Author: Kurt Helin

Utah Jazz v Sacramento Kings

Rumor: Utah’s Alec Burks could be out a while, maybe the season

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LOS ANGELES — When asked Monday night if there was an update on starting guard Alec Burks and his injured shoulder, Jazz head coach Quin Synder was vague.

“Nothing solid. It’s kind of been the same situation for a little while where they’re taking a look at him and just going to make sure everything is perfect, and if he needs more time…” and his answer trailed off.

But that answer may belie for serious concerns, according to a tweet from Marc Stein of ESPN.

Burks started 27 games for the Jazz averaging 13.9 points a game and being a real threat from three (shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc). The Jazz are trying to see how he fits with Trey Burke and the promising Dante Exum in the backcourt of the future in Utah. Or, they could use him as a trade asset — the Jazz have acquired a lot of interesting assets in recent years but are approaching the time they need to turn them into something more. Not yet, this team should get a chance to develop, but the time is coming.

But you can’t do much with Burks if he is still out. Hopefully this is not something that serious.

Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and top clutch shots of 2014 (VIDEO)

Damian Lillard
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You had to know what was No. 1, right? Damian Lillard had the best shot of 2014, hands down.

But there were other great clutch shots. I had forgotten about Randy Foye’s prayer to beat the Clippers. You get reminded that Joe Johnson is a s clutch a player as the NBA has right now. And for my money Vince Carter’s three to beat the Spurs should have been No. 2.

Thanks to the NBA for putting this video together, it’s a fun trip down memory lane.

LeBron James turns 30 today. Here are his 30 greatest plays to celebrate. (VIDEO)

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers
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LeBron James turns 30 Tuesday. You should do what you do with most of your friends when it’s their birthday — go on Facebook and write two or three words to them.

LeBron reaching this milestone can lead to a discussion of his legacy and place in the game — except we don’t know what that ultimately will be. We know he is arguably the most physically gifted player ever in the league (or at least in the conversation with Wilt Chamberlain) and we know that he has a couple of rings and multiple titles already. But LeBron is in the middle of his prime right now, he just made a legacy-altering return to Cleveland. What we will think of him and his place in the history of the game in five or 10 years is simply speculation. It depends on outcomes yet to be determined.

What we can do is celebrate getting to watch the best player on the planet right now. The NBA put together his 30 best plays of his first 30 years, which you can see above.

Or, enjoy a little retrospective of his career.

Are these Clippers as good as last season’s version? No. Or at least not yet.

Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets
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LOS ANGELES — Last season after 32 games, the Clippers were 21-11.

This season after 32 games, the Clippers are 21-11.

But this season doesn’t look or feel the same.

“I don’t think we’ve played as well,” Blake Griffin said after a hard-fought 101-97 win against a scrappy Utah team Monday night. “I mean maybe to this point, it is kind of hard to remember exactly how we were playing, but we hit a stretch last year, late in January early in February, when (Chris Paul) came back where we really hit our stride. That’s what we have to find again, we have to find our stretch.”

That stretch of play at the start of 2014 meant the Clippers entered this season talked about as potential title contenders. However, in a loaded Western Conference the Clippers flaws — defense and depth — have the team looking so far like it might not get out of the first round.

To a man the Clippers own up to their spotty performance so far, they know they are not playing at the level of the other top teams in the West right now. But they also are taking a big picture view that there are 50 games left in the season, they have just gone through a crowded and tough stretch of the schedule, and that they can get back to the team they were. They believe they can still build the needed good habits.

If they are going to do that, they are going to have to defend more consistently.

In last five games entering Monday night the Clippers had surrendered to opponents 6.2 points per 100 possessions more than their season average (which was already 18th in the NBA) and opponents had an eFG% of 56.2 percent. The Clippers are 4-6 in their last 10 games and their defense is 26th in the league in that stretch.

“We’ve shown we can be very good defensively, we just pick and choose to do that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We played Golden State the other night (Christmas) and our defense looked as good as anybody in the league…. I think we’re going to be a really good defensive team at the end of the day.”

But they are not now and the Utah game Monday night was an example of why. After a rough 18-point first quarter the Jazz scored at a 120.8 points per 100 possessions offensive rating in the second and third quarters (a number that is phenomenally high). The Jazz were led by 15 points from Gordon Hayward in those middle 24 minutes and their guards were getting into the paint and breaking down the defense.

But then come the fourth — the game was tied 77-77 entering the frame — the Clippers became focused and the Jazz scored at an 83.9 points per 100 pace in those final 12 minutes. The Clippers got the win.

“Just a commitment, effort,” Clippers starting three Matt Barnes said of what is needed to change team’s inconsistency on defense. “Not to make any excuses but we’ve been on a hell of a schedule lately, playing every other day for like a month.”

While there are no excuses in the NBA, the Clippers have a pretty good one with their schedule and practice concerns — they are just coming through a loaded stretch of the schedule with a lot of games. Rivers, who already practices less than pretty much any other coach in the league, decided to keep his players fresh by not practicing on off days.

The Clippers last real “lace up, get after it” practice was Dec. 5, according to Blake Griffin. That’s going on nearly a month. While there are fewer practices in the NBA than many fans realize (due to travel schedules and the volume of games) that is a long time.

“When you don’t practice there’s slippage,” Rivers said. “Offensively we’re catching the ball in the wrong spots, one foot off. Defensively we just need to be reminded of what we should do. We take pride in a lot of things — making them make the second pass, defending the three-point line — and we’re slipping on a lot of those areas. I think we’ll have the time to fix those because it’s nothing new.”

The other big area of slippage is transition defense, that’s the area which let the Jazz hang around on Monday night. The Clippers defense in the paint with DeAndre Jordan has been pretty good (he had four blocks vs. Utah) but on the perimeter the Clippers are virtually matadors waiving their cape as the guy with the ball slashes into the lane and breaks the defense down.

The other issue has been the lackluster bench play — Monday night Rivers played Griffin the entire fourth quarter, including with the second unit, to give them another scoring option. That came after the bench couldn’t hold the lead they had been given in the first half.

In a brutally tight Western Conference, these inconsistencies and concerns about defense and depth could have the Clippers sixth or seventh in a power ranking of the conference (in PBT’s latest power rankings they are sixth in the West).

Both Rivers and the locker room embraces big picture — they think they have plenty of time to fix this. To get back to the team they were last season.

And they do — there are 50 games left before the playoffs start, more than three months of basketball.

But those other teams in the West are improving too, they are making moves to give them an edge (the Rockets have been the most aggressive). There is time to make personnel moves to add depth, although the Clippers are not far below a hard cap (which kicked in when they gave Spencer Hawes the mid-level exception last summer) so they don’t have much money to offer the few players out there.

Every team goes through down stretches over the course of 82 games. Maybe the Clippers are getting theirs out of the way early, maybe the schedule and lack of practices to fine tune things are the issue. Maybe they can find their stride again.

But right now, they do not look like the same team from last year.

NBA’s top 10 crossovers of 2014 (VIDEO)

Chicago Bulls v Denver Nuggets
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It’s that time of year when we look back at the best of of the past 12 months — and when you think the best crossovers of 2014, you think Ty Lawson.

There are other impressive, ankle-breaking ones on this Top 10 list from the NBA — such as from Dwyane Wade and Jeff Teague —but Lawson is on here a couple times and that’s not a coincidence.

And no, I’m not sure a couple of these are true crossovers. But let it go, it’s fun to watch anyway.