Clippers use fast start, hot three-point shooting to get blowout win over Lakers

26 Comments

The Lakers hosted the Clippers in the second half of the televised double-header on Thursday, and with the first game between the Thunder and the Heat running a little long, almost five minutes had gone by in the first quarter in Los Angeles before the national audience saw any of it.

By the time TNT joined the game in progress, it was already over.

The Clippers were up 10-0 when the game’s broadcast went live, and it only got worse from there for the Lakers. The Clips scored 15 points before the Lakers registered their first, and the game was never in doubt as the Clippers beat their Staples Center roommates for the third time this season, this time by a final of 125-101.

Blake Griffin was the catalyst early, scoring 18 first-quarter points by himself when the Lakers as a team managed just 17. With only Dwight Howard available to put up any kind of fight defensively inside, the way the Clippers found Griffin with good passes or ball movement gave him consistent open looks that were too good to pass up.

Griffin was 7-8 from the field down low to start the game, while knocking down two uncontested outside jumpers to account for the rest of his field goals in the period. All of this went down as the Lakers struggled to find a rhythm offensively, and as a team missed several wide-open looks.

The Lakers briefly closed the gap in the second, opening the period with a 12-3 run behind eight points from Antawn Jamison. After a three from Jamison once again had the deficit at just three points with 2:34 remaining in the half, the Clippers put up a blistering 14 points to end the period, thanks to an eight-point spurt from Chauncey Billups, and three-pointers from Chris Paul and Matt Barnes that quickly put the Clippers back up by double digits.

It was a demoralizing end to the half for the Lakers after they had battled back into it, and that carried over into the third quarter where the Clippers essentially sealed the game with their shooting from three-point distance.

The first three shots the Clippers knocked down in the third were open looks from three; Caron Butler hit one, followed by two straight from Chauncey Billups on consecutive possessions. The Clipper lead was back up to 19 points less than two minutes into the second half, and quite honestly, the rest of the game played out as extended garbage time.

The Clippers finished 16-30 from three-point distance, but this is the devastation that they can bring when you let Griffin get going inside early. More than anything, this was a product of the Lakers’ defense, where the rotations have been suspect all season long, and are even more glaring now as the team plays with an injury-depleted roster.

Paul led the way with 24 points and 13 assists, while an efficient night from Kobe Bryant (20 points on 11-13 shooting, five rebounds, 11 assists) had no impact on the rest of his teammates.

This game was a fine example of all that is wrong with the Lakers, while at the same time showcasing why the Clippers may be very dangerous once the postseason begins.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

Yifan Ding/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.