The Extra Pass: Clippers offensive fireworks cover up struggling defense, plus Monday recaps

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers know how to put on a show — they dropped a highflying 137 points on the Rockets and blew the up-and-coming team out of the water. Through four games the Clippers are averaging 116.7 points per 100s possessions, that is almost 7 points better than the second place team (Houston). They are 3-1.

But the offensive fireworks are masking a more serious issue — the Clippers defense is not good.

The Clippers also have the worst defense in the NBA to pair with that offense, allowing 110.1 per 100 possessions. They have given up 100 points in each game this season, and are allowing opponents to shoot 48.2 percent overall and 42 percent from three.

Doc Rivers and all the Clippers know the truth — you can win a lot of regular season games just flat out outscoring your opponents, but you won’t last long in the playoffs.

“Our (problem) is simple right now: Second shots and turnovers,” Rivers said before the game. “As crazy as it sounds… I think it’s 46 points is what we’re giving up if you combine those two, second chance and turnovers. And if you’re giving up 46 points a game on second shots and turnovers, you can be the ’85 Bears and you’re still going to struggle defensively…

“It’s absolutely killing us. It’s creating awful matchups. Transition is about matchups and if you get back matched up to your guy you have a chance of guarding people. If you’re turning the ball over and creating mismatches at some point something bad is going to happen. And it’s happening. So we have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”

The Clippers gave up 118 points to the Rockets in an up-tempo game (107 possessions, according to NBA.com), and again it was transition defense the team pointed to as the weakness.

“We have a ways to go defensively,” J.J. Redick said. “I think we’re feeling more and more comfortable with out half-court defense. When team are going against our set defense, I think we’re doing a pretty good job and starting to really understand some stuff. We have to do a better job in transition, getting matched up.”

I’m not sure their half court defense is all that great right now, but transition is the bigger issue.

There are 78 more games to figure he team defense out, that’s plenty of time. But that is the mission — this team is going to score at an incredible rate and win a lot of games this season just blowing opponents out of the water. But if they don’t get better defensive habits they will be golfing much earlier than expected come the spring.
—Kurt Helin

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Cavaliers 93, Timberwolves 92: Cleveland isn’t really a better team than Minnesota, especially the way the T’Wolves had gotten off to a 3-0 start to the season behind a monster of a first week from Kevin Love that earned him Conference award-winning honors. But falling behind by 23 points midway through the third on the road will put any team in a tough situation, and despite Minnesota’s furious fourth quarter rally (led largely by Corey Brewer’s activity on both ends of the floor), the Cavs were able to hang on for the win.

Warriors 110, Sixers 90: Golden State is one of the few teams that seem to be ahead of the competition in the early part of the season, both due to the returning core of talent on the roster and because of the style of play that tends to put their opponents on the defensive. The Sixers were a nice little story, but the Warriors obviously had no interest in it after leading by as many as 39 points on the road before the final buzzer sounded. Rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams was held to just 4-of-17 shooting in 35 minutes of action, and Andre Iguodala torched his former team for 32 points in 33 minutes to lead the way for the Warriors.

Grizzlies 95, Celtics 88: The Celtics organization is likely perfectly pleased with their team’s start to the season. Boston has been in all four games it has played, and battled enough to keep them close into the fourth quarter. But all ultimately ended in losses, which fits perfectly into the plans of a rebuilding franchise looking to secure as many draft lottery ping pong balls as possible. In this one, Memphis held Boston to just 33.3 percent shooting in the final period, and Jerryd Bayless poured in 15 points in the final 12 minutes to lead the Grizzlies to a come from behind victory.

Clippers 137, Rockets 118: Defense? Who wants to watch defense? It was the King Midas game for the Clippers — everything they touched on offense turned to gold. They scored 42 points in the first quarter and a team record 78 in the half as they ran J.J. Redick off screens that James Harden wouldn’t fight through, and quickly Redick was racking up points on his way to 26. Chris Paul had 23 points and 17 assists. Jamal Crawford had 21. The Clippers shot 52 percent on the night. Houston’s offense wasn’t bad — Omri Casspi was able to get space from Blake Griffin and had 19 points, Harden had 15 but needed 16 shots to get there.  Dwight Howard got booed every time he touched the ball and was in early foul trouble keeping him on the bench, then said after the game the crowd reaction didn’t bother him. Something clearly bothered the entire Rocket team. — KH

Kevin Knox won over Knicks and now expects to win over their fans

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Kevin Knox took a call from someone who knew exactly what he experienced on draft night.

New Yorkers didn’t welcome Kristaps Porzingis with open arms, either.

“He asked me how the fans reacted and I told him I got the same amount of boos as he got,” Knox said Friday. “He just laughed and he said it’s all motivation and fuel to the fire, and he said just work and he said sooner or later they’ll be cheering for you.”

