Jordan Clarkson


5 Up, 5 Down: The Rockets are who we thought they were (and so is Portland)


5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.

I’m not going to pretend the Houston Rockets shouldn’t be afraid of the Golden State Warriors. But this weird, lurking feeling that the Warriors are going to make this wild surge back and dethrone the “pretending” Rockets? It’s just flat out wrong. It’s been wrong all season, and Mike D’Antoni is probably going to win the NBA Coach of the Year for figuring out how to pair two of the most ball-dominant players in NBA history. Maybe he learned something the first time around with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant?

Houston’s win over the Blazers was incredible, exciting, and electric. While the game was in doubt for the No. 1 team in the Western Conference throughout the game, the way they closed was confidence-inspiring. The Rockets aren’t just a team with legitimate scorers, they are a defensive hassle. D’Antoni’s gameplan led to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for just 28 points on 32 shots. Tuesday night, we learned that the Rockets are who we thought they were. That also applies to Portland, but not in the way that you might think.

So without further ado.

5 Up

Is this the year for the Toronto Raptors?

There are a lot of times we’ve wondered this, collectively, out loud. Usually right before a playoff game in which LeBron James disembowels Toronto right in front of us. I get it, it’s a touchy thing to broach. Still, the Raptors are playing in a way we’ve never seen them do before, and it’s not been all about DeMar DeRozan. Jonas Valanciunas looks trustworthy, Kyle Lowry is having another career year (it feels like his third or fourth one) and guys like Pascal Siakam are contributing.

Despite what folks in Toronto are telling themselves, pretty much everyone in the NBA is talking about the Raptors and for once that doesn’t feel like the thing that’s going to tip them over the edge. Their lead over both the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers feels wholly earned and un-precarious. And if the Cavaliers can’t straighten themselves out with Kevin Love back and if the Celtics aren’t going to play with a full roster, I think we’d all rather see the Raptors in the Finals.

This LeBron Dunk

It’s just … *chef’s kiss*

The makeup of the NBA’s best teams

This is a complete Shower Thought but it hit me the other day that we have had the benefit of a lot of teams around the league being good this year that maybe have not always been top-of-mind for casual NBA fans. Toronto, Indiana, Portland, Oklahoma City, New Orleans. Heck, even Cleveland before LeBron came around was likely a blind spot for folks on the West Coast. That the league isn’t dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks in this decade is more of a gift that we realize, I think. Plus, you know those teams will eventually be back, so get it while it lasts. Well, maybe not the Knicks but you get the idea.

The Blazers, the Rockets, and the end of a winning streak

The Blazers finally lost a game, and in doing so solidified their position as the favorites in any first round playoff series they find themselves in come spring. Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Moe Harkless were all dazzling on a night in which Portland’s 13-game winning streak came to an end.

Houston looked great, naturally, but the Blazers didn’t shy away from the spotlight for a single moment even with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum coming up short during Tuesday night’s big battle royale. I’ve been a doubter for longer than most when it comes to Portland, and they didn’t seem out of place at all against the league’s best team. Blazers fans should feel more secure even after their loss. They can hang, which is more than we could say about them when they sorted themselves out over the New Year.

This insane “LeBron to Portland” billboard

Look, if you thought it was a longshot that this billboard was going to actually get put up, you were dead wrong. Some Blazers fans who run a popular culture brand in Portland wanted to put up a billboard — mostly as a joke — to entice LeBron James to come to Rip City. They started a Go Fund Me, and despite starting slow have now gained momentum and have more than $6,800 to do what they will with it.

Not only have they made their goal, but they’ve blasted past it with the help of sponsors. They are now looking at other options, including a second billboard in Cleveland or transit ads, according to the Oregonian.

This was an inevitability. LeBron to Portland? Not so much.

5 Down

Dwane Casey got ejected even though he didn’t do anything

The battle between the NBPA and NBRA, apparently, rages on. It wasn’t helped when Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected from a game for a comment he didn’t even make. A fan behind him said something, which an official mistakenly attributed to Casey.

