Spurs need Duncan to step up if they want to reach the Finals

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Tim Duncan’s legacy is largely beyond reproach. The man has four NBA titles to his name, is one of the two greatest players of his generation, and just recently became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots.

And yet, his play in the Western Conference Finals hasn’t been all that special.

Duncan will get a pass from his coach and his teammates, and probably even from his fans for his lackluster performance in this series against the Thunder, one that his Spurs now find themselves all tied up in at two games apiece.

The reality is, though, that if Duncan doesn’t assert himself and play to his full capabilities for the remaining two or three games of these Western Conference finals, his Spurs may be done.

Sure, Duncan was 9-of-17 shooting in Game 4 for a team-high 21 points. But his offense came very quietly, and had virtually no impact in a game where his team desperately needed one.

No one is saying that Duncan is no longer capable of dominating a game offensively for his Spurs; in fact, it’s the opposite. San Antonio needs to feature its Hall-of-Fame big man to the point where he touches the ball on nearly every possession, with the decision to shoot or make the pass to the open man lying completely on his intelligent and capable shoulders.

In the first two rounds of the playoffs, Duncan was efficient and magnificent; excuse me for channeling my inner Clyde Frasier. He shot 23-of-49 from the field in the first round against the Jazz, and 38-of-64 from the field in the second round against the Clippers.

Those shooting numbers were good for marks of 47 percent and 59 percent respectively. Against the Thunder in this series, Duncan is just 22-of-58, for just 38 percent.

Now, it’s easy to argue that Tony Parker’s individual performance is more important to his team’s chances, considering the explosive ability he has to not only score, but to create easy opportunities for his teammates. But Parker has to perform at a certain level for the Spurs to even be within contention; to push them over the top, Duncan is the one who has to raise his game.

The Spurs have made it this far in the postseason with a surgical level of execution from role-players and stars alike. They had been getting timely shots off of open looks from seemingly everyone who touched the ball, after a series of screens and well-timed passes made their way into the hands of whomever was open at the time. But the offense by committee has stagnated in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City.

For the Spurs to get back on track, take control of this series, and earn themselves a trip to the NBA Finals, they’ll need Duncan to step up one last time and deliver as we know he can. San Antonio needs to feature him, and let him go to work against the Thunder’s front line. The defense has shifted its focus to slowing Parker and Manu Ginobili on the perimeter; it’s time for San Antonio to trust Duncan in this series, just as they have in so many series past.

As front office looks toward free agency, starless Clippers winning now

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CHARLOTTE – The Clippers have no All-Stars here.

Not Danilo Gallinari. Not Montrezl Harrell. Not even Tobias Harris, who spent most of the season with L.A. before getting traded to the 76ers.

Heck, nobody who has played for the Clippers this season – including Gallinari, Harris and Lou Williams – has ever made an All-Star team.

No Clippers are participating in All-Star Saturday Night events, either. Their only representative here is rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Yet, the Clippers are an impressive 32-27.

“When you just have a bunch of guys that are selfless and just want to play for each other and just want to ultimately win,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “things like that happen.”

The Clippers are on pace for one of the best-ever records for a team with no past or present All-Stars. Here all the all-time leaders (counting only seasons with an All-Star game):

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The Clippers’ success is particularly surprising because this was supposed to be a transitional year for them.

They moved on historically quickly from the Chris PaulBlake Griffin-DeAndre Joran Lob City era. Everyone from the Clippers’ 2012-17 teams was gone before the season even began. Since the early 1950s, only these Clippers, the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely turned over their rosters within two seasons.

The Clippers have made no secret of their interest in Kawhi Leonard. They’re also reportedly pursuing Kevin Durant. Jimmy Butler could be in the mix.

“The front office and coaches and teammates are all competitive guys and want to be good for a long time,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

Here’s the rub: Many of Gilgeous-Alexander’s teammates might not be around for that ultimate goal.

