Ugly gets uglier as the Clippers defeat the injury-riddled Timberwovles

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It was easy to be excited for this one going in. Ricky Rubio is always must see TV, and Eric Bledsoe is capable of providing some serious fireworks. Pit the two against each other, throw in a few Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan jams, and you’ve got yourself a game, right?

Well, not exactly. Bledsoe and Rubio both struggled offensively, and what should have been an fast, fun game quickly devolved into a dribble off between Jamal Crawford and J.J. Barea instead. That didn’t make for pretty basketball, and there weren’t a lot of style points or actual points put up by either team.

But even though the Clippers slogged through one of their sloppiest games of the year on the offensive side of the ball (18 turnovers), they still managed to do enough defensively to limit Minnesota to 35 percent shooting and record an ugly 90-77 win.

The Timberwolves struggles have a lot to do with their league worst 3-point shooting, and with Rubio unable to shake the rust off his own jumper, the Clippers happily packed the paint and let Minnesota fire their way to a 4-for-19 outing from deep. Tacking on to those perimeter struggles, only 30 of Minnesota’s 77 points came in the paint, as Nikola Pekovic (1-for-8, 4 points) had no space to operate all night.

Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman has been the MacGuyver of NBA coaches this season, but without any floor spacers outside of Luke Ridnour, the materials he’s asked to use can’t amount to much of anything. Kevin Love’s ability to space the floor helps unclog things for guys like Pekovic, Rubio and Andrei Kirlienko, who without the space resembles a bird trapped in a cage. Maybe that’s the back tattoo talking, but the effectiveness of all those players is sapped without Love’s presence.

As if not having Love or having to start 13 different players this season wasn’t bad enough, more tough news came Minnesota’s way late in the game. Pekovic left the game in the third quarter due to a bruised right quadricep, and promising young guard Alexey Shved left with what looked like an ankle injury. Just when it seems like it can’t get worse for Minnesota, it does. Even though Ridnour played his tail off tonight (21 points), you can’t expect to beat a team of the Clippers’ caliber with him as your number one option offensively.

Although it appeared for a bit that the Clippers might get caught sleeping, they ended up exerting the minimum required effort to get them through their last game of the road trip. Without Chris Paul for the third straight game, the offense ran through Crawford (22 points) and Griffin (20 points) to marginal success, but that was more than enough to put the Timberwolves away.

Adam Silver backs Knicks center Enes Kanter’s decision to skip London trip

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LONDON (AP) — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the safety and security of players will always be paramount for the league after New York Knicks center Enes Kanter did not travel to London for his team’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Kanter said he feared he could be attacked or killed over his opposition to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he were to travel to London. Istanbul-based newspaper Daily Sabah reported that an arrest warrant was issued for Kanter by Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday.

Silver, speaking ahead of Thursday’s game, says “it was never a suggestion from the league that (Kanter) was not welcome on this trip.”

“There are significant issues that he is dealing with, and I recognize that for the NBA, by virtue of the fact that we’re a global business, we have to pay a lot of attention to those issues as well,” Silver says.

Kanter, who has frequently criticized Erdogan, had his Turkish passport revoked in 2017.

Wizards beat Knicks with game-winning goaltending call in London Game

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The good people of England could use a break from the dumpster fire that is Brexit, so the NBA came to town to entertain with their very best… their biggest stars… the teams that were willing to go, the Knicks and the Wizards.

But the Londoners got to see one unusual ending.

The Knicks were up 100-99 thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot, but the Wizards had three seconds to try to get off a game winner. Scott Brooks designed an interesting play, with Bradley Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt, and when the defense moved to him as the likely shooter he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane, he put up the finger roll and…

That was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier to my eyes — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder (in an NBA arena there would have been an above-basket camera with a better angle on if it was over the rim, but that did not seem to be available in London).

The Wizards — who owner Ted Leonsis said will never tank, so forget about them trading away assets at the deadline — have won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, with a +3 net rating in those games. Washington is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East and GM Ernie Grunfeld does not believe in tanking, so expect them to make a push.

Which is why wins like this matter.

PBT Extra: DeMarcus Cousins’ return will be big boost for Warriors. Maybe.

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The Golden State Warriors — the two-time defending NBA champs, the team on top of the Western Conference with the best offense in the NBA — are about to get a whole lot better.

Maybe.

Nobody really knows.

What we know is DeMarcus Cousins is scheduled to make his return to the court on Friday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Cousins missed the end of last season and all of this season recovering from a ruptured Achilles.

I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

As NBC’s Tom Haberstroh pointed out, the history of big men bouncing back from this injury does not bode well for Cousins. On the other side, Cousins was so skilled, if the Warriors can get 75 percent of the old Cousins it will be an upgrade over Kevon Looney and give Golden State a guy who can exploit mismatches.

On paper, the Warriors should get better with Cousins in the lineup. But nobody really knows.

Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich says he doesn’t know whether he’ll retire after season

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said in 2015 he made a commitment to newly signed LaMarcus Aldridge, presumably to coach through the five-year contract he signed in 2014.

That contract will expire after this season.

Then what?

Popovich, via Marc Stein of The New York Times:

“I don’t know the answer,” Popovich said when asked about his plans for next season in an interview Wednesday

Maybe Popovich is legitimately undecided about his future. Maybe he has a firm plan and was just being dismissive because he didn’t want to discuss it publicly. There’s obviously a massive difference between the two, but it’s difficult to parse from only his quote.

Popovich will coach Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and 2020 Olympics. That responsibility means a lot to the Air Force veteran. Some have even speculated he’ll retire from the NBA after this season to prepare for his USA Basketball duties.

In the meantime, Popovich remains one of the NBA’s top coaches. He has helped San Antonio turn around its season, building a strong offense around mid-range shooters DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge and getting everyone on enough of the same page defensively to be reasonable on that end. The Spurs aren’t a great team, but they’re good in ways that have Popovich’s fingerprints all over them.

Popovich could continue to succeed in the NBA for the foreseeable future. The question is – with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili gone and Popovich nearing age 70 – how much longer he wants to do it.