Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul (3) drives around Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Associated Press

Clippers ace first big test of season, blow out Cavaliers 113-94

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It’s December, not the second round of the playoffs.

The “are these Clippers really different?” question remains.

But faced with their first big test of the season — having three ugly road losses in a row then taking on the defending NBA champions — the Clippers aced it. Los Angeles got red-hot shooting from J.J. Redick, strong defense from Luc Mbah a Moute on LeBron James, and Los Angeles just simply outworked and out-executed the defending champs.

The result was a 113-94 Los Angeles win.

For the Cavaliers, it is the kind of game they can shrug off as one where they just came out flat. It happens. Kyrie Irving did have 28 (and picked up a technical) if you want a bright spot.

For the Clippers, this is the kind of victory that suggests the maturity they will need to get to the conference finals come the playoffs. There’s a lot of basketball between now and May, the big questions remain to be answered, but for a Clipper team feeling the pressure of change next summer, the Clippers couldn’t have looked better acing their first test.

“We actually played to our potential,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said postgame. “I thought we had some adversity, which is great, Chris (Paul) gets in foul trouble, and we actually extend the lead.”

What had gone wrong the last three games — road losses to Detroit, Indiana, and Brooklyn — was a combination of offensive struggles and the bench, which had been playing well early, struggling on defense.

Nobody should have thought the Clippers offensive woes would be a long-term issue. It seemed like this one might be another when Chris Paul got two early fouls, but J.J. Redick was brilliant — 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 5-of-6 from three, plus a lot of great playmaking, and that was all before halftime. Redick only finished with 23 because it was plenty because of Paul (16 points, nine assists) and Los Angeles’ ball movement — 33 assists on 42 made baskets.

As for the Clipper bench, they played like they had to start the season and finished the game with 18 more points than their Cavaliers’ counterparts. More importantly, the Clipper bench defense was good all night.

But if you’re talking defense, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute performance keeping LeBron James in check — 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting — was huge. Quietly this season Mbah a Moute has been doing what the Clippers have needed from the three spot for years: play great defense and knock down corner threes. Mbah a Moute is having his best defensive season in years, and he entered the game shooting 42 percent from the corners.

“I thought defensively, we were just locked in, and the reason was we respected them,” Rivers said postgame, not meaning to but throwing shade at Indiana and Brooklyn. “They’re the Cleveland Cavaliers, they get your respect. They get your attention.”

The first quarter had been very back-and-forth, which was good for Los Angels considering CP3’s foul trouble. In the second quarter, the Clippers kept executing and were able to stretch the lead out to 58-50 at the half. Then Clippers opened the second half on an 8-0 run that extended to 13-2 when Tyrone Lue called a time out and should have asked his team if they were tired and just wanted to go home, because they were playing like it.

By the time that run was over the Clippers were up by 19 and the game was never in doubt after it.

DeMarcus Cousins downplays trade rumors while visiting Boston

demarcus cousins
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My guess is every few nights Celtics powerbroker Danny Ainge sits down on his couch around 11 p.m. with his favorite beverage in hand, flips on SportsCenter, sees DeMarcus Cousins highlights, and instinctively calls Vlade Divac just to check. Again.

But everything I — and everyone else — hears is that the Kings are not looking to deal Cousins right now. Until owner Vivek Ranadive changes his mind it’s all moot, something James Ham of CSN Bay Area and I discuss in the latest PBT Podcast.

Cousins and the Kings are in Boston the night after their “rain out,” and the big man did his part to shoot down trade rumors.

The Kings are 7-11 this season, but they are just a couple of games out of the playoffs right now and think that the team is still adjusting to what new coach Dave Joerger wants from them (particularly defensively). Cousins espoused calmness about the latest changes in the system in Sacramento.

The Cousins rumors are not going away — the vultures, in the forms of other GMs around the league, are circling. Other teams around the league believe the Kings have to trade Cousins, sooner rather than later. The Kings know that if they go down that road, even if the get an impressive haul of young players and picks, they are in full rebuilding mode and will be three years away at least from making the playoffs (and they already are in a 10-year playoff drought). First year in a new building, they will be slow to make that move, if they make it at all before the trade deadline.

Which will just mean more speculation.

Tacos!: Bango the Buck makes backward halfcourt shot

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Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 34-point night weren’t the only shooting show in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

Bango the Buck — yes, the mascot, and one of the best in the biz — showed some range and won a lot of people free tacos with the no-look, over-the-head halfcourt shot. In your face, Dude Perfect.

The Monstars are back. Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler defy them in new video.

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It’s the 20th anniversary of Space Jam, the kitschy classic where Michael Jordan defeated the Monstars. With the help of Bill Murray. And Bugs Bunny.

You didn’t think the Monstars were going away, did you?

They are back, via the Jordan brand, in a new spot with Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler. A very well done spot (with plenty of Foot Locker promotion).

Next up, Space Jam II?

Pistons’ Andre Drummond fined $15,000 for elbow to Roy Hibbert’s head

AUBURN HILLS, MI - NOVEMBER 21: Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons reacts to missing two free throws with 4.6 seconds left down by two points to the Houston Rockets at the Palace of Auburn Hills on November 21, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Houston won the game 99-96. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Everyone knew this was coming. Andre Drummond included.

Tuesday night during the Pistons’ eventual win in Charlotte, Drummond was battling for a rebound when he threw a high elbow to the back of Roy Hibbert‘s head. We can debate if it was intentional, but that question is moot — elbow someone to the head, get ejected. Which is what happened. Drummond was given a flagrant 2 foul and immediately ejected.

Thursday, as expected, the league tacked on a $15,000 fine for Drummond. That’s the going rate.