Chris Paul leads Clippers to convincing win over Lakers

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The battle of Los Angeles turned out to be not much of a contest after all, and if you’ve been paying attention to the fortunes of the Lakers and Clippers to this point in the season, the end result shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.

Chris Paul controlled the game from the very start, and behind a brilliant 30-point, 13-assist performance, he helped lead his team to a 107-102 win over L.A.’s substandard NBA squad.

The win propelled the Clips to a record of 26-8 on the season — a half-game ahead of the Spurs, and just percentage points behind the Thunder for the best record in the crowded and competitive Western Conference. The Lakers fell to two games below .500, good enough for just 11th place in an eight-team race for the postseason.

Paul was the reason why, and despite a couple of Laker runs, including a furious fourth quarter rally that cut a 19-point deficit to just two with a minute and a half to play, the Clippers proved to be the stronger team multiple times over the game’s 48 minutes.

Nine of Paul’s assists came in the game’s first 16 minutes, and by the time he left the game for the first time midway through the second quarter, he had his team up by 17 points.

The Lakers went on a huge run to cut that deficit to four, but it was back up to double-digits seemingly instantly after a reverse dunk from Blake Griffin that resulted in an and-one, after Pau Gasol defended like his shoes were made of stone.

Griffin finished with 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting in 29 minutes. Gasol was essentially nonexistent, finishing just 1-of-6 from the field for two points and four rebounds; a highlight reel of his performance from this game would be clips of him slowly taking the ball out of the basket to inbound it over and over again after the Clippers just scored.

Metta World Peace returned to the Lakers starting lineup, with Mike D’Antoni preferring to return Kobe Bryant to the two-guard spot for this matchup. It certainly helped Bryant, who was sensational on this night and ended up with 38 points on 15-of-25 shooting. But World Peace equalled Gasol’s shooting numbers, and with Bryant trying to carry the offensive load of essentially three starters, it simply wasn’t enough.

The Lakers needed a more aggressive offensive performance from Steve Nash in this one, on a night where no one beyond Bryant was able to do much of anything offensively on a consistent basis. He’s capable of much more than 12 points and 10 assists against four turnovers, and this was a game where he perhaps could have impacted the game offensively more than he chose to.

As expected, the much deeper Clippers team got a boost from its reserves, including active performances from former Lakers Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom. It just seemed as the Lakers fought their way back from large deficits again and again, that ultimately the Clippers would have an answer before things could get fully out of hand and swing entirely in the Lakers favor.

The final Lakers run came near the game’s finish, when they put together a 24-7 run that lasted over nine minutes, and brought the game back within a single possession. But Paul made sure his team would hang on, and hit the step-back 21-foot dagger over Bryant with 19 seconds left that all but sealed it.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.