For second time in a week, Clippers beat Thunder. Hmmm….

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When the Clippers beat Oklahoma City Thunder last Wednesday, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were 2-for-12 shooting in the fourth quarter.

In the second half Monday night, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 1-for-13 shooting and the Clippers pulled away with an 18-4 run in the fourth quarter to win 92-77. The OKC loss combined with a Spurs win over Golden State moved the two teams into a tie for the top spot in the Western Conference.

Taken by themselves, the Clippers’ wins over the Thunder don’t mean much. And regular season results have limited relations to playoff success (remember, last regular season the Heat struggled against the Celtics and Bulls while the Lakers owned the Mavericks). But the Thunder have lost their last five games against playoff teams now. They are not right, which again does not spell playoff doom but it can make you hesitate.

I think we can take away a couple things from these games.

• Under pressure, the Thunder still have their offense desert them for stretches, in part because they turn the ball over too much (19 times this game). That cost them in the playoffs last year against Dallas, it will cost this year against teams that can make them pay. The Clippers stepped up their defense and in the second half OKC struggled, scoring just 25 points. The Thunder didn’t score the final 3:42 of this game. That was with Durant missing a shot in the lane guarded by Chris Paul. It was isolations and drive and kick, things the Clippers could defend.

The only reason the Thunder were close after three quarters was a monster game from Serge Ibaka, who had more baskets in the third quarter (five) than Durant and Westbrook did in the second half. Ibaka had 12 points in the third and seemed to be everywhere with rebounds and blocks.

• Last week Griffin told PBT in an interview that defense was key to the Clippers play of late. He’s right. The Clippers are starting to play more consistent defense and when they do they are a tough team to beat. What’s more, Gs leading that defensive charge — he is using his physicality on that end and it works. Also, the Clippers threw some zone at the Thunder and it slowed the visitors who were slow to recognize it. This was a nice change of pace defense for the Clips.

Griffin and Paul also are developing a better chemistry. The Clippers made a great little run using a pick-and-roll with Griffin and Paul at the top of the key — OKC tried a little bit of everything with Paul off the pick and nothing worked, but at this point they trapped him — and Paul slipped the bounce pass to a rolling Griffin. Each time Ibaka was there to greet him in the lane but other help would come as well from Kevin Durant. That left Nick Young wide open in the corner and he drained the three. Young was on fire for the night, scoring 19 points on 10 shots.

I’m not convinced that in a seven game series the Thunder do not prevail. The playoffs are their own animal. But the Thunder have had flaws exposed that they will fix or get ripped wide open in the post season.

And the Clippers are still a team on the rise that could climb up (they are one game back of the Lakers for the three seed). If they can put performances on defense like the second half of this game on consistently, watch out. There is a lot of talent on this side.

Anthony Davis wants to be great player on great team ‘every year. Not every other year. Not every few years. Every year’

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Pelicans star Anthony Davis has made the playoffs just twice in six years. Last season was the first time he won a a series.

That’s atypical for a player of his caliber.

Davis, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“When you look at LeBron, every year you know he’s going to be great and his team is going to have a chance to win the title,” Davis said. “From here on out, I want to be in that conversation every year. Not every other year. Not every few years. Every year. If that’s going to happen, we’re going to have to win, and I’m going to have to be the most dominant player.”

Davis is putting it on himself to be that player.

The big question: Are the Pelicans good enough to be that team?

Both Davis and New Orleans met his expectations in a resounding opening win over the Rockets, but it’s a long season. The Pelicans are good, though flawed. They’ve never contended for a title with Davis, let alone done so annually. As he enters the midst of his prime, it might be now or never.

Davis can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and he’s setting a bar. A high one.

Cavaliers officials reportedly joke about LeBron James: ‘The tread is off his tires’

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LeBron James has played more minutes, regular season and playoffs combined, than Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and John Stockton did in their entire careers. Last year alone, in his age-33 season, LeBron played 3,947 minutes – the most by anyone since LeBron in his first season with the Heat and the most by anyone so old since Michael Jordan in his last season with the Bulls.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Cavs officials have privately joked that “the tread is off his tires” as James transitions to L.A. after playing so much last season.

