contend immediately and win another ring there?

How much does it help his brand?

Sure family and lifestyle will not be ignored, but those two questions will decide the outcome.

Which is why the rumor that LeBron James would consider going to the Clippers this summer — especially a Clippers team now without Blake Griffin and possibly without free agent to be DeAndre Jordan — never made sense. I had written (and said on radio interviews) multiple times in the last 48 hours I had heard from league sources (ones not directly tied to LeBron or the Clippers) that the Clippers were not in play. Mark Spears of the Undefeated at ESPN got confirmation from both people close to LeBron and the Clippers this is not happening.

As of now, James is not expected to consider the Clippers as a free agent, a source close to him said. A source close to the Clippers said they also don’t expect James to consider them in free agency. But the Clippers have to make the call.

Of course, they make the call. Every team should make the call (except maybe the Warriors). That’s the game.

The Clippers are not a good answer to either of the two fundamental questions. First, the Clippers’ pitch to LeBron would be that he could play in L.A. for a year with Tobias Harris and Austin Rivers and whoever they draft, then in the summer of 2019 the Clippers will have the cap space to go get a big free agent in a deep class (Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and others). LeBron is not going to wait a year — he will be 33 and have just finished his 15th NBA season when free agency rolls around, he can’t waste a year waiting for a plan to come together.

As for his brand, do you really see LeBron going to the second team in the market? Los Angeles is a Lakers’ town, and while Steve Ballmer works hard to get his Clippers out of that massive shadow, LeBron isn’t going to step into the Los Angeles market in Clippers colors. That does not boost his brand.

LeBron will survey the landscape after the playoffs, judging both how he and the Cavaliers have done, and how other teams around the league are shaping up, and make his call. Maybe he goes to Houston, maybe he clicks his ruby-red slippers together and says “there’s no place like home,” maybe a lot of things. However, some things are more probable than others, and the Clippers are near the “very low odds” end of the spectrum.