Game of the night: The Clippers announce their presence with authority against Heat

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The Clippers have arrived.

Not arrived like a powerhouse in the Western Conference. Not even arrived like they will be a playoff team (they dug too big a hole early on to climb out of it).

But arrived on the national radar. You need to be watching this team.

Wednesday they announced their arrival with a 111-105 victory over the Miami Heat, snapping the Heat’s 13-game road winning streak.

With athletes all over the floor and Blake Griffin dunking everything he can get his hands on, the Clippers have been a show since the start of the season. But lately a number of things have come together — better defense on pick and rolls, more consistent play from role players, a rejuvenated Baron Davis — that has propelled them to being 7-3 in their last 10 (but just 13-24 overall, hence the playoff problem).

As much as it was the Clippers doing things right, it was the Heat coming out flat that decided this game. The Clippers wanted to make a statement, the Heat played like they wanted to get to In-n-Out Burger. The result was Los Angeles shooting 17-of-22 in the first quarter with eight dunks — which meant a 44-26 lead after one quarter. That was a hole the Heat would never climb out of even though they won the next three quarters.

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said success may have been the problem — they have had so much Miami did not come out with the requisite focus. You had seen that building in previous games but this was the one where it came back to bite them, Spoelstra said. The Heat’s lack of energy showed up in transition, where the Clippers were just flat out beating the Heat down the floor.

Here’s the Clippers real secret to why they are playing better — Baron Davis has played well the last couple weeks. Spoelstra said that after watching tape of recent games that they expected this “good” version of Davis, adding it looks to him like Davis is finally healthy.

Physically he may be right, but it’s the better choices that are key. Davis has stopped the pull-up threes with 20 seconds on the shot clock (well, there was one against the Heat but you can’t expect a guy just to quit cold turkey), and instead he is attacking the rim. He has always been a guy who can set people up, especially when he drives, but he’s also the guy now settling down the offense. Davis even had a power dunk in traffic, which had the crowd checking to make sure this wasn’t Pauley Pavilion circa 1998.

Starting in the second quarter the Heat’s defensive intensity picked up — they were active and closing out, not just giving up threes — but by then the Clippers had gained confidence. They felt like they could do it, and that showed all the way through the fourth quarter — when the Heat would make a run (they got the lead all the way down to two at one point) the Clippers had an answer. You kept waiting for the Heat to take control with a huge run, but the Clippers never let them. Eric Gordon (who finished with a team high 26) pushed the Heat back with some quick buckets.

To help seal it, in the fourth quarter Griffin (who had 24 points and 14 rebounds) and Mario Chalmers got in a little argument that led to both getting technical fouls. Next time he got the ball Griffin attacked and threw down one of his signature dunks, then glared at Chalmers as they ran up the court. Note to other teams: Don’t make Blake Griffin angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Consider Dwyane Wade and LeBron impressed. They see a future for these Clippers.

“They have the talent,” Wade said. “This is a young team, and I’ve been on a team before that didn’t start out that well but once we got it going and we figured it out, it was my rookie (year), we became a pretty tough team to play, especially at home.

“So, they got to have this kind of effort every night, to be that kind of team in the Western Conference. Hopefully they see what they did right here and they could turn this franchise around.”

James echoed those thoughts.

“I think the key is, for a young team, or for a team that wants to become good, like D-Wade said you have to show up every night,” James said. “You can’t just show up for the Heat, or show up for the Lakers, or for the Celtics. It’s easy to get up for those games, it’s going to be sellouts and 19,000 fans in the crowd, it’s easy to get up for those games. But when you play some of the teams that record wise are not that good you still play with that same intensity.”

We’ll see how intense the Clippers are Friday night up in the Bay Area against Golden State.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.

 

Clippers’ Milos Teodosic opts into $6.3 million for next season

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It was a lot of fun to watch Milos Teodosic play last season…

When he was healthy. He only played in 45 games for the Clippers last season.

Teodosic will be back in the NBA next season, as he has told the Clippers he will opt into a $6.3 million next season, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Clippers can buy him out by July 15 for $2.1 million, and that likely will happen. The Clippers are deep at the point guard spot (Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans) and with a lottery rookie in the fold they will want to get him run.

Expect the Clippers to try to trade him in the next three weeks. He would have value to a team looking for a backup point guard — when he did play he averaged 9.5 points per game, shot 37.9 percent from three. The fans will love his passing and play. The coach will like him too… when healthy.

Report: Suns to renounce rights to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton

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The Suns want to free up some cap space heading into July. They are not going big game hunting, but with $10 million to $15 million they could bring in some solid veterans to provide leadership to their young core — and win a few games along the way.

How they get there starts with not bringing back Alex Len or Elfrid Payton, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Expect them to renounce their rights to center Alex Len and point guard Elfrid Payton, making them both free agents. Ayton’s addition has made Len expendable, and while Phoenix still needs point-guard help, Payton’s inconsistent play last season and, more importantly, his $10 million cap hold figure, likely means he’s played his last game in a Suns uniform.

This was expected. In Len’s case, he was playing on a qualifying offer and didn’t anticipate being back with the team (especially after they drafted Deandre Ayton).

The Suns acquired Payton at the trade deadline for a second-round pick (which was just by Orlando to land Jarred Vanderbilt) and it was a good flier. The Suns need a point guard to go next to Devin Booker, Payton is a former lottery pick that had shown flashes in the past, so Phoenix rolled the dice on him. It didn’t work out, and the Suns can just move on.

Both Len and Payton probably find new homes in the NBA next season. Len is 7’1″ and can use that size to protect the paint, plus he can score around the rim. Teams can use that off the bench. Payton has shown enough in flashes, and he can get buckets, that some team will grab him, just probably as a reserve.