Clippers win ‘nice, boring’ Christmas Day battle with Warriors

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers and the Warriors have been one of the league’s best rivalries over the last year, and if the way the past battles have gone was any indication, with players needing to be separated following hard fouls and on-court scuffles that resulted in ejections, it was worth wondering whether or not this season’s Christmas Day matchup would produce similar fireworks.

But while the level of competitiveness and relative animosity was palpable, there was zero in terms of the types of physical confrontations we’ve seen in the past. What we were treated to, however, was plenty of missed shots.

Both teams went cold for an extremely lengthy stretch, and since L.A.’s came at the beginning of the game and Golden State’s came near the end, the final result was a 100-86 Clippers win that the team cautiously praised as being among its best of the season.

“It’s a good win for us,” Chris Paul said afterward. “I mean, it’s not like everything is right, or all that different type of stuff. But in the West, you’re just trying to get as many wins as possible and it’s a good win for us.”

It started out as anything but a winnable effort from the Clippers. After opening the game with a DeAndre Jordan dunk, L.A. missed its next 16 shots. But the Warriors couldn’t capitalize — their biggest lead in the period was 10 points, and a 2-of-9 shooting performance from three-point distance allowed the Clippers to stay in the game after the first 12 minutes.

Jamal Crawford was the one who was finally able to ignite L.A.’s offense. When nothing else was working, he came off the bench to score 10 points late in the first to drag his team back into it and give them a chance.

“I could see we were struggling a little bit,” Crawford said, after finishing with a team high 24 points. “They weren’t scoring a lot, but tonight I knew I was going to be more aggressive because I knew I needed to get the score up a little bit.

“We all started making shots. That kind of changed the game, and we were able to with stand it from there.”

The Warriors found their groove a bit in the second, and had the lead back to eight with just 1:23 remaining in the half. Steve Kerr elected to sit Stephen Curry with two fouls, not wanting him to pick up a third in the small window of time that was left. But it proved to be a costly decision, as L.A. closed the half on a 7-0 run to trail by a single point at the intermission.

Then came the third, and then came Chris Paul.

With the game tied at 59 apiece, Paul got going. He found Jordan for an alley-oop slam, shook Curry with a one-handed crossover before getting to the rim for an and-1 finish, and then drained a contested three before ending the period with a layup at the buzzer.

His play seemed to give the team the confidence boost it needed to finish the job. It was Golden State’s turn to go through an offensive drought, and a 19-3 Clippers run sealed it — one that fittingly ended with a dagger three from Crawford that pushed the lead to 20 with just under three minutes left.

“A signature win, right” Crawford said. “There are games during the course of a season where no matter what you say it means a little bit more. Obviously the whole country, the whole world was watching this game. They’re playing as good as anybody in the NBA. We’re trying to continue to be consistent and get back on track, so I thought it was good.”

The Warriors weren’t about to overreact after suffering a second straight loss, because they still sit with a record of 23-5 atop the league-wide standings.

“Overreacting would mean questioning our system or questioning individual abilities or the reasons that got us here,” Curry said. “The system works, we just have to execute. Our defense works; obviously we showed in the first half we could do it. But it’s important to not doubt what we’re about and what it means to play Warriors basketball regardless of these last two games.”

There were no fights, no confrontations, and no real battles — even though the feelings appeared to be seething just beneath the surface. Draymond Green seemed to want to up the ante, and spent time trying to engage Paul in trash talk for much of the night.

“He was telling me Merry Christmas and he was telling me to tell Little Chris (Paul’s son) Merry Christmas,” Paul joked afterward.

Green, though, took things more seriously.

“I didn’t think we were intense, as far as our fire, but I didn’t think they were either,” Green said. “I don’t know what the cause of it was. Maybe everybody was a little too jolly, but it was too nice. It was boring, I mean, I’m sure that was not the prime time game everybody expected. I’m not saying you have to have the elbows and all the crazy stuff, but the battle? It just wasn’t there.”

What was there was an impressive win for the Clippers. But don’t ask Blake Griffin if it had any additional meaning or significance just because it happened to be played on Christmas.

“We’re just so proud to represent the NBA on this blessed day,” he said.

Embiid, Morant, Lillard headline list of All-Star Game reserves

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers
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Joel Embiid was a lock. Few others were.

The fans made their voice heard and selected the five All-Star game starters from each conference. Embiid was the odd man out in the East frontcourt (there was going to be a snub no matter who was left off), and we can debate if Zion Williamson has played enough games to deserve being named a starter, but there were no egregious choices.

The brutal selections are always the last couple of reserves — there are more deserving players than spots — and that choice falls to the league’s coaches, who vote to pick the seven bench players from each conference (three frontcourt players, two guards, and two wildcards).

Here are the 2023 All-Star Game reserves.

WEST

Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Lauri Markkanen (Utah Jazz)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies)

West Biggest Snubs: Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, De'Aaron Fox, Anthony Edwards

EAST

Joel Embiid (Philadephia 76ers)
DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks)
Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers)

East Biggest Snubs: Trae Young, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Jalen Brunson

Here are some thoughts and notes on the selections:

• This is the first All-Star game for Gilgeous-Alexander, Jackson and Haliburton — and they all deserved it.

