Clippers win fifth straight over Knicks, finding their way in Chris Paul’s absence

10 Comments

NEW YORK — The Clippers were a middle of the pack playoff team in the loaded Western Conference, before Chris Paul went down with a shoulder injury that could keep him out up to five weeks.

Common sense would dictate that they see an immediate drop-off in overall play and production, but the absence of the All-World point guard has allowed the team to focus more on its system, and see other individuals elevate their play in order to help the team continue to achieve success.

L.A. won its fifth straight without Paul on Friday, an easy 109-95 win over a depleted Knicks squad. But there hasn’t been one particular key to the team’s recent string of victories, as Clippers head coach Doc Rivers pointed out afterward.

“We’re kind of making it up,” he said. “We really are. At some point in a game we make a defensive run; we just need to do it for four quarters. The one good thing is offensively, we’ve moved the ball. We had five guys in double figures tonight. It’s tough to guard a team when the ball’s moving and you can’t key on one guy.”

Jamal Crawford finished with 29 points off the bench, and Blake Griffin continued his elite play with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds and three steals. The season began in Los Angeles with many believing Paul might put together something approaching an MVP campaign, and he was spectacular before the injury. But it’s been Griffin who has elevated his game to that level, and his play all season has been more than impressive.

“He’s just been great,” Rivers said of Griffin. “He really has. This run — it’s been all year. He’s doing everything — he’s rebounding, we put him on Carmelo down the stretch. He’s doing everything a coach could ask him to do And he’s leading, as well.”

Griffin has been consistent with his amazing performances, but as Rivers said, it’s not as though it’s a recent occurrence — it’s been all season long. Griffin sees Paul’s absence as an opportunity to test the team’s mettle, which he believes may pay dividends later when the postseason comes around.

“You learn everybody’s fight and resolve,” Griffin said. “I think we’ve really shown that we’ve kind of buckled down and really played within ourselves, and really relied on our system to get us there. Nobody’s trying to do too much, and that’s what you need when somebody like CP goes down, because you always worry about somebody trying to replace him. And from day one I think we’ve tried to say that you can’t replace him, and that everybody has to elevate their game.”

To this point, most have. DeAndre Jordan patrols the paint and cleans the glass, Darren Collison is allowed to try to score more than facilitate as Paul’s replacement, and the offense runs through Griffin in the post much more than usual in the team’s current situation.

The hope in Los Angeles is that Paul’s midseason absence could be a blessing in disguise. If the team can learn to trust the system and play to its individuals’ strengths while working toward common goals, then good things are likely to be on the horizon once Paul is back.

“You can’t really go into the playoffs and not know your identity, and not know what you’re trying to accomplish every game,” Griffin said. “For us to every game have a game plan, and have to go out and execute that game plan in order to win — it’s big. And hopefully it gives us some experience playing through adversity.”

Milwaukee Bucks the latest team to shut down practice facility

Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Milwaukee Bucks players are done working out at the team practice facility, they will get together in Orlando next.

Milwaukee has become the fourth team to shut down their practice facilities, doing so after a round of tests on Friday. It was not announced whether a player or team staff member (or members) tested positive to cause this move. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story (since confirmed by others), adding the team would keep the facility closed and there would be no more workouts before the team leaves for the NBA restart in Orlando.

Milwaukee joins Miami, Denver, and the Los Angeles Clippers as teams who shut down their practice facilities after positive tests.

The Bucks head to the restart in Orlando as one of the title favorites, and the clear frontrunner in the East. The combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the best defense in the league makes them legit title contenders, but questions remain about how the Bucks’ role players will step up in the crunch, if their defensive system allowing threes comes back to bite them against better teams, if coach Mike Budenholzer is willing to make critical adjustments (such as playing Antetokounmpo more minutes), and just how they handle going up against a LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard that have won on this level before. Milwaukee looks like a team that can win a title, but we just haven’t seen them do it. Yet.

The closing of the practice facility will not change their contender status (providing it was not one of the team’s stars who tested positive).

Serge Ibaka says Raptors are ‘locked in’ for restart in Orlando

Serge Ibaka Raptors
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Don’t sleep on the defending champions. Yes, Kawhi Leonard went home (and Danny Green went West, too), but Toronto proved to be no one-man show.  The Raptors are the two seed in the East with a 46-18 record, a +6.4 net rating that is fourth-best in the NBA, they have the second-best defense in the league, they have an emergent superstar in Pascal Siakam who is surrounded by other stars such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet. Toronto is playoff tested.

And the Raptors are “locked in” for the NBA restart, according to Serge Ibaka.

Here is what the veteran said in a conference call with reporters on Saturday, via Steven Loung of Sportsnet Canada.

“Mentally, I think we’re ready,” Ibaka said. “Mentally as a team, I can see from everybody, I think mentally we’re ready. We know what is waiting for us out there, now it’s time to get a little bit (of) game condition and then we’ll be good to go…

“I saw just how everyone is in great shape. They came here in great shape and as soon as we got here everyone was starting to put in work,” Ibaka said. “I’ve been in the league for 11 years. You can see when people are locked in and they’re ready mentally, and when they’re not. So I can tell you right now mentally everybody is ready. Everybody is ready.”

