If you push Blake Griffin, the Clippers are pushing back

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Opposing teams have been trying to knock Blake Griffin off his game. Literally.

As Griffin has emerged as an NBA star and powerhouse offensive force, other teams have started to combat his physical presence with some physical play of their own. Teams have been trying to push Griffin around. The Clippers noticed and as a team decided they were not going to let that happen, players told Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.

You could see it most clearly in the end-of-game incident with the Lakers last Sunday. Griffin and Lamar Odom got into a little push and pull under the basket, and Baron Davis came rushing in to shove back Odom and protect his guy. Think of it as just one teammate protecting another, but this was planned for.

The team meeting took place on the bus the afternoon of Dec. 16, after the Clippers returned to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Mich., from practice at nearby Oakland University. Coaches and staffers exited, players stayed on, decisions were made.

Among others, it was decreed right there, parked near the entrance of the building, that Blake Griffin would be protected…..

“Just as far as having each other’s back, but knowing, hey, it’s a target on him especially and we’ve got to be ready for it,” said veteran Craig Smith, out now with a herniated disc but normally a physical presence as a 265-pound forward.

“And if we have to get in a brawl, there’s a brawl. It’s a grown-man’s league, and sometimes it happens. I don’t like for it to happen like that, but it’s a very emotional game. He might not like how somebody grabs him and might get up fast. It happens. It’s part of the game. I wish it was like hockey, where we could put boards all around, if guys want to go at it. But I think they don’t want to go at it with him like that, one-on-one.

“I think it started in the Portland game, with Andre Miller. I told [Griffin], ‘You’ve got to protect yourself out there, first and foremost. But at the same time, as a group, we have your back.’ They tried to get in his head. I told him, ‘Don’t let it frustrate you. Just take it to another level. Use that anger out there on the floor versus going at them at attacking ’em.’ “

The Clippers are starting to figure things out. They are playing well, 10-4 in the last 14. They are earning respect and with that will come efforts to derail them. The real tests are ahead. February is when the Clippers head out on the road for their extended annual Grammys road trip. There are tough teams ahead no longer looking past Los Angeles.

But at least these Clippers will not back down.

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.

You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.

By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.

Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.

Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.

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Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.

Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.

Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.

Bucks wallop Pistons. Again.

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The Pistons fought harder. Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup and provided a spark. Detroit defended more actively.

But the result was largely the same: A Bucks blowout.

Milwaukee routed Detroit 120-99 in Game 2 Wednesday. Following a 35-point Game 1 victory, the Bucks have outscored the Pistons by 56 points in the series. Every team to outscore its opponent by at least 50 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series has won it.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in green. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in red. This Milwaukee-Detroit series is in cream.

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The Pistons can’t stop Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists). With Kennard (Detroit-high 19 points) starting for defensive specialist Bruce Brown, the Pistons also couldn’t contain Eric Bledsoe (27 points). Khris Middleton (24 points) provided his usual steady production.

Meanwhile, without Blake Griffin, Detroit lacks a difference-making star. Andre Drummond (18 points and 16 rebounds) had nice individual moments but was -32 (another terrible plus-minus for him).

The Pistons are just overwhelmed by the superior Bucks, and it’s hard to see that changing.

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

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In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

LeBron James named one of TIME’s 100 most-influential people

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LeBron James couldn’t even influence the Lakers into the playoffs.

But as a businessman and philanthropist, his reach is only growing.

LeBron remains the NBA’s biggest star. He’s still an elite player (when healthy), and his name resonates with casual fans and even non-fans. Add his off-court interests – more accessible to him in Los Angeles – and his importance can’t be denied.

That’s why LeBron made TIME’s 2019 list of 100 most-influential

Warren Buffett wrote about LeBron:

I’ve been impressed with his leadership skills, his sharp mind and his ability to stay grounded. People in LeBron’s position get tugged in different directions and have a lot of chances to make bad decisions. He’s kept his head, and that’s not easy.

There is so much on LeBron’s plate – production, acting, his school, even basketball. His ability to handle it all is incredible.

Having such varied interests might not lend itself to LeBron dominating on the court. But it makes him even more deserving of this list.