The entire end of that Raptors-Thunder game was a cluster and Casey getting tossed really was the icing on the cake. Like I’ve said before, look for big announcements this summer regarding officiating as a way for the league, the NBRA, or both to save face and get some viewer confidence back in the grey shirts.

Ty Lue is out with an illness

The Cavaliers are a reality show that any cable network would love to syndicate. But, if you can peel back the curtain for a minute, you can humanize these guys in a way that isn’t so much fun to poke and prod throughout the course of a championship-hopeful NBA season. Lue, much like Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford, is having some serious health issues and no doubt the stress of the season has to be contributing factor.

Hope he gets well soon.

This whole dinosaur thing with Jordan Clarkson

Let’s get a little meta for a second.

First, both Kyrie Irving and Jordan Clarkson have said patently insane things on Channing Frye‘s podcast that nobody should believe. Are all NBA players secretly hiding easily-debunked opinions that can be disproved with 7th grade Earth Science? Maybe, but there’s another common component here and it’s Frye.

Here’s a conspiracy theory of my own: All these crazy quotes are simply Frye orchestrating listens for his podcast. The only other alternative is to suggest that a lot of NBA players sincerely believe things that no good organizational base — whether they be the public school system or the financial managers, agents, and business managers hired by players — should let these guys think. Someone is failing these dudes if they believe these things in earnest.

I’ve got my eye on you, Channing.

The reading guy

This guy was reading during Spurs-Warriors this week. Was he reading Proust? Or “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”? No. He was reading a book because a movie was really popular this year.

Step your reading game up, bro. Give your ticket away to someone who is going to watch the in-game entertainment. I’m pretty sure those stunt teams don’t even make minimum wage, the least you could do is look up at them during a timeout.

Players Only has got to go

I have an honest question, free of snark that I genuinely need answered: Who asked for this? Team broadcast crews are, sometimes to their detriment, already oversaturated with former NBA talent that often seem ill-equipped to handle the job. Many former players, looking to stay close to the game, get slotted into the booth for their former teams, usually as color commentators without much training or an interesting perspective to offer. There’s already been a slow creep of NBA dudes moving into the booth, and the idea of “Players Only” almost seems redundant at this point.

The mark of a good commentator differs between the play-by-play and color guys, but there should be baseline of performance that often isn’t met. Just because a guy played in the league — or because he’s gregarious — doesn’t mean he can communicate the ins and outs of the modern NBA, or even know what’s relevant when calling a game. I’m not sure what the answer is, although shows like ESPN’s “The Jump” and NBATV’s “The Starters” seem to suggest a mix of experienced broadcasters, polished players, and knowledgeable writers would be a good mix.

Because they’re all on one broadcast where a few shine and the majority fail expectations, the “Players Only” broadcasts are an embarrassing highlight of the fact that too many guys aren’t ready for a national spot in the booth. Twitter hates it. Reddit hates it. They’ve got to get rid of it.

Stating the obvious, Isaiah Thomas says: “I’m no sixth man”


Isaiah Thomas was a legitimate MVP candidate last season for the Boston Celtics. He’s gone from the 60th overall pick seven years ago to a starting point guard in the NBA. When healthy, Thomas is a real weapon. He’s not a bench player.

But as NBA players like to do — and as Thomas takes slights against him very seriously — it appears there’s some question surrounding whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers guard is a starter. At least, Thomas seems to think so. This likely comes from the fact that since being traded to the Lakers, Thomas has played in 14 games but started in just one.

LA is trying to develop their young talent, which shifted after the mega-deal that sent Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers. Thomas is due a new contract this summer, and he doesn’t appear to be part of the future in LA.

So, coach Luke Walton is bringing him off the bench. That, and his play has remained erratic. Thomas has evened out a little bit, but he’s still shooting just 39.5 percent from the field over the last 10 games. Not exactly MVP-caliber stuff.