I wonder how much genuine thought is behind that joke. I’d bet some, though I bet it’s also some self-perceived true belief masking a coping mechanism.

If LeBron wanted to sign a five-year max contract last summer, the Cavaliers would’ve jumped to do it. Instead, he left them for the Lakers.

I also wonder how LeBron feels about that joking. He takes his training seriously and has defied typical aging curves.

This is why LeBron was right to leave for Los Angeles if that’s what he wanted to do. For players with power to do something about it – LeBron definitely qualifies – NBA careers are too short to work with people whose vision doesn’t align with theirs. I’m not sure whether this qualifies as a divide, but there was already plenty of acrimony between LeBron and the organization in Cleveland.

That said, the Lakers unconditionally believing in LeBron’s staying power could do them in. He is in his 16th season and will turn 34 in December. He’s not worn down yet, but the clock is ticking.

Jeanie Buss: Phil Jackson fired by Knicks because ‘people close to you will take the knife and put it in your back’

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When he hired Phil Jackson as team president, Knicks owner James Dolan infamously said he was ceding control “willingly and gratefully.”

But New York kept Steve Mills, who had been running the front office, on staff as general manager. Mills also replaced Jackson as president after Jackson got fired.

That served as a lesson for Jeanie Buss, Lakers owner and Jackson’s former fiancée.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

Jeanie had learned from Jackson’s mistakes in New York, where he took that job as the head of the Knicks front office in March of 2014 and was fired three years later after, as she saw it, he fell prey to the internal politics that have plagued that franchise for decades.

“He should’ve made sure (to control) who was surrounding him, because the people close to you will take the knife and put it in your back,” she continued.

Buss doesn’t name Mills or anyone. But it’s hard not to jump to man who was both Jackson’s predecessor and successor. After regaining control, Mills said he tried to steer Jackson in other directions (which, hopefully).

This reflects poorly on Dolan, whose poor leadership has cast a shadow over the organization for years. There is a toxic culture within the Knicks, from the top down.

But it’s not as if Jackson were simply a victim of that culture. With the notable exception of drafting Kristaps Porzingis, Jackson failed miserably in roster-building. He contributed to the malaise with a comedy of incompetence.

Maybe Mills stabbed Jackson in the back. But Jackson was his own problem, anyway.

Report: Knicks, Lakers, Clippers will pursue Kevin Durant in free agency

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The Warriors are reportedly bracing for Kevin Durant to leave in free agency next summer.

Just because of the New York rumors? Maybe. They’re spreading like wildfire.

But the Knicks won’t be the only team chasing Durant.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers will take a run at the back-to-back Finals MVP, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Of course, every team wants Durant. But not every team will actually pursue him. Many teams believe they have no chance of signing him and won;t waste their time.

It’s probably not coincidental this early list of suitors includes only the very biggest markets. Durant already plays for the best team in a desirable location. How do you differentiate yourself from Golden State? Maybe by being in an even bigger market.

The Clippers are reportedly the frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard. Could they get Durant, too? That’d be intriguing.

The Lakers are definitely looking to get LeBron James a star teammate, and Durant’s name has at least come up. But Durant is already dogged by the perception he’s just riding the Warriors’ coattails. He wouldn’t change the narrative by joining LeBron.

The Knicks don’t even project to have max cap space, though they’d rush to move Courtney Lee or someone else to get Durant. But this is already the worst team on the list. New York is going to further deplete its assets while remaining appealing to Durant? Hey, it could happen.

Or maybe Durant will look at these teams and see has it pretty good in Golden State.

It could also go the other way. If Durant gives even the slightest indication he’s interested teams not yet planning to pursue him, they’d jump to get into the race. So, don’t assume Warriors, Knicks, Lakers and Clippers is anything more than the preliminary pool of vying teams.