Lakers vs. Clippers: Not a battle for soul of L.A., but a real battle

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The soul of Los Angeles is not at stake on Friday night when the Clippers “host” the Lakers at Staples Center.

First off, Los Angeles sold its soul for year-around 70 degree weather  long ago.

Second, Los Angeles is a Lakers town. Trust me, I live there, and while Clippers fans are no longer afraid to admit that in public; while the Clippers are the better and more entertaining team as I write this; while there is a passion for the Clippers, the Lakers are the true love. And that’s not changing because of 17 games.

But that doesn’t make Friday night’s showdown any less compelling.

The Clippers want to establish their dominance in Los Angeles and atop the Pacific Division (which they already have by 9 games over the Lakers, the Clips bigger concern in Golden State).

The Lakers are 15-16 with their next five games against Western Conference playoff teams — Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets, Spurs and Thunder. This is where Los Angeles has to start its run if it really plans on making a serious one.

So what decides this game? Here are three things to watch:

1) Tempo and turnovers: The Lakers may play for Mike D’Antoni but they don’t want to get in a pure track meet with the younger, more athletic Clippers. The Lakers have to defend then push the pace off the misses they make. If the game is pure 1980s up and down the Clips will run away with the game.

And the Lakers can’t turn the ball over. The Clippers lead the league by forcing their opponent to turn the ball over on 16.4 percent of their possessions. That’s what fuels the breaks and the alley-oops and the SportsCenter highlights. Because they have athletic big men behind them the Clips perimeter defenders can gamble with pressure. Steve Nash is capable of handling the pressure, but what about Chris Duhon and Darius Morris? What about Kobe Bryant (he can’t feel the pressure and go into hero mode)? The Clippers also are aggressive with their athletic big men showing out on picks late in the clock, can the Lakers make them pay for that with precision?

2) Lakers defense on the pick-and-roll: The Clippers are as dangerous a pick-and-roll team as there is in the league. Chris Paul is smart and patient and can pick you apart. They have shooters on the wings. They have Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan rolling hard to the rim. What CP3 does as well or better than anyone in the game is recognize the mismatch after a switch on the pick and make you pay for it.

On the season the Lakers have done a good job containing then pick-and-roll ball handler (they shoot just 36.6 percent) but the roll man is another issue, they shot 56.9 percent. The Lakers make the initial help move but nobody helps the helper — move the ball and you can make them pay. Can the Clippers do that like they did on their streak?

3) The Lakers bench can’t totally suck: This is pretty straightforward — the Clippers have the deepest team in the NBA, the Lakers bench is… we’ll be kind and call it inconsistent. This could be the kind of game that is close for the first quarter, then the benches come in, Jamal Crawford exposes Jodie Meeks, and the Clippers are up 12 by the time the starters return. And the Lakers can’t dig themselves out of the hole.

The Clippers need their bench to make sure they win this, the Lakers need theirs to make sure they don’t lose it.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.

Tilman Ferttita: Rockets don’t fear Lakers, Clippers like they did Warriors

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta likes to talk.

Volume 48.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else,” said Fertitta

“We just need to get home court for the first and second rounds and see what happens.”

“None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

The Rockets stood up to the Warriors far more than any other team. But that was most true before Fertitta put his imprint on the franchise. He’s somewhat culpable for Houston cowering to Golden State.

As far as this season, Fertitta is right all around: The Bucks are great, combining last year’s success with important playoff lessons. Houston could easily win the West or lose in the first round. The Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets shouldn’t be feared. (Nobody fears the Nuggets, though they are a real championship contender.)

But the Lakers and Clippers also look like darned good playoff teams. Even if not predicting victory, Fertitta’s comments could become bulletin-board material in Los Angeles.