Any run to the Finals out of the East goes through Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Raptors have the confidence of having beat them last season. It’s no secret the Raptors want to make a run at  Antetokounmpo in 2021 and a good showing by their young core in this postseason helps the “come join us” pitch (even if it is a longshot). Boston and its emerging young stars — and another elite defense — also are lurking as a threat.

Toronto, however, cannot be overlooked. VanVleet and Gasol are back healthy, Norman Powell has stepped up this season giving the team more depth, and Nick Nurse has been a master of putting players in the right positions to succeed.

Toronto is healthy and, to hear Ibaka tell it, in shape. This is a strong, deep roster that understands what it takes to win in the playoffs. The Raptors have not earned the rights to be favorites in the East heading to Orlando, but sleep on this team at your own risk.

Bryan Colangelo falsely says he was ‘absolved’ in burner-Twitter scandal with 76ers

Former 76ers president Bryan Colangelo
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former 76ers president Bryan Colangelo bought a share of the Illawarra Hawks, an Australian team.

Which means revisiting the infamous burner scandal.

Colangelo resigned in Philadelphia in 2018 after his wife, Barbara Bottini, admitted to operating several burner Twitter accounts that frequently praised Colangelo, revealed sensitive team information and sharply criticized 76ers players including Joel Embiid.

Colangelo, via Sam Phillips of The Sydney Morning Herald (hat tip: Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia):

“I haven’t addressed it very much over the course of the last two years. I have stayed very much under the radar on the topic because it’s a sensitive topic, for a lot of reasons,” Colangelo said.

“Family, personal, professional, or otherwise. I have to say I was dealt a pretty big blow, personally and professionally. And it’s been a difficult time dealing with the fallout. I was completely blindsided by the accusation and the storyline of the controversy.”

“Once that investigation was completed and I was absolved, I felt the appropriate thing to do – in conjunction with ownership there in Philly – was to mutually walk away.

“It was a difficult decision and a difficult time for me. But I have to say, it was a very, very difficult time for my family. Because of some of the reasons that came to light, it was something I thought was important not to talk about, quite frankly. And we’re still dealing with that.

“But the No.1 thing I thought needed to happen was trying to stay positive; preserve and love my family, protect their interests, emotionally or otherwise. And frankly, two years on, it’s gone. It’s in the past and I’m ready to move on.”

I sympathize with Colangelo and Bottini having a family issue play out publicly. That is unfortunate.

This answer also shows Colangelo doesn’t deserve credibility.

He wasn’t absolved. It was untrue when Colangelo said it at the time, and it’s untrue now.

The investigators concluded only that they found no forensic evidence that proved Colangelo knew of the Twitter accounts before they became public – and that they had a significant impediment to finding that evidence. Bottini deleted the contents of her phone before surrendering it for review.

The investigation also determined Colangelo was “careless and in some instances reckless in failing to properly safeguard sensitive, non-public, club-related information.”

Plus, Colangelo denied any knowledge of who ran the accounts at least two days after the news initially broke. Did Bottini really not tell him it was her by then?

Colangelo has paid a heavy price for this scandal. He lost his job leading an NBA front office, and he became a laughingstock. It will be difficult for him to rebuild his reputation.

But continuing to misrepresent the situation is not a good way to try.

Chris Bosh says he borrowed, never returned Pat Riley’s 2006 Heat championship ring

Chris Bosh and Heat president Pat Riley
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Heat president Pat Riley famously put his championship rings on the table to recruit LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Riley apparently even let Bosh keep Miami’s 2006 championship ring with a challenge: Come here, win your own then return it.

In 2014, Bosh revealed he still had it.

Bosh said he planned to return it after that season. By that time, he had won two titles with the Heat and gotten his own rings. He was still playing for Miami. Returning the 2006 ring didn’t seem urgent.

But Bosh has since retired (initially on harsh terms with the Heat). A decade has passed since Riley loaned Bosh the ring.

And Bosh still has it.

Bosh, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“Oh, yeah, Pat brought his rings out. It looked just like a Crown Royal bag,” Bosh said. “He puts it down, like boom. Big boy talk. When he ended the meeting, Pat gave me a 2006 Heat championship ring.”

“Take it. Keep it. Give it back to me when you win one,” Riley said to Bosh.

“I still haven’t given it back,” Bosh said. “I wonder if he even remembers that? I think I mentioned it once, like, ‘Yo, do you want that ring back?’ And he said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I kept it moving.”

I wonder whether Bosh actually has Riley’s ring. Organizations commission a lot of rings when they win a title. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an extra, unassigned ring.

But it wouldn’t be shocking if it were Riley’s, either. Riley – who coached the Lakers to a title in 1985 (and 1982, 1987 and 1988) – doesn’t keep a close eye on his championship rings.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

Twenty-one years later, in 2006, he mistakenly threw away the ring he won that night, along with all his Lakers rings, the real ones mixed together with dozens of worthless samples for the Heat championship ring he was designing. The company gave him exact replicas, but they felt too shiny, with not enough dents and scratches, so he put them in a bag and beat them against a wall. Instead of adding scars and patina, he just knocked loose a bunch of diamonds. When he got them fixed, he locked the replicas in a safe at home.