Given Thomas’ history and his status with the Lakers, there’s some obvious friction. Thomas doesn’t want to be labeled a bench player, not when he’s trying to get some team to back up the Brinks truck for a big, new deal.

In an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick, Thomas stated something that most of us already know but he felt needed to be said again: he’s not a sixth man.

Via USA Today:

“I’m not no sixth man,” he declared in an interview with USA TODAY Sports this week. “And I won’t be a sixth man (in the future). I just want everybody to know that, like clear as can be. I’m a two-time All-Star and a starter who has done things that a lot of people in this league haven’t done (when) given that opportunity.

“But I got traded into a situation I can’t control. There’s nothing bad against (Lakers coach) Luke Walton. There’s nothing bad against the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity they’ve given me, and then (we’ll) end the season off strong.”

For his part, Walton full acknowledged the strategy the Lakers are taking with Thomas.

“Could he start?” Walton said of Thomas. “One hundred percent. Does he deserve to start? Yeah, with what he’s done in his career. Absolutely. (But) we’re in a unique situation here. We have a young team. … I kind of just challenged (Thomas), that even though he fully wants to start, I said, ‘Look, you’ve been out a long time, (and) to me there’s only, however much, two months left in the season at the time – find the joy. Go find the (joy).


I do wonder, with all that’s gone on with IT, what team will be willing to take him on at a salary he feels he deserves while also giving him the role he wants? Thomas seemed happy in Boston, but that took some time to work out. We remember his stints with Phoenix and Sacramento, and the interpersonal aspect of free agency might come in to play just as much as the dollar-by-dollar negotiation.

Thomas isn’t a sixth man-type of player, although his hip injury has severely limited him both in ability and his rhythm when it comes to playing in the NBA. His defense is enough of a liability that for now, unless he’s playing at a high level offensively he’s not worth signing to a big contract or playing considerable minutes. Thomas’ box plus-minus has dipped significantly year-over-year, and his DBPM with LA is -4.3.

IT is right in that he isn’t a sixth man guy. He’s not good enough when he’s playing badly to warrant that kind of accolade, and when he’s playing well he’s one of the best scoring guards in the league.

Jordan Clarkson: Lakers players discussed LeBron James signing with Los Angeles

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Lakers president Magic Johnson has made no secret of his desire to chase star free agents.

The team’s current players sometimes struggled with the resulting trade rumors and uncertainty about their own situations.

One player in particular caught their attention – LeBron James, according to Jordan Clarkson, whom the Lakers traded to the Cavaliers on deadline day.

Joe Vardon of

Clarkson said when he was a player for the Lakers, his teammates used to talk about James coming there as a free agent, which he could be free to do this summer if he opts out of his contract with the Cavs.

“I wouldn’t say like management and the coaches or nobody, but in the locker room people talk when they see what’s going on,” Clarkson said, after the Cavs beat the Denver Nuggets 113-108. “That’s probably the only thing, people talk in the locker room.”

I said all along LeBron-Lakers rumors were driven in part by people enjoying analyzing the possibility. It’s tantalizing.

Of course, Lakers players couldn’t resist the discussion. There must have been mixed emotions – the excitement of possibly playing with LeBron and the understanding you might be cast aside to make room for him.

Clarkson surely felt some of that when he got sent from sunny and bigger Los Angeles to cold and smaller Cleveland to play with LeBron. Maybe when the Cavs visit the Lakers on Sunday, he can relay to his former teammates what it has been like.

Jordan Clarkson ejected for throwing ball at Dario Saric, who scored late (video)


With 12 seconds left, the shot clock off and his 76ers holding an eight-point lead over the Cavaliers, Dario Saric drove to the basket and scored.

Jordan Clarkson didn’t like that one bit.

The Cleveland guard threw the ball at Saric’s back and was immediately ejected. The technical free throw made the final score 108-97.

Clarkson, via Joe Vardon of

“If anybody say different, that they wouldn’t have did that, that they’d have did something different, or anything else, they lying,” Clarkson said. “Especially if it was at that (point — he said play) of the game. They know what’s up. That’s it.”

