The Extra Pass: The Clippers’ “Rosie” Screen; plus Monday’s recaps

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Over the next few days in this space, we’ll break down a play that’s largely unique to one team. To kick off this signature series, we’ll start with the Los Angeles Clippers’ “Ring-Around-The-Rosie” screen.

Innovation in the NBA is often about adding little wrinkles to something very simple.

There are no “Wildcat” offenses that take the league by storm, but rather slight variations of plays that teams have been running for years.

NBA offenses around the league have run “floppy” screens for a long, long time. The basic idea of a floppy screen is to free up a shooter for a perimeter look. As you can see below, the floor is flipped and it’s the wings under the basket waiting to receive screens to free them for perimeter jumpers.

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Doc Rivers ran this for Ray Allen in Boston about, oh, a million times. Although Rivers isn’t often credited for being an offensive-minded coach, he does script some nice plays to get guys open looks.

While Rivers doesn’t have Allen in Los Angeles, he does have a bunch of wings that are comfortable running off of screens. His best weapon and the player that most resembles Allen is J.J. Redick, but Redick is still out with a wrist injury.

That still hasn’t stopped Rivers from running plays for guys not named Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, which is a fairly new concept in Los Angeles.

While the bread and butter of the offense is still CP3 in the pick-and-roll, the Clippers now have a few other ways to attack. LAC is once again fifth in offensive efficiency, but they’re also less prone to bogging down against elite defenses.

The Clippers’ offense didn’t need a drastic overhaul from last year; it just needed a little fine-tuning. There are subtle little differences making the Clippers more difficult to guard and also a little less predictable than in previous years. Just watch the off-ball action under the basket in this clip:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8D3HFwZofuc&w=560&h=315]

You’ll see many teams run floppy screens or single-double screens to free up shooters, but rarely will you see two players on the same team dance around in circles for a moment and then slingshot each other out to the opposite wing.

There’s been some competing thoughts floating around on what to call this play. Andrew Han of ClipperBlog prefers “Floppy Merry-Go-Around”, which sounds like a terrible carnival ride. I personally prefer the “Rosie screen”, partially because it might be the only play with its own song:

Ring around the rosie

Redick and Dudley are like Ray Allen and James Posey

Jumpers, jumpers

They all fall down!

Call it whatever you want — it’s effective. After a 23-point shellacking of the Spurs, it looks like the little twists are helping the Clippers notch signature wins, too.

-D.J. Foster

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Wizards 102, Knicks 101: Bradley Beal returned after a a nine-game absence and scored 14 fourth quarter points — including the game-winning layup with six seconds left — to send the Wizards home with the win. This one was more than in reach for the Knicks, who overcame a 15-point third quarter deficit, only to fall short on the game’s final two possessions. New York had a foul to give on Beal’s layup but didn’t take it, and had three timeouts left but didn’t call one, instead opting to try to go the length of the floor to rush up an incredibly difficult shot. — Brett Pollakoff

Pistons 101, Pacers 96: Detroit handed Indiana its first home loss of the season, and did it with above average defense on Paul George and Roy Hibbert, along with a crushing effort on the glass. The Pistons ended up with a 55-40 rebound advantage, thanks to Josh Harrelson grabbing 10 off the bench in just 16 minutes of action. George and Hibbert combined to shoot just 6-of-26 from the field, while Josh Smith dropped in 30 for Detroit. This was a brutal back-to-back for the Pistons, facing the two best teams in the league record-wise on consecutive nights. The effort in both games — a win against the Pacers after losing at the overtime buzzer to the Blazers the previous night — suggests that Detroit might be figuring some things out. — BP

Celtics 101, Timberwolves 97: Kevin martin missed this one with a sore left knee, and on a night where Minnesota shot just 37.8 percent from the field, they could have used his offense. The Celtics, meanwhile, got a huge 15 point, six rebound fourth quarter from Jared Sullinger that helped them seal the win. — BP

Nets 130, Sixers 94: And it wasn’t even that close. This was the Joe Johnson show, who caught absolute fire in the third quarter. He poured in 29 points in the period and hit eight of his 10 attempts from three-point distance in 12 third quarter minutes that turned this one into a complete laugher. Johnson finished with 37 points, and Deron Williams added 13 points and 13 assists. —BP

Hawks 114, Lakers 100: Los Angeles led this game into the second half because they played to the mismatch — they pounded the undersized Hawks inside with Pau Gasol (10 points in the first quarter on 5-of-5 shooting), and Jordan Hill who had 13 first half points. You didn’t expect that to last, did you? The Lakers stopped defending the arc (the Hawks were 8-of-16 from three in the second half) and Atlanta hit shots they missed in the first half. Atlanta has fantastic ball movement and it shows, Al Horford had 19 to lead a balanced Hawks attack. Nick Young led the Lakers with 23. Once again Kobe Bryant looked better, but he has a ways to go still. –Kurt Helin

Heat 117, Jazz 94: Give the Jazz credit, they got the ball inside and scrapped for the first half — they had 32 points in the paint and 17 second chance points at the break. But you knew the talent levels would show — Miami opened the third quarter on a 16-3 run and that was basically it. LeBron James just missed a triple-double with 30 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. —KH

Magic 83, Bulls 82: Orlando seemed to be in control of this game but a couple times a Bulls run would make it interesting — the key one of those was a 10-0 run in the fourth that made it close late. Chicago had a chance to tie but Luol Deng missed a layup and after Glen Davis hit some free throws there was only a Mike Dunleavy three to make the scores look close. Arron Afflalo continued a run of good play with 23 points to lead Orlando. —KH

Clippers 115, Spurs 92: This was the fifth game in seven nights for the Spurs and it showed — they got tired late and gave up a 20-4 run to a Clippers team that found the range and was 11-of-23 from beyond the arc. Blake Griffin had 10 of his 27 points in the second quarter, when the Clippers used a 19-0 run to take control of the game. Of course, the Spurs fought back but they didn’t have the energy to sustain it. Manu Ginobili was the best of the Spurs with 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting. —KH

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.