Clippers try to jump-start defense for playoff run. Hapless Pistons help out.

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LOS ANGELES — Since the start of the season there have been two questions that seem to define just how far the Clippers can go:

1) How good is DeAndre Jordan playing at the five?

2) How good is the Clippers defense?

The answer to both of those questions of late was “not good.” Which is why a lot of people have crossed the Clippers off their contenders list. Teams like the Thunder, Spurs and Nuggets have made them look bad recently.

Vinny Del Negro admitted his team was not playing well heading into Sunday night, then said the usual coach speak about it being all effort and focus. What he really needed was a nice easy blowout win with some good defense.

Enter the Pistons.

The Clippers played good defense early, the hapless Pistons couldn’t capitalize when they did find holes and the Clippers got their rout, 129-97.

It’s a start. Now they need to carry it over to a bigger test against Memphis Wednesday.

“I thought defensively we were really tuned in, trying to take away some things, our energy level was up,” Clipper veteran Chauncey Billups told PBT after the game. “It wasn’t about who we was playing, it was about kind of us and our mindset and what we was going to do.”

The Clippers can defend. On the season, the Clippers have given up 100.2 points per 100 possessions, eighth best in the NBA. They have defended the pick-and-roll well (both the ball handler and roller, top five in the NBA according to Synergy Sports) by mixing up coverages.

But in the last five games that is up to 107.3 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the NBA during that stretch. In those games teams are shooting 47.8 percent overall and a very good 39.5 percent from three. Go back 10 games and the Clippers are giving up 104.3 points per 100 (20th in the league).

“We have to start playing better, I don’t think we’ve played well in a while…” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said before the game. “I think we just got to get our intensity up. Deny one pass away, be more physical, execute the plan better, talking, communicating, sprinting back in transition, loading up on the ball, running three point shooters off the line, boxing out, just all the fundamentals.”

Oh, well, if that’s all that’s wrong….

The Clippers did that in the first quarter. The Pistons pregame goal was to draw the Clipper big men out in the pick-and-roll, to get them in space, but the Clippers dropped off a lot. Why? Well, they were playing the Pistons. This was not a team that could make the Clippers pay for that strategy. Even when it worked and Jose Calderon made a nice pass to Greg Monroe, who had rolled inside to good position, he couldn’t finish when contested (he started the game 1-of-5). And the Clippers didn’t fear Jason Maxiell. Rightly.

As the game wore on the Clippers were more aggressive against the Pistons guards, trapping and challenging. And everybody not named Calderon struggled against that challenge.

It’s hard to take any defensive stats from this game after the first half too seriously because it became such a blowout. The Pistons had no answer for the Clippers on the offensive end. The Pistons defense could not keep stop Blake Griffin early — he hit on post moves, dunks in transition, cuts through the lane and, of course, a transition alley-oop. Throw in some vintage Chris Paul cross over and step backs and the Clippers were up 12 in the first quarter. Griffin finished with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

DeAndre Jordan was more active as well. Plus, he had a monster, monster dunk. The Pistons just had now answers.

And this was a Clippers team that was without Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe off the bench.

To a man the Clippers all talked about defensive intensity and focus, to getting back to the kind of defense they were playing when they won 17 in a row. The Clippers are the current three seed in the West however both the Nuggets and Grizzlies are playing great ball and either of those teams — or sides like the Warriors or Rockets or Lakers — could expose the defense if the Clippers are not focused and not building good habits heading to the playoffs.

If not, the Clippers playoff stay could be shockingly short. There is no margin for error in a deep West.

LaMelo Ball among those participating in 2020 NBA Draft Combine

2020 NBA Draft Combine
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It may be virtual this year with “pro day” video being made, but some of the traditions of the NBA Draft Combine will be here in 2020.

Including the top players skipping it. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and Obi Toppin are among the big names sitting this one out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

One interesting note: LaMelo Ball is participating.

But that may be for the interview portion only, reports Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated.

The 2020 NBA Draft Combine will see players do team interviews via videoconference starting this week (and running through Oct. 16).  Players also can be part of an individual on-court program consisting of strength and agility testing, measurements (height, reach, plus vertical leap and more), shooting drills and a “Pro Day” video, and a medical exam, all conducted by league officials and the information (and video) given to teams. 

The 2020 NBA Draft is set for Nov. 18.

NBA Finals Schedule 2020: Dates, times, odds, where to watch

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It’s happening in October, not June, but the 2020 NBA Finals are finally here — and we have the schedule.

These Finals feature a team in the Lakers and a player in LeBron James who expects to be in the Finals — this is LeBron’s 10th trip to the Finals, only three other players had done that before him. The Lakers are making their 32nd trip to the Finals as a franchise and are going for their 17th title.

