ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

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Last season: After adding Doc Rivers as head coach and Alvin Gentry as the lead assistant to coordinate the offense, the Clippers finished the season number one in offensive efficiency and seventh on the defensive side, thanks to a marked improvement from DeAndre Jordan on that end of the floor. L.A. finished third in the West, and overcame the distractions that the team’s former owner provided at the worst possible time to take out the Warriors in a seven-game series in the first round of the playoffs. Oklahoma City proved to be more talented in the second round, however, and eliminated the Clippers in six.

Signature highlight from last season: On a team that features the game’s best point guard and two of its more electrifying dunkers, there really is no shortage of highlight plays to choose from. And frankly, too many are worthy that could accurately describe just how devastating L.A. was offensively last season. So enjoy this mix of the team’s Top 10 plays, and if we were to single one of them out, let’s go with number five — Chris Paul uses his wizardry to navigate through multiple defenders, before lobbing a perfect pass up to DeAndre Jordan for the thunderous slam.

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Clippers season:

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul: The Clippers two best players last year were arguably the best tandem on any team in the league. Griffin finished third in MVP voting behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James, while Paul led the league in assists by averaging almost two more per game than his closest competition. As long as Griffin continues his evolution and Paul remains as rock solid as ever in running what was the league’s most efficient offense last season, L.A. will remain one of the elite teams in the Western Conference.

Improved front line depth: The addition of Spencer Hawes should be a big one for the Clippers this season, considering just how steep the drop-off was a year ago when looking at the team’s frontcourt positions. Griffin and Jordan played at an elite level, but once they came out of the game, the team’s identity completely changed due to a lack of reserve options. Rivers has used Hawes in a reserve role to this point in the preseason — a wise decision to have him firmly in place as a legitimate back up big that the team has been so desperately lacking, especially in the playoffs. Udoh, meanwhile, could provide defensive help in limited stretches, which would allow the team to be more consistent in its approach when the starters are getting their rest. Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu are options too, of course, but both played a bit last season, and the results were hit and miss.

The fifth starter: L.A. has four members of its starting lineup essentially locked in with Paul, Griffin, Jordan, and J.J. Redick. But the fifth spot is seemingly up for grabs. Jared Dudley played below expectations last season (likely due to trying to play through injury), and was subsequently traded out of town. It’s now guys like Chris Douglas-Roberts and Reggie Bullock who will attempt to fill that void, though Matt Barnes could see plenty of time there as well, just as he did last season. The team will want more consistency here than it saw a year ago, and not having to constantly scramble for starting-five production could make the unit a more cohesive one, especially defensively where the improvement is needed the most.

Why you should watch: This Clippers team features two of the league’s best players in Paul and Griffin, and a third in Jordan who can jump out of the gym. It’ll be interesting to see if the offensive principles remain now that lead assistant Alvin Gentry has moved on to a position with Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors, but the talent is there to entertain wildly on a nightly basis.

Prediction: Here’s where things get interesting. If the roster upgrades (especially the addition of Hawes) pay the expected dividends, and if L.A. can commit to improving on the defensive end of the floor, then there’s no reason that the team shouldn’t be right there with the rest of the elite in the Western Conference. The Spurs and the Thunder are the most pressing threats to the Clippers’ ability to reach that lofty status, but the injury to Kevin Durant may help L.A. get a bit of a head start in the standings, which could affect home court advantage in a postseason series.

That’s a long way from here, obviously, but the Clippers seemed poised to make their long-awaited leap this season. A top-two finish in the West and a trip to the Conference Finals is how things should ultimately play out in Los Angeles.

Watch LeBron James pass Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list

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LeBron James just passed a Laker legend.

Kobe Bryant may be No. 1 in the hearts of Lakers fans, but he is now No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after LeBron James passed him with a layup with 7:23 left in the third quarter. The basket gave LeBron 33,644 points.

LeBron got a massive ovation from the Philly fans for his accomplishment.

Kobe Bryant Tweeted his congratulations.

LeBron now has Karl Malone (second) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the scoring list. Kareem was on SiriusXM NBA Radio this past week with Frank Isola and Brendan Haywood and said LeBron could pass him if he’s focused.

“I think it is up to LeBron. If he wants to do it, he’ll do it. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. So it’s just up to him as to how he wants to end his career. I certainly cannot be upset about it. The reason that they keep these records is so that we learn how we are improving. And we learn how to teach the game, taking note of the accomplishments of the great players. So, hey, it’s a natural progression. I don’t have any problem with it.”