The Cavs were pressing in the backcourt on the play! How could Saric know Cleveland’s plan was to give up as soon as Philadelphia crossed halfcourt?

If he realized the defense had quit and hadn’t just been beaten, Saric probably shouldn’t have shot. I have no real outrage toward him either way, but we all know the common play is just to dribble the clock out when the trailing defense quits with the shot clock off.

But the 76ers were up just eight. Crazy comebacks can happen. I’d rather he take the safe two points if he had any doubt about the flow of the game. What if he looked back in the name of decorum, and the Cavaliers were still hustling, got a steal and used that to spark a comeback?

I get why Clarkson was mad. His team lost. But he’s wrong here.

Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook was clutch; Curry was vintage Curry

Associated Press

The NBA is back, and every day around the league 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) Russell Westbrook rescues Thunder with game-winner vs. Kings. It wasn’t just averaging a triple-double for a season, when it came time to vote for MVP last season one of the reasons Russell Westbrook came out on top was how clutch he had been. He hadn’t just willed his team into games they probably should have lost, he got them the wins — in the final three minutes of games within three points last season (something that happened 32 times for the Thunder), Westbrook averaged 4.4 points scored (best in the NBA of anyone who played in more than five such games) and shot 38.7 percent from three.

That Westbrook was back on Thursday. With the game tied 107-107 and one second left, the Thunder ran an out-of-bounds play where Westbrook got surprisingly open coming off a double screen and had room for a clean look catch-and-shoot three. Do we need to tell you what happened?

OKC needs the wins for playoff seeding through its final 22 games — the Thunder are now just 1.5 games out of being the three seed in the West, or 2.5 games away from falling out of the playoffs entirely. The West is that bunched up. They should make the playoffs ( gives them an 89 percent chance of being in) but where they fall will determine how tough a run through the playoffs they will face.

2) Stephen Curry was hitting Stephen Curry shots, drops 44 on Clippers. If Stephen Curry’s shot chart looks like this, it’s going to be a long night for the opposition.

Curry had 44 points on 19 shots and just could not seem to miss, even nailing a buzzer-beater from the center-court logo.

Credit the Clippers here, who put up points (22 from Tobias Harris) and made this a contest, falling 134-127. Los Angeles is fighting for a spot in the playoffs (they are currently one game back of New Orleans for the eight spot) and have found ways all season despite a rash of injuries and Blake Griffin being traded. They should be appreciated for their play this season. There’s just not much you can do when Curry and the Warriors are going off.

3) New look Cavaliers suffer first loss, fall to Wizards. The newfound energy was there in Cleveland. LeBron James was playing at an MVP level. The versatility of the new-look Cavaliers roster was on full display.

Cleveland just couldn’t shoot Thursday night. To be more specific, Cavaliers not named LeBron James (32 points on 18 shots) couldn’t buy a bucket. Cleveland was 8-of-35 from three and in the final nine minutes of the game the non-LeBrons were 0-of-10 shooting. The Wizards went small and were +17 with that lineup as the Cavs had no answers (the lineup was Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Markieff Morris). The Wizards got the win 110-103.

Cleveland can chalk this up to an off night, and it was. It was also a reminder of why this Cleveland team isn’t as good as a year ago — they don’t have a reliable second shot creator and scorer who can just get buckets and lift the team up. Kyrie Irving is an elite scorer, but he’s in Boston. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and the new guys are not on that level. Some nights that will be an issue.

The Wizards are now 8-2 since John Wall went down and are scoring 4.2 points per 100 possessions above their season average in that stretch. The ball is moving and the players are moving off it, Beal has been brilliant, Satoransky has stepped up, and the Wizards are securing their spot in the top half of the East. When Wall returns he has to figure out how to fit in with this offensive style, not come in and dominate it with the ball in his hands.

The Wizards need more wins like this as they enter a tough stretch of their schedule (14 of the next 16 are against teams currently in the playoffs).