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

4 Comments

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.

Jordan Clarkson urges NBA to allow players to compete in more global events

Getty Images
1 Comment

The NBA is trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the league and its owners want to globalize the NBA — it is the best, most watched basketball league on the globe and they want people in Europe and Asia to follow the NBA the way American soccer fans follow the Barclays’ Premiere League. That will make the owners more money, and never forget this is a business first, second, and third. With that, the owners allow players to compete for their native countries in major events, such as the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.

However, there is a “club vs. country” tug of war in the NBA. Players want to represent their countries — and sometimes are pressured to do so — while NBA teams see injury risk. They look at the story of Dante Exum blowing out his ACL playing for Australia as a cautionary tale.

So when the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), the NBA shot it down at first saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.). However, the league eventually flipped and allowed a “one-time exception” for Clarkson (plus Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang).

Now Clarkson says he wants the NBA to allow players to compete in more global events, he told Agence France-Presse at the Asian Games.

“After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting,” he said. “I’m here now, ready to compete.”

“I think they get the point — in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.”

Basketball is a growing sport in Asia — it’s huge in the Philippines already, and it’s growing fast there and in countries such as China. The NBA wants its foot in the door there. It wants to be part of that market — the NBA plays exhibition games in China every year for a reason.

The Asian Games — the second largest multi-national sporting event in the world behind the Olympics — is a good exception to make. Clarkson and other NBA stars playing there — including in the future — is good for the NBA.

However, the league is going to face a challenge trying to find that line in future years between promoting the game and the NBA internationally and protecting its investments in its players.

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

2 Comments

We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

Getty Images
3 Comments

Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).

Victor Oladipo: ‘I play nothing safe now’ because ‘that really didn’t get me anywhere’

Getty Images
2 Comments

Victor Oladipo transformed last season.

Traded to the Pacers, he showed up to camp in better shape than he had ever been before, and with a new confidence in his handles and shot making. Coach Nate McMillan realized what he had, put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, and got out of the way. The result was a 48-win Pacers team where Oladipo was the league’s most improved player, made an All-NBA Team, the All-Defensive Team, and was an All-Star for the first time.

Oladipo, after going to the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, is back in a Miami gym with the same team of trainers and staff who transformed his body and game a year ago. In a fantastic profile by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, Oladipo talks about the mental transformation he has undergone as well.

“I push the envelope. I play nothing safe now,” Oladipo says. “I’m the guy if we’re down two, I’m pulling up for three. I work too hard to not push the envelope. I used to be conservative but that really didn’t get me anywhere.”

His trainer, Al Watson, talked about getting Oladipo better prepared for defenses that focus on him and late-game situations.

“Last year we started doing a lot of tightening up his ball-handling skills. This year we took it to another level because I watch a lot of film on him,” Watson says. “In the fourth quarter, he’s like the point guard. Wanted to focus on a lot of combination moves, working on traps. It’s no secret now. They’re going to be double-teaming him.

“You look at the great players, Kobe, they had to do a little bit of everything. His shot from the perimeter may be off so he’s got to learn, ‘Let me get myself going, get to the mid-post, get some fouls.’ He’s got to be able to attack with all different facets of the game. We do a lot of sprinting, getting to your spots. Got to get open. I touch everything with in-game situation stuff.”

Oladipo’s team includes an off-the-court group trying to better position himself to make money off his stardom. He doesn’t want to play it safe off-the-court, either.

Indiana is going to lean heavily on Oladipo again. They added some depth — Doug McDermott, drafting Aaron Holiday — and are counting on more from players such as Myles Turner. However, by and large, the Pacers are running it back, and they are sneaking up on nobody this season. Internal improvement will be their key.

Oladipo is ready. He’s not playing it safe anymore.