Clippers got better this summer, yet in L.A. it’s same old story (all Lakers)

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The Clippers are a legitimately good team.

They went 40-26 last season, one game back of the Pacific Division winning Los Angeles Lakers. Then this summer they went out and added Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford. They have the best point guard in the game in Chris Paul — a guy you can argue even today is the single best player in Los Angeles. They have a dynamic and athletic front line with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They are fun to watch and may well be the third best team in the Western Conference right now.

And in Los Angeles, it’s like they barely exist.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Ever since the Lakers moves to trade for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Clippers have felt invisible in Los Angeles (where I am from). You don’t read much about them in the sports pages, you don’t hear about them on sports talk radio, they don’t get much play anywhere. The Clippers may have turned a corner, they are a quality playoff team, but the dynamic in Los Angeles now with the Clippers has not changed. The only time they get mentioned is when we are reminded the Lakers are still better.

Los Angeles is a Lakers town. The NFL moved on from Los Angeles a generation ago (and kind of lost said generation to the X-Games sports). The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t seem to get on track, going from an owner where you didn’t think things could get worse — FOX — to an owner who actually was worse. (The new ownership group is working to change all of that.)

Through it all, the Lakers kept on winning. They did it with Shaq and Kobe Bryant. Shaq went away and they eventually did it with Pau Gasol. You can trace a lineage of winning back to George Mikan. The Lakers maintained a standard of excellence that no NBA team has matched over the past couple decades.

In a Los Angeles that can be transient (a lot of people move here due to the entertainment industry… and the weather), the Lakers are the one generational team right now. The Dodgers are trying to recover that, but it is the Lakers where your grandfather watched Jerry West, your father watched Magic Johnson and you watched Kobe. It is the one constant, the one sporting bond that can be passed down the way Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears fans pass down season tickets generation to generation

And when the Lakers are the story they can drown out everything in L.A.. USC football will get its spotlight this year. But that will not ignite the passions of most Angelenos like the Lakers (half of L.A is still UCLA fans).

The Clippers, for all the changes and for all the excitement around the franchise right now, for all the hope they can generate going into the playoffs next year, they are still the other team. The little brother. Lakers fans don’t look on the Clippers as rivals so much as an annoying roommate.

That roommate is going to be a very good team this year. There are questions — Can DeAndre Jordan step up? Can Vinny Del Negro really lead them far? — but the Clips should be talking about 55 wins or more and getting out of the first round of the playoffs again. They should be talking about taking the next step or steps forward.

They are. It’s just hard to hear them in Los Angeles over the Lakers.

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

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Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.