Clippers put on a show, Bulls play defense and get victory

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The Clippers are pure Los Angeles now — entertainment with some basketball thrown in as a bonus.

The Clippers are a show and Staples Center was filled and buzzing like a movie premiere — people want to see Chris Paul throwing lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They wanted and got Derrick Rose vs. CP3. This is L.A. where everybody flocks to the hot new thing and the Clippers are that.

The team didn’t disappoint, starting with the first play when Joakim Noah slipped and Blake Griffin flew past him to throw down the crushing dunk. The video board was busy all night with replays of monster plays at the rim.

And when the dust settled, the Chicago Bulls had the win 114-101. Because they are the better team.

“Our defense and our rebounding is an issue,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said after the game. “We’re giving up too many points right now.”

That may be an understatement — the Clippers are a ways from being a good defensive team. The Clippers are quite a show, their athleticism can be overwhelming, but they remain a work in progress. Particularly on defense. Their execution isn’t good enough on either end, they lack enough depth on the roster (particularly inside), the chemistry between Griffin in Paul is starting to marinate but is along way from where it can and needs to be. The Clippers are a team of potential trying to figure out who they are.

On the other hand the Bulls know exactly who they are, and they have their chemistry down. In the fourth quarter they just kept going at an elbow pick-and-roll with Rose and Carlos Boozer and the Clippers couldn’t stop it. When L.A. collapsed in to stop Rose’s drives he knew Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver would be there for the weakside corner three (there were three of those in the fourth quarter). The Clippers didn’t know how to stop it. Plus, Rose did some of those Rose-like things in the lane nobody can stop. He’s a good show himself.

Rose is especially dangerous when he can step back off a high screen and drain a three, something he did twice in the fourth. Rose finished with 29 points (on 14 shots) plus 16 assists. He bested Paul, who himself was impressive with 15 points and 14 assists. The two had a duel going in the second half that Rose described as “fun.” Paul several times drove into the strong-side Tom Thibodeau defense, drew everyone in and found shooters lurking on the weak side.

But while the Bulls did that under pressure late, the Clippers offense stagnated into more isolation or pick-and-rolls without much movement.

The Clippers are where the Bulls were a couple years ago, where Oklahoma City was a couple years ago. This team has the potential to be contenders, but they need to learn to defend, they need to develop chemistry, the front office needs to fill in a few roster holes.

That has already happened in Chicago. They know who and what they are — they are contenders, not just another show.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.