Author: Dan Feldman

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, right, of Spain, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Ricky Rubio dishes assist between DeAndre Jordan’s legs (video)

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The Clippers should have done a better job fouling the Timberwolves.

Not letting Ricky Rubio throw an assist between their legs would’ve at least been a start.

How far can Clippers ride Lance Stephenson’s ups and downs?

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LOS ANGELES – Lance Stephenson, having just scored 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting after two straight DNP-CDs, sat at a table in the Clippers’ press-conference room Friday when DeAndre Jordan entered. Stephenson urged Jordan to join him taking questions, though he clearly wasn’t certain of the procedure.

“I don’t get these shining moments,” Stephenson said.

Not lately.

Just two years ago, Stephenson was nearly an All-Star at age 23. He averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists for a Pacers team that earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. His future looked bright.

But he signed in Charlotte, where he and the Hornets suffered through a miserably disappointing season. They accepted Spencer Hawes‘ burdensome contract just to rid themselves of Stephenson.

Stephenson hasn’t exactly gotten back on track in Los Angeles. He has been on the fringe of Doc Rivers’ rotation and on the trade block.

Yet, he might be the Clippers’ most pivotal player in their pursuit of a championship.

Stephenson has immense upside. There’s a reason he was viewed so highly just two years ago, and he’s only 25. It’s difficult to fathom why suddenly stopped being that two-way guard who defended, dished, rebounded and shot well enough from outside.

Accordingly, it’s hard to believe he can’t get close enough to that level again to help the Clippers in a major way. They’re already a very good team. They don’t need the moon.

There are signs, usually fleeting, for optimism.

When Stephenson has played with the Clippers’ big fourChris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and Jordan – they’ve dominated: 115.0 offensive rating/95.0 defensive rating/+19.9 net rating in 155 minutes. Of the 44 lineups that have played so much, just two – the Thunder’s Russell WestbrookAndre RobersonKevin DurantSerge IbakaSteven Adams (112.9/91.5/+21.5) and Warriors’ Stephen CurryKlay ThompsonBrandon RushDraymond GreenAndrew Bogut (112.6/92.4/+20.1) – have been more successful.

Stephenson remains plenty athletic. Just watch this dunk from Stephenson’s breakout performance against the Lakers Friday:

Jordan sat to Stephenson’s left for interviews after that game. Chris Paul arrived to join them, and the star guard even got his own chair and pulled it up to Stephenson’s right – putting Stephenson front and center.

When Stephenson was asked about the dunk, Jordan loudly interrupted.

“Wooohooo!” Jordan cried. “Woooo!”

But Rivers hasn’t been quite as enthusiastic.

Asked whether Stephenson – who entered the rotation Friday with Paul Pierce getting a day off – earned more playing time, Rivers hedged.

“Lance was great,” Rivers said. “I’ll let you know after the game, the next game.”

Stephenson got just nine minutes in a blowout win over the Bulls on Sunday. He didn’t play in the second half until garbage time.

Rivers is learning plenty about his team with Griffin injured, particularly the effectiveness of going small. It seems that should create a larger role for Stephenson, who played stretch power forward against the Lakers.

But besides sharing the court with the big four, Stephenson has seen the Clippers’ offense crater when he plays. It doesn’t seem to matter the combination. Stephenson has played regularly with eight other players: Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni, Cole Aldrich, Wesley Johnson and Luc Mbah a Moute. The offensive rating for those two-man pairings with Stephenson ranges from 72.2 to 97.2

For perspective, the 76ers (94.5), Lakers (97.1) and Nets (98.6) rank in the bottom of the league in offensive rating.

Asking Stephenson to handle a bigger burden with lesser floormates, his apparent primary purpose when the Clippers traded for him, has been disastrous.

It raises questions whether Stephenson will follow Smith – the Clippers’ other offseason acquisition with a checkered history – out of town. Smith argued with assistant coach Mike Woodson, and the Clippers practically gave the forward back to Houston.

I liked both additions – Smith on a minimum contract, Stephenson for Hawes and Matt Barnes – for how little the Clippers gave up in exchanged for raising their ceiling. Smith and Stephenson might flame out, but the Clippers couldn’t play it safe and beat the Warriors (or, as we’ve learned this season, the Spurs). The Clippers had to increase their variance if the goal was a title, even if that meant lowering their floor. Smith and Stephenson seemed like reasonable shots to take.

For what it’s worth, Doc still speaks of Stephenson as someone who’ll stick for the rest of the season.

“The thing I love about Lance is, he hasn’t been playing, and I still say he’s going to help us,” Rivers said. “But I just like his spirit. He’s ready every night. He wants to play. He’s been a great team guy.”

