Clippers 105, Jazz 104: Don’t make Chris Paul angry

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The city of Los Angeles may not have Phil Jackson, but Chris Paul is doing his best to carry on some of the Zen Master’s most notable traits. Remember how Jackson would never call timeouts when his team was on the bad end of a big run? Timeouts were considered to be bailouts. Jackson wanted his team to figure it out, to work through it, and to learn something in the process.

He was the ultimate believer in throwing your kid in the lake and seeing if they could float, so to speak. Well, Paul did the same in Salt Lake against the Jazz, leaning heavily on Blake Griffin (30 points, 11 rebounds) in a matchup that you would think favored him (against matador defender Mo Williams) more.

It might be easy to mistake Paul’s general pacifist approach to much of the game as a weakness, but he is an absolute terror when provoked. The Utah Jazz didn’t intentionally antagonize him any specific way, but there was a play tonight that woke Paul up from his state of meditation.

It’s a hard thing to do, but the Jazz embarrassed Paul. At about the 6 minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Jazz were still clinging to a lead they built earlier in the game behind their brutally efficient offensive effort.  Utah was inbounding the ball under their own rim, and Chris Paul had his back turned to inbounder Paul Millsap. In a bang-bang play, Millsap lobbed a little pass over Paul’s head to Mo Williams in the paint, who put it in before Paul had realized where the ball was or what was going on.

Paul looked like a fool. And for all the patience Paul exercises throughout the game, he was going to let that slide. On the very next possession, Paul raced down court, not even consider passing. He was getting those two points back. And the lead. And the game.

The Utah Jazz had been great. They had thoroughly outplayed the Clippers in every sense of the word up until this point, but now they were faced with the very real scenario of an angry Chris Paul in a high screen and roll. And with no Derrick Favors in the lineup, it would be up Al Jefferson trying to be something other than a traffic cone for Paul to blow by.

The results weren’t pretty. Paul (14 points, 9 assists) ate poor Al Jefferson alive at the top of the key on switches, hedges and drops to the paint, scoring eight points and dishing out two assists in the final six minutes, including the go-ahead layup for the Clippers and an eventual 105-104 victory.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPn6PmElTZk%5D

Despite the outcome, the Clippers screwed things up left and right all night long. They played terrible defense, letting Utah shoot 56 percent from the field. Vinny Del Negro kept Eric Bledsoe, probably the team’s best defender, on the bench for all but 11 minutes, even though he scored 10 points in that limited time. He had a player in his third game back after months and months away from basketball (Chauncey Billups) play a critical role down the stretch, which almost backfired in a serious way. There were so many things wrong — so many things that could have been better.

And while a win might mask those problems in the minds of many, don’t lump Paul in that group. A loss can be a great teaching moment, but on the road against a Western Conference foe that unintentionally embarrassed him? Paul decided to teach his opponents a lesson instead: don’t make him angry.

Presumptive No.1 pick Wembanyama set to make stateside debut

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have been linked constantly over the last couple years, with just about every prognosticator anointing them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA draft.

Thing is, they don’t know each other.

That’s about to change. Wembanyama – officially listed at 7-foot-2 but scouts often say more like 7-foot-4 – and the Paris-based club Metropolitans 92 are in Las Vegas to take on Henderson and the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibitions, the first on Tuesday and the second on Thursday.

“We’re playing against an NBA team, with NBA rules, on an NBA court,” Wembanyama said Monday. “This is really going to be a first for me. I’m curious to know how it’s going to go. I know it’s going to go well, but I’m still curious.”

Victor vs. Scoot. Scoot vs. Victor. They’re not playing 1-on-1, but they are the clear headliners and the reasons why these first-of-their-kind games were put together.

Wembanyama is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame; Henderson is a point guard who has been getting tons of attention for years.

“Out of all the prospects I’ve heard about in our class, I think he’s my favorite one,” Wembanyama said. “I think he’s the most reliable that I’ve seen. He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”

Henderson – a five-star recruit from Georgia who signed with the Ignite last year and played in 10 games – sees these two games as an opportunity, downplaying the 1-on-1 storyline.

“People always try to compare and contrast whoever. I don’t look at it like that,” Henderson said. “I look at it as two good ballplayers.”

The Ignite program exists to develop young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft, mixing them with veteran talent to help guide them along the way. It has featured three eventual top-10 picks – Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga last year, Dyson Daniels this year – in its first two seasons.

Henderson is a huge draw for the Ignite this year. The Ignite also have Shareef O'Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal. But much of what the Ignite would ordinarily be doing right now would be barely noticed nationally; hence, the games against Wembanyama were put together.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing in Las Vegas this week, a pair of preseason matchups against Phoenix and Minnesota. Wembanyama is going to those as a fan; he’ll have a slightly different view of NBA games next season.

“He’s one of those type of players, honestly, where you say like there’ll never be like another Shaq or there’ll never be another that,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “He’s that. You’ll never see another one of those. The scouting report on him is tough. … I’m honored that I’m getting to play him at 18, because at 24, he’s going to be something different.”

Wembanyama has been a pro for three seasons already, spending last season with ASVEL in France – a club owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. He made the decision this year to join Metropolitans in part to be coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team.

Collet is welcoming the chance.

“I think he’s the best prospect we’ve ever had in our league,” Collet said. “He’s amazing, not only by his size, but incredible skills. Despite that, he still needs to learn the game. He’s very young. … We will try to give him this experience. That’s the deal we have together, him and me. We want to give him the experience before he gets to the league. It’s most important to get him ready for what will follow next year.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.