It also features a gritty Miami Heat team that nobody expected to be here, except themselves. Led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Goran Dragic, the Heat have thrived in the bubble in a way no other team in the East could match, plus Miami makes it rain threes.

The Lakers are fairly heavy favorites, -400, to win the series, while the Heat are +300 (Odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

As has nearly all the playoffs in the NBA’s restart bubble, the Finals will run every other day.

Here is the 2020 NBA Finals schedule (all times are Eastern):

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Oct. 2, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Oct. 6, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Oct. 9, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 6: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 7: Oct. 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
*If necessary

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.

NBA playoffs, Finals schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
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It may be five months after they were originally planned, but the NBA playoff schedule has reached the point the 2020 Finals are here.

It is down to the final two. There is LeBron James leading the Lakers against the team where he first won his ring. And then there is the gritty Miami team that nobody expected to be here — except themselves.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except for one two-day break between Game 4 and Game 5
Even more members of families for the players, coaches, and team staff are in the bubble.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Oct. 2, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Oct. 6, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Oct. 9, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 6: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 7: Oct. 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
*If necessary.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Conference Finals

Eastern Conference Finals

No. 5 Miami beat No. 3 Boston 4-2

Western Conference Finals

No. 1 L.A. Lakers beat No. 3 Denver 4-1

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Bam Adebayo sparks Miami fourth quarter run past Boston and into NBA Finals

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In the fourth quarter of a win-or-go-home game for them, the Boston Celtics cranked up their defensive ball pressure. Grant Williams was getting run and gave them more athleticism inside, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown were being aggressive on the ball, and Boston rose that pressure to a 96-90 lead. The Celtics looked like they would live to play another day.

Then Bam Adebayo took over.

He just started bringing the ball up and attacking downhill, just going to the rim.

“After we had the lead, Adebayo — and credit all of them — but Adebayo decided he’s just going to drive the ball, put us in a real bind with the shooters around him,” said Boston coach Brad Stevens. “And their physicality is something that I’m not sure we probably talked about enough. But just they’re strong, they’re physical, they’re tough, and him, in particular, dominated that fourth quarter. Even the plays where he didn’t score, his presence was so impactful. And it put us in a real bind with the ability to guard him.”

Combine that with rookie Tyler Herro not knowing he is supposed to wilt in big moments, and Andre Iguodala stepping up in big games as he is known to do, and the Heat went on a 24-6 run. Boston completely melted down on offense and started to try to make up their 7-10 point gap with one shot.

Miami was better in the clutch and with that earned a trip to the NBA Finals. The Heat won Game 6 125-113 to take the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2.

The NBA Finals, a high-powered matchup where LeBron James gets to face the team with whom he won his first title, begins Wednesday night.

Adebayo was the most frustrated of the Heat players after their Game 5 loss on Friday.

“I played like s***. Bottom line: I can’t. I’ll put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made… I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been.”

Adebayo’s teammates said that wasn’t true, but what mattered most on Sunday was Adebayo believed it and stepped up — 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting plus 14 rebounds.

“Bam’s one of the great competitors already in this association,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “He’s going to become one of the great winners in history just because he’s so competitive. He moves the needle in every single way.”

Most of this game between two of the better defensive teams in the bubble was all about the offense.

After missing a handful to open the game, the Celtics couldn’t seem to miss from three, at one point hitting 11-of-22 from deep. Marcus Smart was 4-of-8 from deep at that point, and when his shot is falling the Celtics are a threat. Jayson Tatum hit some too, but more importantly he was setting the table as a playmaker and that had Boston’s offense clicking. That and they had solved the Miami zone defense.

On the other side of the ball, Miami shot 56.1% as a team in the first half and Iguodala started 4-of-4 from three.

After three quarters it was 88-86 Miami, and it seemed like the side that found any defense first was going to win.

What Miami found was Bam Adebayo.

“They were just more aggressive,” Boston’s Marcus Smart said of the difference in the fourth. “They were getting whatever they wanted. Got to the free throw line, down the lane, open shots. That’s part of it. Unfortunately, we didn’t combat it. We didn’t respond the way we should have.”

For Boston, they took a step forward this season with the growth of Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker was a fantastic replacement for Kyrie Irving, and Smart was fantastic. However, the loss to the Heat showed they need more athleticism and depth inside, and they need to have Gordon Hayward healthy. While he returned from his sprained ankle and was on the court a lot in the series, he wasn’t moving and scoring the same way by Game 6. Against Miami, Boston needed vintage Hayward.

“This is just our first year together,” Walker said postgame. “This is going to be a fun group the next couple of years…

“I learned a lot just about the intensity of the playoffs. Every possession matters so much, things switch from game to game.”

The Celtics learned from those experiences.

The Heat are about to learn what the NBA Finals are like.