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.

Report: Pacers, Myles Turner agree to four-year, $80 million extension

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The Pacers’ identification and development of young players stagnated in the Paul George era and might have contributed to his exit. Indiana’s kept first-round picks in the seven years between drafting and trading George: Miles Plumlee, Solomon Hill, Myles Turner, T.J. Leaf.

Turner is the lone hope to emerge as a secondary star, and though now it’d be next Victor Oladipo rather than George, the Pacers will pay Turner as such.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

That’s a sizable deal, not just in terms of dollars but also opportunity cost. This will unnecessarily cut into Indiana’s cap space next summer.

Turner will begin the offseason counting against the cap at his 2019-20 salary, which based on the reported terms, will be between $17,857,143 and $22,727,273. If the Pacers didn’t extend him and let him become a restricted free agent, they could have held him at $10,230,852, used their other cap space first then exceeded the cap to re-sign him with Bird Rights.

So, why lock him up now? Indiana clearly believes his production will outpace his salary. This prevents another team from signing him to an even larger offer sheet next summer.

The 22-year-old Turner can live up to this deal. He’s a good 3-point shooter and shot-blocker. He must play with more force inside and either improve his foot speed or defensive recognition, ideally both. But he has plenty of tools for a modern center.

That said, if the extension is fully guaranteed, this is too much of a gamble on Turner for me. For sacrificing so much cap flexibility next summer, the Pacers should have gotten more of a discount. Of course, if this deal is heavy on incentives and short on guarantees, that could swing the analysis.

Report: Clippers trading Wesley Johnson to Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca

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The Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan era already ended in L.A.

Now, the Clippers are losing the very last player from their 2016-17 team (just two years ago!) – Wesley Johnson, who’s being shipped to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Johnson ($6,134,520) has a slightly higher salary than Ajinca ($5,285,394) with both players in the final year of their contracts. As long the Clippers have to waive a player, they’d rather drop the cheaper one.

The Clippers actually had to shed two players before the regular-season roster deadline. They’re also releasing Jawun Evans, the No. 39 pick last year. The point guard just didn’t acclimate to the NBA quickly enough to beat out Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Though waiving Evans was probably the right move now, I wouldn’t write him off entirely.

Ajinca, on the other hand, has no place in a shrinking NBA. The 7-foot-2 30-year-old can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been productive when on the court.

Johnson fell out of favor with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, but the Pelicans desperate for a small forward. Though Johnson wouldn’t be an exciting addition for most teams, he’s worth the low cost – the $849,126 difference between his and Ajinca’s salaries – to New Orleans, where he might actually be a significant addition.

PBT Podcast: MVP, Rookie of Year, other awards plus NBA playoffs, Finals predictions

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Will James Harden repeat as MVP or will someone else — LeBron James, Anthony Davis — grab the award away from him?

Luca Doncic and Deandre Ayton seem to be the favorites for Rookie of the Year, but could Trae Young or Jaren Jackson Jr. push their way into the conversation?

Who will win Coach of the Year? Is Jamal Murray a guy to watch for Most Improved Player?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports discuss all the major awards plus get into playoff predictions in this latest PBT Podcast. Can Charlotte sneak into the final playoff slot in the East or is Detroit going to take that? Are the Spurs going to miss the playoffs in the West for the first time in 22 years? And are the Warriors a lock to win it all? (Hint: They are not.)

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Report: Suns signing Jamal Crawford

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The Suns are desperate for a point guard.

How desperate?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t assume Phoenix plans to play Crawford at point guard. Perhaps, he’ll be an off guard. But the possibility is scary – whether the fear comes from playing Crawford out of position or the possibility he’d actually be the Suns’ top point guard.

It’s questionable whether the 38-year-old can help in either backcourt spot. He doesn’t attack the rim like he used to, and his defense has become even more porous.

Though he declined a $4,544,400 player option with the Timberwolves, there’s a reason he remained a free agent so long. He’ll likely settle for the minimum with Phoenix, one of the NBA’s bottom teams.

The Suns now have 14 players with guaranteed salaries on standard contracts, three with small or no guarantees (Richaun Holmes, Isaiah Canaan and Shaquille Harrison) plus Crawford. The regular-season standard-contract roster limit is 15. So, it’ll be interesting to see whom Phoenix drops in the next day. The Suns reportedly applied for a disabled-player exception for Darrell Arthur.

The Suns might try to spin this as adding veteran leadership. But they already have Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Tyson Chandler. How many veteran leaders do they need?

They need a starting-caliber point guard. Crawford isn’t it. At best, they realize that and have other plans for him.