The only series worth watching, Grizzlies try to get even with Clippers

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In a kind of washout of a first round of the NBA playoffs, the Clippers vs. Grizzlies has been the only series completely watchable for anyone other than diehard fans. (The Oklahoma City wins over Dallas were not bad, but that was a sweep.)

This series saw Los Angeles come back from 27 down to win Game 1. It has seen a physical nastiness — the kind of “we don’t like you” playoff play that we have waited through the regular season to see. It has seen dunks, and it has seen Chris Paul be the best guy on the court. So far we’ve seen a dramatic 2-1 Clippers lead.

What will we see in Game 4?

A desperate Memphis team that knows if they go down 3-1 it’s all over. But desperation alone is not enough — Memphis has struggled to score in the fourth quarter of their losses, and struggled to get the ball inside. When Mike Conley sits, they become a much more perimeter team, the ball doesn’t get inside to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol where they want it. Gasol has just two points in the fourth quarter of this series — that cannot happen for Memphis. He has looked good in stretches, Gasol needs the rock.

The Clippers ball pressure is getting to the Grizzlies and it has been key. Memphis has to get the ball inside then knock down the threes on the kickouts, things they did not do well in Game 3.

Memphis also will continue to be physical with the Clippers until the Clippers make them pay — the Clippers went 13-30 from the free throw line in Game 3. If the Clippers knock down their free throws, they get a much easier win. This is where the private war between Randolph and Blake Griffin is being waged, both are beating up on each other, but Griffin is getting the better of it with the usually efficient Z-Bo only shooting 40 percent in the series.

The Clippers have gotten the better bench play — something likely to continue on their home court for Game 4 — and they got the emotional boost of Caron Butler gutting it out and playing with a broken hand. If Reggie Evans can hit the boards and Nick Young can knock down a few shots, the Clippers will be ahead of game.

Meanwhile, Tony Allen’s sore knee is keeping him off the court — he didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Game 3 — and the Grizzlies miss his perimeter defense. Chris Paul is the best player on the court in this series (24 points and 11 assists last game) and while Allen couldn’t stop him he’d make CP3 work harder than he has had to so far.

Memphis will be desperate, and that likely means a tight Game 5. If Memphis can get the ball inside to their big men in position, if they can get someone other than Rudy Gay to step up in the fourth quarter, they could make this a best-of-three series. But if they don’t reverse the trends — or if the Clippers just knock down their free throws — Memphis will not be taking a step forward off of last year’s run.

Report: Suns to waive Austin Rivers, who becomes unrestricted free agent

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The Phoenix Suns need a ball handling guard to go next to Devin Booker, so when they picked up Austin Rivers as part of the Trevor Ariza trade with Washington it made some sense. Rivers is a below replacement level NBA player (who has been serviceable the past couple of seasons), but that’s an upgrade over what the Suns had.

Except Rivers didn’t want to be part of the rebuild in Phoenix. In an unusual and unexpected move, the Suns have agreed to waive him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It’s an odd move on a few levels. Why didn’t Rivers want to stay in a place the ball would be in his hands more, giving himself a chance to build up his value before free agency next summer? Why didn’t the Suns first try to shop him around and offer to take on another team’s bad/dead contract if they got a pick or other asset? (Rivers can’t be packaged with another player in a trade but he can be moved straight up.)

Finally, how much demand is there among good teams for Rivers, even on a minimum contract?

Rivers, the son of Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, is in his seventh NBA season. Rivers is averaging 7.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting this season.

It’s an odd move. Without Rivers Suns will keep leaning on rookie De'Anthony Melton as a potential future backcourt mate with Booker and hope he develops into something.

Bulls’ Kris Dunn shoves Russell Westbrook, scuffle breaks out (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook has a way of getting under an opponent’s skin.

Monday night it was the Bulls’ Kris Dunn‘s turn.

While moving over in position on the strong side, Westbrook and Dunn made contact, and after the whistle blew for a foul (with the ball handler), Westbrook made a grand gesture of pushing Dunn off him. Dunn responded with an outsized shove. And then it was on.

There’s more stuff to break down here than the Zapruder film.

• Jeremi Grant of the Thunder came in and tried to go at Dunn a little, in front of Westbrook (protect the star).

Bobby Portis tried to slide Grant out of the way, but…

Robin Lopez came in and went at Grant getting in his face, so Grant basically throws Lopez into the first row.

• Which just made Lopez even madder, leading to a meme-worthy angry face.

• Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen gets Grant in a headlock and pulls him out of the situation.

Steven Adams calmly makes sure Portis is out of the picture, then walks back over to Lopez and then Adams and Lopez get separated.

• In the end, the officials handed out for technicals: Westbrook, Dunn, Grant, and Lopez.

A few minutes later, Lopez blocked a Grant shot, decided to taunt him, and that got Lopez a second technical and he was tossed (Lopez is a veteran, he has to know the officials are going to call everything tight at that point). Watch Adams pat Lopez on the back as the Bulls’ big man makes the walk to the locker room.

James Harden scores 47, including sinking dagger into Jazz (VIDEO)

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Utah and Houston met in a battle of the disappointing early season Western teams — predicted by most to finish 2/3 in the West, they came into the night 10th and 13th — and in the tight West these kinds of games matter.

So James Harden turned it up a notch.

The reigning MVP looked every bit that guys scoring 47 points and adding six rebounds, five assists, and five steals in what was a Houston win, 102-97. It was Harden that sank the dagger into Utah.

That’s four wins in a row for Houston as they try to climb out of the hole they dug themselves early this season.

Taj Gibson helps defend drive with one shoe on, one shoe in his hand (VIDEO)

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In the first quarter Monday night, Timberwolves veteran Taj Gibson was working in the post on the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica, Gibson got the bucket but lost his shoe.

He picked it up, ran to the other end with one shoe in hand, and then defended a Bjelica drive well enough that Karl-Anthony Towns would come over and get the block on the play.

Somehow, Tom Thibodeau is going to get credit for this new defensive style.