Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin stands on the court as equipment manager Matias Testi, left, stands behind the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Los Angeles. Griffin broke his hand last month when he punched Testi in the face. The Clippers won 105-86. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Austin Rivers: We need to keep moving the ball when Blake Griffin returns

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No date has been set, and he still has to sit out a four-game suspension, but Blake Griffin is getting close to a return to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers have gone 23-7 without Griffin, playing improved defense and with a spread pick-and-roll off that has unleashed Chris Paul and improved the Clippers offensive flow. The ball is moving, and Austin Rivers told Steve Gorman on Fox Sports Radio that has to continue when Griffin returns.

“You’ve got to understand, because we haven’t played with Blake, our ball movement has been a lot better. I think we learned a mutual thing that’s like ‘alright, listen Blake, since you’ve been out, we’ve learned to move the ball better, so when you come back, we’re still going to play like that. But now we have you back, we’re still going to play through you at the same time.’ So I think we’ve both have learned things.  There’s times when it’s obvious we need Blake, so I think it’s a learning experience for both of us.  There’s no way we could be worse with Blake Griffin back on our team. It’s not possible. He’s one of the best players in the NBA, so we can’t wait to have him back.”

The Clippers are not better without Griffin, and anyone who says they are is selling something. The offense they have run in his absence works well during the regular season, when teams don’t have time to prepare outside of a film session, and they don’t dramatically adjust their game plans. That will change in the playoffs, and that is where Griffin’s immense skills and offensive options will give the Clippers options to attack a defense. Griffin can knock down jumpers and is a beast in the post. Remember he was a force of nature in the playoffs last year.

But Rivers is right about the ball movement, and if Griffin comes back and buys in the Clippers become a very dangerous 3/4 seed (wherever they land in the West). Whether that’s enough to get them even to the Conference Finals remains to be seen.

Frustrated Sam Mitchell benched Towns, Wiggins, Rubio due to defense

Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Sam Mitchell talks with guard Ricky Rubio (9) in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, March 2, 2016 in Minneapolis. The Wizards won 104-98. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Associated Press
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The Milwaukee Bucks went on a 31-7 run that extended across halftime and let them take control of the game against the Timberwolves and cruise to an easy win Friday night.

That — specifically the lack of defense — pissed coach Sam Mitchell off.

Just 3:52 into the second half he benched Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Tayshaun Prince out of frustration with their defense. He benched Ricky Rubio a minute later. Rubio, Towns, and Wiggins never saw the court again.

Mitchell explained himself in a terse 30-second postgame press conference, via Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

“I thought the guys who played in the second half played hard,” he began. “Played together, played with a type of intensity and energy we needed to. I thought some of the guys in the first group didn’t play that way. And they have to understand, every single night you have to earn it. You don’t get to sleepwalk your way through 20, 25 minutes of the game and then decide you gotta play. … So the guys that didn’t play in the second half, after we pulled ’em out, hopefully they understand that there’s two sides on the court. You have to play both sides.”

Well then.

With a young team, this kind of message once in a while can be effective. We’ll see how the Timberwolves respond Saturday night when Brooklyn comes to town.

DeMar DeRozan almost set NBA free throw record — until Lowry told him to miss one

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan celebrates as he leaves the court following his team's 117-115 win over Portland Trail Blazers in an NBA basketball game in Toronto on Friday, March 4, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Associated Press
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The record for consecutive made free throws in an NBA game is 23, set by Dominique Wilkins.

DeMar DeRozan almost broke that Friday night.

He would have, but with the game decided he intentionally missed his last one at the request of Kyle Lowry — neither knew about the record. It happened in Toronto where the Raptors beat the Blazers despite Damian Lillard dropping 50. James Herbert of CBSSports.com was at the game and explains.

DeRozan made his first 24 free throws before missing on his 25th attempt with less than a second left in the game. If DeRozan had made his 25th free throw and remained perfect at the line, he would’ve broken Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins’ record for most made free throws without a miss. The former Atlanta Hawks forward set the record in 1992 by going 23-for-23 from the line, so if DeRozan made his final free throw, he would’ve been breaking a record that stood for over 20 years.

DeRozan missing on his 25th free throw did look purposeful though as he perfectly hit the front of the rim. Afterward, DeRozan told reporters, via CBS Sports’ James Herbert, that he actually did miss the free throw on purpose and he had no idea that he was that close to making NBA history.

So why did he miss it? Well, Kyle Lowry told him to, so the game would end.

Technically DeRozan did hit 24 in a row to set a record, but that intentional miss besmirched the perfect run and blew his shot at most made in a game without a miss.

The miss started the clock and ended the game, if he had made the free throw to put the Raptors up three the Blazers would have had a shot at one last heave to tie it up. Which likely would have failed but stranger things have happened (especially with Lillard). It was the right play.

It just would have ended differently had they known.

Watch Damian Lillard drop 50 on Raptors

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The problem was it wasn’t enough.

Damian Lillard was scoring everywhere on the court, shooting 6-of-8 inside eight feet of the basket, and also shooting 6-of-13 from three. He was aggressive, attacking and the Toronto Raptors couldn’t stop him as Lillard dropped 50 on them.

So Toronto outscored them — DeMar DeRozan had 38 to lead Toronto to a 117-115 win where the Raptors led most of the way and held off a late run by the Blazers to get the victory.

Draymond Green says Warriors can go 41-0 at home this season

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They are already 26-0. And any time you mention Golden State and a record nothing seems impossible now.

But can the Warriors go 41-0 at home this season?

Draymond Green says yes — but what did you expect the confident, loquacious Green to say? Here are his exact words when asked if the Warriors can do it, via Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.

“I think so,” he told NBA.com. “We’ve been phenomenal at home. We’ve protected our home court. I think it’s possible for us to do it.”

 And then, without prompting:”I think we will.”

The record belongs to the 1986 Celtics, who went 40-1 at the Garden.

Of the 15 games the Warriors still have at Oracle Arena, there are a couple against the hot Trail Blazers, plus games against the Spurs, Clippers, Celtics and other quality teams. It’s not easy. But are you going to bet against the Warriors at home, where they are outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per 100 possessions? Where the Warriors have won 44 in a row dating back to last season?

Maybe the more interesting question is, can the Spurs do it, too? They are 29-0 at home and outscoring opponents by 17.4 points per 100 possessions at the AT&T Center.

Just think of how big home court would be between the Spurs and Warriors in the playoffs.