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

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.