To open a projected $57 million in cap space this summer,* the Clippers had to stock their roster with expiring contracts.

*Based on the Clippers renouncing all their free agents and not having a first-round pick. L.A. owes the Celtics a lottery-protected first-rounder.

Beverley will be a free agent this summer. So will Harris and likely Avery Bradley, who got dealt to the Grizzlies shortly before the trade deadline and has just $2 million of his $12.96 million salary next season guaranteed. So will Marcin Gortat, who got waived around the trade deadline.

Yet, these players put aside personal agendas to help a franchise that’s transparently looking past them. It’s a tribute to the players. It’s a tribute to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too. This team has played hard and shown great camaraderie.

It won’t get easier even after moving Harris, L.A.’s top player this season who’s entering free agency. Ivica Zubac, JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler – acquired before the trade deadline – also have expiring contracts.

Don’t assume the Clippers will fall off now. They added solid vets who could fit this culture.

The Clippers’ identity – starless, transient – remains intact. The winning could, too.

It’s not that the Clippers got snubbed. I thought none deserved to be an All-Star.

That’s the beauty of this team.

Pelicans reportedly fire GM Dell Demps

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Dell Demps has been on the hot seat for a few years now, just scraping by while making short-term moves that appeared more about keeping his job and winning games now over planning for long-term success around Anthony Davis.

This season that all seemed to catch up with him — Davis demanded a trade and the Pelicans are well out of the playoff chase in the West.

That has cost Demps his job after nine seasons, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Frustration with Davis leaving the building is more the last straw that cost Demps his job rather than the sole firable offense. Demps has been on thin ice for a while, what happened Thursday was just enough for New Orleans to pull the trigger now rather than wait until after the season. But the sense around the league is this was coming no matter what.

If Demps had traded Davis to the Lakers at the deadline he would have been fired anyway. Also, sources have told me that it wasn’t Demps’ call, that ownership and upper management (the people above Demps) did not want the Laker trade and he couldn’t have pulled the trigger on the deal even if he wanted to. Ownership and upper management didn’t want to feel “bullied” into a deal.

It was thought by many around the league that there would be a housecleaning in New Orleans after the season and that the new GM, whoever he or she is, would be the one making the call on the trade and the direction the team takes next. The question is, will coach Alvin Gentry be out, too?

Expect the Pelicans to move reasonably quickly on finding a replacement, whether it is internal or external. They want someone in place to have a strategy for the team heading into the draft, a strategy that includes what to do about a Davis trade.

Anthony Davis reportedly plans to play in All-Star Game after shoulder injury

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Fortunately, the injury was “nothing too bad,” just a bruised shoulder that Anthony Davis suffered Thursday night against the Thunder. He didn’t play the second half of the game, but he did fly to Charlotte afterward, home of the All-Star Game this year.

Will Davis play in Sunday’s showcase game? Probably, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Expect him to play. Minutes are limited for everyone in the All-Star Game anyway, and one request to coach Mike Malone will see Davis with even fewer minutes (10? Less than that?).

Davis injured his shoulder on the final play of the first half in the Thursday night’s game against the Thunder. Davis contested a Nerlens Noel shot and in fouling the Thunder big banged up his shoulder.

Davis didn’t play the second half, leaving the building with agent Rich Paul to get an MRI.

Kemba Walker says Michael Jordan trash-talked him during draft workout (VIDEO)

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Kemba Walker has been with the Charlotte Hornets for eight years now, and he’s an institution. He might just be the best player the Hornets have ever had, and now he’s headed to the All-Star Game as the hometown hero this weekend.

Walker has had to deal with quite a few coaches, a changing rotation of players around him, and one of the most personally-demanding owners in NBA history in Michael Jordan.

To that end, Walker told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix that the first time he met Jordan was during his draft workout. True to form, Jordan trash-talked Walker despite his apparent desire to draft him.

Via Twitter:

The legend of MJ knows no bounds.