Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Blake Griffin healthy in time for playoffs. But is he rusty?

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blake Griffin is healthy just in time for the playoffs. The question now: How rusty is his game?

“I don’t know the answer. We’ll see,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Saturday on the eve of his team’s first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Blake’s had not only five games, but some practices time as well. It’s not the exact way you would have wanted it. But we got him back, and that’s better than not getting him back.”

Griffin missed 45 games because of a partially torn right quad, and a fractured right hand from a fight with an assistant equipment manager. The Clippers won the first nine that he missed and were 30-15 overall during his absence, which included a four-game suspension from the team for the fight in Toronto.

“When you look at the stretch where Blake was out, it was like everyone had their days. That’s how we had to play this year, and it was good for us in the long run,” Rivers said. “It forced us to play small for 48 minutes a night, which I didn’t think I would ever do, but it allowed is to get into a great rhythm.”

The Clippers had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and will host the first two games of this series. That should help Rivers gauge whether his club has the goods to get past the second round for the first time in the franchise’s 47-year history.

MORE FUEL TO THE FIRE: Both of the Clippers’ playoff series last year against San Antonio and Houston were decided in seven games. Griffin averaged 25.5 points during those games, but the Clips led three games to one before dropping the next three.

“I wouldn’t use the word underachieving, but we expect to go farther this time,” Griffin said. “I like where we’re at from a mental standpoint. We have the reassurance that we’ve been here before, and that experience alone has helped us get in the right mindset going into the playoffs.”

REDICK QUESTIONABLE: Forward J.J. Redick has a bruised left heel. If he can’t play,, two-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford will start in his place.

“You don’t know what you are really until you’re tested, but these guys have been tested all year,” Rivers said. “Every team and every year is different when you go to the playoffs, so you don’t have any of those answers until the playoffs.”

Rivers, who guided Boston to an NBA title in 2008, is second among active coaches in playoff wins with 77 – second behind Gregg Popovich’s 152 with the five-time champion Spurs.

BLAZER BEATERS: The Clippers won the last three meetings with Portland during the regular season after losing the first one. This is the first time these two teams will be meeting in the playoffs since the rivalry began in 1970-71, the season that both franchise entered the NBA.

“It’s different in the playoffs because it’s a different environment,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “But I feel like when we’re a healthy team, we can beat anybody. And we have so much depth now.”

BACKCOURT CHALLENGE: Point guard Damien Lillard led the Blazers with a 25.1 average and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum was right behind at 20.8. Portland has two former Clippers in small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and backup center Chris Kaman.

“The game that they won, they outrebounded us by a considerable margin, so the rebounding battle is important because they play hard and their bigs crash the boards,” Griffin said. “Corralling C.J. and Damien is on us as a team, not just on the guards. So it’s going to have to be a team effort from top to bottom.”

Nets hire Hawks’ assistant Kenny Atkinson as new head coach

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The Brooklyn Nets were not going to land one of the big-name coaches — your Tom Thibodeaus, Scott Brooks, etc. — for what will be the most challenging rebuild project in the NBA. They needed to go with the smart, rising assistant coach who understands how to develop players and a culture.

Enter Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson, the lead assistant to Mike Budenholzer. He’s got the job, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and soon confirmed by the team itself. From Wojnarowski:

Nets general manager Sean Marks met with several candidates in recent weeks, but had long targeted Atkinson for the Nets job, sources said. Negotiations took place over the past several days and culminated with an agreement this weekend.

“We are thrilled to announce Kenny Atkinson as our new head coach and to welcome him and his family to Brooklyn,” Marks said in a released statement. “Kenny’s years of NBA coaching experience working under successful head coaches such as Mike Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni have provided him with the foundation and experience we were looking for in a head coach. We believe that Kenny’s core principles, leadership, communication skills and exceptional background in player development make him an ideal fit for the culture we are building in Brooklyn.”

Atkinson will stay with the Hawks through the end of that team’s playoff run before jumping to Brooklyn (the Hawks are up 1-0 against the Celtics in the first round).

“I’m very happy for Kenny and excited that he’s earned the opportunity to be a head coach,” Budenholzer said in a statement. “His competitiveness, knowledge and feel for the game, and passion for player development are all at a high level and will serve him well as a head coach. With him and Sean in place, the Nets have a very strong foundation to build on.”

This is a San Antonio connection — Marks was an assistant GM and assistant coach with the Spurs before taking over the Brooklyn job. Budenholzer was a long-time Spurs assistant who has brought that philosophy to Atlanta, something Atkinson has been steeped in. Atkinson worked for a year under Rick Adelman in Houston, then spent four years in New York as an assistant coach under D’Antonio — where he was seen as the assistant coach who made Linsanity happen — before joining Budenholzer in Atlanta four years ago.

Hiring Atkinson is a good move, in part because he is well-respected around the league and is the kind of assistant coach who deserves a shot.

More importantly, this hire is a sign the Nets have moved on from the quick-fix philosophy — this is a “we’re developing slowly and the right way for the long haul” hire. Which is exactly what the Nets should do. Sean Marks is doing things the right way so far.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley has strained hamstring, “very unlikely” for rest of Hawks series

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You knew it was going to be bad when Celtics coach Brad Stevens said this of Avery Bradley after Game 1, via A. Sherrod Blakeley of CSNNE.com.

“And he said on the court that he heard a pop.”

On Sunday the bad news became official.

While Bradley was scheduled for an MRI Sunday, the team didn’t need those results to make this call, reports Blakely.

The injury occurred in the fourth quarter when Bradley stepped in to challenge a Jeff Teague drive and pulls up grabbing his right hamstring. He has to be helped off the court.

The Celtics were 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when Bradley was on the court this season, and the offense, in particular, saw a big jump in production.

No Bradley means more Marcus Smart and R.J. Hunter. Boston trails Atlanta 1-0 in the best-of-seven first round series after a 102-101 Hawks win on Saturday.

Watch Paul George go off for 17 in third quarter against Raptors

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Indiana’s 100-90 win in Toronto was the big upset of the first day of the NBA playoffs. Part of that was due to the All-Star backcourt in Toronto of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan having off nights.

And part of it was due to Paul George.

He had 17 points in the third quarter to push the Pacers into the lead, and you can see that above. He did it with jumpers, and with defense creating offense. It was vintage Paul George.

He had 10 points in the fourth quarter, and his entrance into the game in the fourth quarter coincided with a 19-6 Pacers run that was the difference in the final score. Expect Toronto to adjust their defense on him for Game 2.

Stephen Curry, Barack Obama play some connect four, promote mentoring program

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Rajon Rondo would destroy them both at connect four. Just saying.

Golfing buddies Stephen Curry and President Barack Obama teamed up in a new spot to promote My Brother’s Keeper and mentoring programs. A worthy cause. And a decent little ad, we thought we’d pass it along before games tip-off and things start to focus on the court Sunday.