That’s what happened with Porzingis, who quickly won over those who loudly booed his selection in 2015 with his talent, competitiveness and work ethic.

The Knicks see the same traits in Knox, convincing them that the Kentucky freshman was not only the player to take with the No. 9 pick but that he’s ready to start and match up with the NBA’s best small forwards next season.

That’s why they decided a day before the draft they were taking Knox if he was available and didn’t waver from that even when Michael Porter Jr. was still on the board – disappointing some at Barclays Center who chanted for Porter and then booed Knox.

“I love the fact that he wanted to be at Kentucky, that he wanted to be a Knick,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “Says a lot about that kid that he wants challenges and so I think he’s going to fit exactly the way we want to build our culture.”

Beyond the 15.6 points he averaged last season while sharing SEC Freshman of the Year honors with Collin Sexton – drafted one pick earlier by Cleveland – Knox impressed the Knicks with his confidence. He chose to play at Kentucky out of Tampa Catholic in Florida and compete for playing time with the other talented players in Lexington, then agreed to play 3-on-3 in workouts when many top prospects prefer to do them individually.

And the annual outsized expectations faced by John Calipari’s teams should help Knox prepare for the pressure of New York, perhaps giving him a quicker adjustment period than Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ lottery pick last season, had after coming to the U.S. from France.

“That actually is going to be up to Kevin, what the learning curve is and how long the adjustment takes,” team president Steve Mills said. “But what I will say is that while all college basketball programs prepare guys to play in the NBA, the sort of pressure and the limelight and the spotlight you’re under when you make a decision to play at Kentucky I think does prepare you in a different way to play in a place like New York. So I think some of the things that are tougher for rookies to make adjustments to are some things that he’s already been through.”

The adjustment is likely much longer for 7-footer Mitchell Robinson, who the Knicks took with the No. 36 pick. A high school All-American in 2016-17, he enrolled at Western Kentucky but never played, instead leaving school and opting to train for the draft. He said he worked out daily, but hasn’t played competitively in a year so it’s unknown how soon he could contribute.

But Fizdale sounds ready to put Knox on the court right away on a team that used Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee as undersized small forwards last season.

“They’re both 6-5 and he’s got to guard LeBron and (Kevin) Durant and those are the 3s in our league,” Fizdale said. “So I feel like it’s a very good opportunity to have a chance to start.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

As expected, Denver’s Wilson Chandler to opt into $12.8 million next season

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Wilson Chandler played a workmanlike role for the Nuggets last season — more than 30 minutes a game (in 74 games), 10 points a night, shot 35.8 percent from three. His efficiency and value slipped from previous seasons but he still played a role for the team.

Not the kind of role that’s going to earn him a big payday as a free agent, so he will opt into the $12.8 million for next season, a story broken by Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler will exercise his player option for the 2018-19 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Chandler, 31, is opting into a $12.8 million salary instead of entering free agency this summer. Denver was notified of his decision on Friday.

Chandler’s name has come up in trade discussions in recent years, and no doubt the Nuggets would be happy to move his salary now, too. However, in a tight financial market it’s unlikely that’s happening without Denver throwing in a sweetener, and that’s not likely either. So it will be another season of Chandler in Denver.

Deandre Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

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PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.

Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans.

“It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said.

Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade.

“We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.”

All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday – Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection).

The 7-foot-1 Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday.

“I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said.

Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so.

McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.”

Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center.

“I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.”

Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team.

“It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said.

Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown.

The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant.

“We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. … We can really start a winning legacy.”

And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.

“I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation (Bahamas) I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.”

Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.”

Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.”

Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend.

“We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”

Hornets GM Kupchak: Kemba Walker focal point of franchise going forward

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — General manager Mitch Kupchak wants point guard Kemba Walker to end his NBA career right where it started — with the Charlotte Hornets.

Kupchak said Friday that Walker is “revered” in the Charlotte community, and that he and owner Michael Jordan look at the two-time All-Star as “the focal point of this franchise going forward.”

The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.

At $12 million per year, Walker well underpaid when compared to the other top point guards in the league.

But that doesn’t mean Kupchak is giving up hope the team can keep Walker in Charlotte.

“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency,” Kupchak said. “But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us – not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here.”

The Hornets don’t have much experience behind Walker at point guard.

They have last year’s first-round draft pick Malik Monk and drafted Devonte Graham from Kansas in the second round on Thursday night.

Graham said he is excited to pick Walker’s brain when it comes to basketball.

“I have never met him, but I remember watching him play when he was at UConn though,” Graham said. “I’m just excited man to learn from someone like that and just be around someone like that who is winner, and knows how to win and compete. I am looking forward to being able to learn from him.”