Lakers-Clippers: 5 Things to Watch

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Saturday night is the first matchup of the new-look CP3-lead Clippers against the old guard Los Angeles Lakers. The Showdown at Staples, Part 1. The Lakers are coming in hotter than a pistol behind Kobe Bryant’s 40-point streak, while the Clippers have also managed to hold on despite some questions about their defense, standing just a game and a half back of the purple and gold. To help get you set for the biggest game of the night that doesn’t involve Tebow, here are five things to watch.

1. The Low Post Tango… with Giant Clubs: Andrew Bynum struggles with crafty defenders, players who can body him and also know how to disrupt his game in the little ways, by attacking his positioning and ball handling. But he’s very good against raw size, which is what he faces against DeAndre Jordan Saturday night. Bynum has a huge size advantage on most nights, but this is going to be quite he battle with Jordan and the massive frame he’s grown into able to hold his own against Bynum’s girth. The big separator here could be positioning. Bynum’s a terrific rebounder at both ends, while Jordan has struggled this season on the glass. His total rebound rate is 13.8%, the lowest of his career if it holds up. If Jordan can’t keep Bynum from tip-ins, it could be a long night for the Clips.

2. You Should Bring a Help Defender. Or Twenty.: The Lakers have improved greatly under Mike Brown at perimeter penetration, with Brown’s help defense cutting off lanes. But against Chris Paul, they’ll have their toughest challenge. Put simply, the Lakers don’t have a perimeter defender to check him. Derek Fisher is no longer physically in a position to contain him, Kobe Bryant has to save his energy for the offensive end, and can’t check him effectively or risk fouls, and Steve Blake is out with an injury… and couldn’t check him anyway. What the Lakers cannot do is switch on the pick and roll against Paul. In last year’s playoffs, Paul destroyed the Lakers’ defense by getting matched up on a big defender in space, then working him over off the dribble. The best bet for the Lakers is to trap Paul off the pick and roll, bringing a third defender if necessary, and risking the outside shot. As long as the big for L.A. has his hands up and active to prevent Lob City, that forces a reset of the offense or a perimeter shot. The Clippers can hit it, but you take that over Paul in space any time.

3. Encouraging Greatness: Kobe Bryant was brilliant last night. He was dominant, yet again, with 40 points. He is an unstoppable scoring machine, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2007 or earlier. And despite that, the Cavaliers were right in the game at the end, a night after the Jazz forced the Lakers into overtime. Are you sensing a pattern? The more Bryant shoots, the less involved his teammates become. The less involved his teammates become, the harder it is for the offense to function and the more the Lakers struggle. They had this problem against two pretty bad teams (though not as bad as some would suggest, both Utah and Cleveland have looked at least decent this year). If that’s the case with the Clippers, it works to L.A.’s favor. Putting Bryant in a position where he’s encouraged to take long jumpers is going to wind up with him dropping a huge scoring total on you, but if you shut down the rest of the team, it works in your favor. This is nothing new. This is the same formula that worked prior to the Lakers becoming a more evenly distributed team in 2008 with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. With Odom gone and the bench weaker than in years past, Bryant seems to feel obligated to both carry the load and prove a point. If the Clippers are smart, they’ll let him embarrass him with a huge scoring performance while they win the game with a complete set of offense.

4. Party up front, nothing in the back: The Clippers and Lakers have the second-worst and worst bench scoring units, respectively. So both teams are desperate for production off the pine. With Steve Blake out with a chest injury, the Lakers take a hit. Meanwhile, the Clippers have Mo Williams who is shooting 47 percent this season. The Lakers need a bench player to step up and contribute offensively to carry some of the load while some of the big three take a breathe. If they can get the ball out of Bryant’s hot hand, that is.

5. They Love L.A. But Only Really The Popular, Winning One: Crowd tonight at this game should be pretty amusing. It’s a Clippers home game, and yet 65 percent or more of the crowd should be Lakers fans. This “rivalry” will always lean towards which team wins more. It’ll be interesting to see if either team dominates how the fans will react. If Clippers fans will shrug and accept their usual fate, or if Lakers fans will start cheering for the Clippers if CP3 opens up Lob City. It’s going to be entertaining to say the least. The circus has come to town for Battle: Los Angeles.

Nets reportedly trade Kyrie Irving to Mavericks for Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, picks

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
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Dallas desperately needed a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić.

They got one — Mark Cuban has always been willing to take risks to win. The question about how long this can last comes later.

The Nets are trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, their unprotected 2029 first-round pick their 2027 and 2029 second-round picks, according to multiple reports.

Irving is reportedly “ecstatic” to make the move to Dallas (the hard questions about a future contract will wait until after the season).