• For my money, the biggest snub is Pascal Siakam of the Raptors. While the team has disappointed, Siakam has played not just at an All-Star level but at an All-NBA level averaging 24.9 points, 8 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game, plus solid defense. He is a top 15 player in the league, let alone top 24.

• Davis and Booker not making the roster must be solely a matter of games missed for the coaches, because both are deserving.

• Jaren Jackson Jr. making it may be the biggest surprise — he’s an elite defender and solid offensive player, but he also missed the first 14 games of the season and defense-first players have a hard time getting the nod for a fan exhibition. The coaches voting in Adebayo from the Heat over Butler was thinking along the same lines, the coaches appreciate the defense and well-rounded game of the Miami big man.

• The coaches put one Heat player and one Knick on the team, balancing the scales for two teams who could have made a case for two players.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) and LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers) will be the team captains this season (as voted by the fans), who will select their starters from a pool consisting of Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), and Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks).

• In a change to the format this year, James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams on the court — playground style — just before the All-Star Game. They will choose from a pool of starters, and then the backups from the group of reserves above.

• The Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla will coach Team Giannis, while the Nuggets’ Michael Malone will coach Team LeBron.

• The All-Star Game will take place Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. The entire weekend of events will be broadcast on TNT.

• As it has been the past few years, teams will play the first three quarters somewhat traditionally (although the winner of each quarter individually raises money for its team charity). Then the clock will be turned off for the fourth quarter and the first team to reach a target score — 24 points (in honor of Kobe) higher than the total of the team leading after three quarters. Meaning simply, if team Giannis leads 100-99 after three quarters, the first team to get to 124 wins.

Anunoby hottest name at trade deadline… or would be if Raptors decide to trade him

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns
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The Knicks are standing at the front of the line, but if the door opens Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans will be among the teams trying to push their way through the door.

O.G. Anunoby trade rumors are maybe the hottest topic around the league in the run-up to the trade deadline, something sources have told NBC Sports but is not breaking news at this point, recent reporting by both Zach Lowe of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have detailed exactly that. Lowe said on his podcast that the “entire league” is interested in the young wing. Teams are calling Massai Ujiri about Anunoby, but the Raptors have yet to tip their hand about whether they will be sellers at the deadline, stand pat, or become buyers.

Anunoby has not publicly or privately asked for a trade, but would “embrace a change of scenery” Haynes said on the podcast (it should be noted there are similar rumblings about a number of dispirited Raptors this season, the losing has worn on them). Haynes added that part of the motivation for the Grizzlies and Pelicans in this case is to keep the other team from landing him.

The Knicks are reportedly offering three first-round picks for Anunoby, and while it’s up for debate which of the seven first-round picks they control are in the mix — and how protected they are — that is now the floor for an offer to interest the Raptors. Lowe said Anunoby could draw a Donovan Mitchellsized trade package.

There are obvious reasons the league is calling, Anunoby is an All-Defensive Team level wing averaging 16.9 points per game, can finish at the rim and hit threes. It doesn’t hurt that he is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million.

Everybody wants to talk about Anunoby, but it’s all moot until Ujiri and the Raptors do.

Devin Booker reportedly could return to Suns next week

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns are 9-13 since Devin Booker went out with a left groin strain (which counts a few games before, but does not include, his attempted Christmas Day comeback, which lasted all of four minutes in a Suns loss). While they have bounced back lately as Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson returned, Phoenix still slid down to eighth in the standings.

The Suns need Booker to return — and they may get it next week, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, sidelined the past five weeks because of a left groin strain, could return as soon as Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets, sources told ESPN… Booker has been ramping up his on-court work, and is expected to join the Suns at the start of a five-game road trip that begins Friday in Boston and continues Saturday at Detroit.

Booker should be named an All-Star reserve Tuesday, despite all the time missed — he has been that good. Booker is averaging 27.1 points a game shooting 37% from 3 (a good 58.5 true shooting percentage) and is dishing out 5.1 assists per night. The bottom line, the Suns have outscored opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season and been outscored by 2.5 per 100 when he is out.

He returns to a team that needs a jolt and could get a couple — both the return of Booker to the rotation and a trade at the deadline to bring in depth. The Suns are likely to trade Jae Crowder at the deadline — the Bucks are considered the frontrunners but the Heat and Hawks are reportedly in the mix — which may not bring back what James Jones once hoped, but should give the team a little more depth.

If the Suns can get back to the team that started the season 15-6 they could make some noise in the West, but there is a lot for the Suns to clean up to get back to those days.

PBT Podcast: LeBron chases history, WNBA superteam and trade talk

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It’s one of the craziest weeks in the NBA — the week before the trade deadline is always insane — yet that is maybe the third biggest story in the league right now.

First, in this edition of the PBT Podcast, we dive into LeBron James chasing history and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record — what does that say about LeBron and his legacy? And his conditioning to be doing this 20 years into his NBA career.

From there, Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself dive into the biggest move in the basketball world this week — Breanna Stewart shaking up the WNBA and choosing the New York Liberty in free agency. She formed a superteam in New York, and there is another one in Las Vegas, and this is an opportunity for the WNBA to grow – and get charter flights for their players. From there, it’s Corey’s Jukebox and time to talk some Damian Lillard.

Then we into trade rumors from around the league and everyone waiting on the Raptors to open up the market.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.