He’s also probably expendable.

At worst, Stephenson – whose $9,405,000 team option for next season will almost certainly be declined – functionally possesses a $9 million expiring contract. That could grease the wheels of a bigger trade with a team looking to send out a more talented player without taking on long-term salary. If the Clippers are willing to dip further into the luxury tax to chase a title this year, Stephenson could help net a key contributor.

Or he could just be that key contributor himself.

We know roughly what Paul, Redick, Griffin and Jordan offer. It’s a lot, but it’s also not enough to win a championship – not when Golden State and San Antonio are playing so well.

The Clippers need to swing a break in their favor, and Stephenson seems like the wildest variable. According to their coach, they’ll find out where he can get them.

“I think this team has a chance to be really good,” Rivers said. “I think Lance is going to get better. He’s going to play for us.”

Report: Raptors interested in trading for Suns’ P.J. Tucker

Phoenix Suns' P.J. Tucker (17) shots over Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan and Luis Scola, of Argentina, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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The Suns, on a 2-20 stretch, are headed south quickly.

With Eric Bledsoe and T.J. Warren out for the season, there’s no hope for getting back in the playoff race. Phoenix’s best-case scenario for the rest of the year is landing the No. 1 seed in the lottery.

There’s no longer a place on this team for P.J. Tucker – a 30-year-old wing capable of helping teams now.

Expect him to draw plenty of interest.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Raptors interest in Tucker might be a negative indicator for DeMarre Carroll, who’s out after knee surgery. James Johnson being banged up doesn’t help, either. At least with DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, Toronto isn’t desperate for a wing.

But other tams might be.

There’s a dearth of shooting guards and small forwards in the NBA right now. That’s particularly important for contenders chasing Golden State. The Warriors are at their best when Draymond Green plays center with three wings – usually Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes – flanking him and Stephen Curry. Few opponents have the wing depth to keep up.

Tucker might not have the speed to hang with the zippy Warriors, but he’d fare better than most traditional bigs. A 3-and-D player, Tucker would help most contenders.

He makes a relatively cheap $5.5 million this year, and just $1.5 million his $5.3 million salary next season is guaranteed in case something goes awry. More likely, a team would get two years of valuable production from him.

The Suns are dealing from a position of strength. They can ask for plenty.

Mo Williams says he won’t ask Cavaliers for a trade

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Mo Williams (52) drives as Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum (3) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
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Mo Williams excelled as the Cavaliers’ starting point guard early in the season, when Kyrie Irving was still recovering from injury.

But with Irving healthy and Matthew Dellavedova significantly improved, Williams has fallen from the rotation. He has played just 20 minutes in Cleveland’s last 16 games. Though he missed three games due to a death in the family, that’s still nine DNP-CDs in that span.

Williams hasn’t always looked pleased with his reduced role, but will he ask for a trade?

Williams, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“Nah, man. I’ve moved my family around enough,” he said. I’m sticking this thing out.”

Williams has been playing through a thumb injury, and new coach Tyronn Lue has talked about getting him back in the rotation. Once Williams fully heals, that could happen more regularly.

When push comes to shove, Dellavedova will probably get more playing time. He’s a better defender, and his improved outside shooting makes him a good fit with Cleveland’s stars – who will get a large majority of the team’s most important minutes.

J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have essentially locked up all the minutes at shooting guard, another position Williams can play.

But Williams – a ball-handler and scorer – gives the Cavs a different dimension than the players in front of him on the depth chart. That versatility is important for teams navigating a deep playoff track. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Williams helps in a key postseason moment.

That probably boosts his desire to stay with Cleveland.

So does a chance at a championship.

Though the Warriors and Spurs have been playing at ridiculously high levels, the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender. They’re clear favorites to win the East, and once in the Finals, they could have the breaks go their way.

Williams surely returned to Cleveland for many reasons, a championship chase among them. No matter what happens with his playing time, that hasn’t gone away.

Trey Lyles replacing Nikola Mirotic in Rising Stars Challenge

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When the NBA released rosters for the Rising Stars Challenge, many howled about one omission: Boban Marjanovic, the Spurs’ fan-favorite rookie.

Even with the World Team losing a frontcourt player to injury, Marjanovic still didn’t get the call.

NBA release:

Utah Jazz rookie forward Trey Lyles will replace injured World Team selection Nikola Mirotic of the Chicago Bulls in the 2016 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Mirotic sitting out this exhibition is no surprise. The question: When will he return to the Bulls after his second surgery?

And no offense to Lyles – a skilled Canadian big with a bright future – what will it take to get Marjanovic into the game?