Brooklyn had several suitors to choose from but wanted in return players it could slot in around Kevin Durant now (or, once he is healthy and returns) so they could still have a puncher’s chance to win the East. Dinwiddie gives Brooklyn a point guard and shot creator who can play some off the ball — and he returns to Brooklyn, where he made a name for himself in the league. Finney-Smith is a coveted two-way wing who can step in right now. Plus, the Nets add some potentially valuable picks down the line.

That offer gave the Nets more win-now possibilities than they got out of the Lakers’ offer (two future first-rounders and Russell Westbrook) or what the Suns and Clippers put in the mix.

There are questions for Dallas, but ones they believe they can answer — elite talents figure out a way to make it work on the court. Off the court, it helps that both coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. That’s a start.

The pairing of Dončić and Irving should lead to games and stretches where they look brilliant, but the question is not the highs but the lows — how deep and how prolonged will those be? Irving works well off the ball (as he has done with Durant and LeBron James) and should be able to play off Dončić. However, can Dončić play well off the ball when Irving is hot? Do the Mavericks — with Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and the rest — have enough around their two stars to be a serious threat in the West? Off the court, can the very different personalities of Irving and Dončić mesh, or at least work well enough not to be a distraction?

The biggest question: Do Cuban and the Mavericks really want to re-sign Irving for the four-years, $198.5 million he demands at the end of the season? There are reports that Dallas (like every other front office in the league, including Brooklyn) is hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving that gives him that kind of guaranteed money.

But that is a concern for the future — Dallas got its second star. It has vaulted itself into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and positioned itself to contend.

Reports: Stephen Curry out ‘weeks’ with leg injury, Warriors hope for return after All-Star Break

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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This is bad news for the Warriors. How bad depends on how the word “weeks” is ultimately defined.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline he will be out “weeks” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Weeks” is a vague word, and for the Warriors the difference in Curry being out three weeks (with one of those being the All-Star Break) versus him being out six to eight weeks could be the difference in how long a playoff run the Warriors have.

The Warriors are hoping for a Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Of short-term concern, this has Curry out for the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will bump one of the reserves up to a starting spot — likely Ja Morant, who was third in fan voting — and name an injury replacement for the team. The top candidates are Devin Booker (if he returns from injury this week as expected), De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards.

Longer term, the Warriors can’t afford to be without Curry for an extended period.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, and the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. With the team one game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, an extended absence for Curry is trouble for a Warriors team that has never found its footing this season.

 

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

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This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go off for 42, Thunder blow out Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder took what coach Mark Daigneault called a “bloodthirsty mentality” into Saturday’s rematch with the Houston Rockets.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points to help the Thunder blow out Houston 153-121.

They were disappointed in losing at Houston on Wednesday and responded by setting an Oklahoma City record for points in a game, surpassing the 150 they scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

“Just (wanted to) be the aggressors,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Play our style, our brand of basketball. I think we got away from that a little bit in Houston, and we just wanted to get back on track.”

Daigneault was most pleased that the approach was player-led.

“It wasn’t like I was giving motivational speeches,” he said. “But, you know, as a team, they kind of banded together and decided that they were going to come out and play the way they did. And they were impressive because of it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone by scoring 20 points in the first quarter.

“I thought tonight was, like, a pretty big leadership statement game for him,” Daigneault said. “I think when you need a response like we needed tonight coming out of the other night, you rely on your guys that are most experienced, who play the most minutes.”

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 from the field in the first matchup, but bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals on Saturday, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists for the Thunder, despite not playing in the fourth quarter because the Thunder led by 42 points at the end of the third.

Mike Muscala scored a season-high 19 points and Josh Giddey added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for Oklahoma City.

“We’re a team that’s growing in confidence, and I think our habits are growing,” Daigneault said. “And I think a lot of things are moving in the right direction.”

Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points and Tari Eason added 18 for the Rockets.

The Rockets were playing without Eric Gordon (sore right knee) and Jae'Sean Tate (right ankle injury).

Rockets coach Stephen Silas didn’t want to hear it.

“You’ve got to step up in these situations, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We succumbed to back-to-back, three-in-four, no Eric, no Tate, all that stuff. … We succumbed to it. That’s not – we’re talking about winning habits. That’s not one.”

Oklahoma City led 79-53 at the break after shooting 55% from the field. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points in the first two quarters, a career high for him in a first half.

The Thunder continued to roll in the third quarter, making 16 of 26 field goals in the period to go up 123-81 heading into the fourth.

Oklahoma City set the Thunder single-game scoring record on a 3-pointer by Darius Bazley that banked in during the final minute.