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

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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.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

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Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.