Another report Wizards shooting down all trade talk around Davis Bertans

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
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Washington GM Tommy Shepard has been clear and not changed his position: he had no intention of trading Davis Bertans.

Instead, the plan is to re-sign the sharpshooting 6’10” power forward this summer. Bertans — who averages 15.3 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game — would fit well as a floor spacer on a John Wall/Bradley Beal team looking to make noise in the playoffs next season.

That has not stopped teams from looking at the Wizards situation, then calling to see if they can land Bertans in a deadline trade — a floor-spacing big could help teams such as Denver and Boston. However, those teams are still getting hung up on according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal. Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline.

Shepard and Washington are making a bet Bertans wants to stay in Washington, he is an unrestricted free agent this summer. If Washington gets the sense Bertans wants out this summer, they need to trade him now and get something in return. If they believe he wants to return, then they need to get owner Ted Leonsis to open up the checkbook. After this breakout season, and at a position of need for a lot of teams around the league, Bertans likely will get offers at or above $17 million a season, and Washington might need to overpay a little to keep him.

Washington’s plan — as evidenced by words and actions — is not to rebuild but to get healthy and make a run up the East standings next season. They have Beal (playing at an All-NBA level this season), they get Wall back (he has looked good in practice of late), and from there they re-sign Bertans, count on growth from rookie Rui Hachimura, and put together a roster of role players who can win games in the East. 

Debate amongst yourselves if that is the smart direction to go, it’s clearly the one the Wizards have chosen.

Donovan Mitchell scores 25, Rudy Gobert has 22 and key late block, Jazz rally past Mavs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert had 22 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to propel the surging Utah Jazz to a 112-107 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 for the Jazz, who have won 14 of their last 15 games.

Luka Doncic scored 25 points for the Mavericks, who have dropped two of three after winning four straight. Doncic managed only two points in the final quarter.

Seth Curry added 19 points for Dallas.

Gobert’s three-point play — a dunk and a free throw — gave the Jazz their first lead since the first half at 96-95. The Mavericks responded with a 3 by Curry and two free throws from Delon Wright.

Gobert broke a 104-all tie with a tip-in, and after Tim Hardaway Jr. and Royce O’Neale exchanged 3-pointers, Gobert blocked what looked like an easy layup for Wright.

Mitchell made a pair of free throws, and then Gobert rebounded Doncic’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled. He made one of two free throws for the final margin.

The Mavericks raced to a 32-19 lead behind Doncic’s playmaking and shooting. The Jazz later scored 12 consecutive points and took a brief 37-36 lead on Georges Niang’s 3-pointer.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 15 points and Hardaway and Wright each chipped in 11 for Dallas.

Portland’s struggles do not have Damian Lillard pushing for trade, “I can weather the storm”

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Damian Lillard isn’t going anywhere.

The Trail Blazers are 19-27, sitting as the unexpected 11 seed in the West, and there calls from some quarters of the Pacific Northwest for Portland to do something drastic to try and salvage the season. Too often, those calls are followed by “what if Lillard decides this isn’t working and pushes for a trade?”

It’s not going down that way. Not according to Lillard.

In a league where it’s become commonplace for superstars to use their leverage — either to get traded or to force the team to make bold moves they want — Lillard remains loyal and trusts the front office in Portland. He realizes what this season has become for the Trail Blazers and he wants the franchise to think about next season, not desperation moves to save this one. Here is what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“That don’t have nothing to do with my commitment to the team,” Lillard said. “I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.

“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over. We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”

He also has made clear he isn’t going to push GM Neil Olshay to make specific trades.

Lillard is averaging 28.3 points and 7.6 assists per game, he scored 108 points in his last two games, and he’s playing at an All-NBA level again. He remains one of the game’s top guards and a player the Trail Blazers can build a contender around. His five-year max contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

Portland’s challenge is this: Lillard is 29 and in his prime. If they are going to win a title with him that has to happen sooner rather than later. Portland should not make desperation moves to salvage this season — getting Jusuf Nurkic back in the next few weeks could turn things around without a trade — but even looking ahead: If they are fully healthy next season are they on the level of the Lakers or Clippers? To my eyes, no. Then the question becomes what needs to be done to get there? If it’s time for something bold, should they test the trade market for CJ McCollum?

The Trail Blazers have some big questions to answer after this season.

The thing they don’t need to worry about is Lillard.