PBT First Round Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs

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SEASON RECORDS

Clippers: 56-26 (third place in Western Conference)
Spurs: 55-27 (sixth place in Western Conference)
Season series tied 2-2

KEY INJURIES

Clippers: No significant injuries

Spurs: Tiago Splitter is battling a calf injury, he practiced with team Friday but will be limited (this matters, Splitter is a good defender on Blake Griffin). Matt Bonner has a calf injury, missed the final game of the season and may miss the start of the series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS

Clippers: 109.8 points scored per 100 possessions (1st in NBA); 103 points allowed per 100 possessions (15th in NBA).
Spurs: 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions (7th in NBA); 99.6 points allowed per 100 possessions (3rd in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Chris Paul vs. Kawhi Leonard. Gregg Popovich is not going to use the best on-ball defender in the league on CP3 exclusively, but when it gets to crunch time in games you can expect this matchup. We didn’t see this much in the regular season; the teams didn’t play after mid-February, so the Clippers didn’t see dominant late-season Leonard. Chris Paul is smart and efficient setting up the Clippers offense, but Leonard’s length and athleticism give every player he guards trouble. It’s a huge question for this series: Can CP3 be CP3 late in games with Leonard blanketing him? If this takes the ball out of his hands, can the other Clippers effectively orchestrate the offense? This is going to be a joy to watch unfold.

2) Hack-a-Jordan. Personally, I prefer the term “hack-the-DJ,hack-the-DJ” sung to the tune of the Smith’s “Panic.”

This should be the best first-round series in the land, and it will be marred at times by Gregg Popovich ordering fouls on DeAndre Jordan, who shot 39.7 percent from the line this season. The last times these teams met Jordan took 26 free throws because of the strategy (he hit 10). More than just the missed free throws, for the Spurs this works because it disrupts and stalls the best offense in the NBA. Then eventually Rivers is forced to sit Jordan and replace him with a lesser player (Glen Davis or Spencer Hawes). It’s also just painful to watch. Having to suffer through this on what will be a much-watched first-round series is maybe the impetus to force a rule change, but not in time for this series. If it works, you can be sure the ruthless Popovich will go to it over and over.

3) Clippers lack of depth vs. Spurs bench. Doc Rivers tried to fill out the Clippers’ bench this season, he went out and got Spencer Hawes and Hedo Turkoglu, they tried guys like Jordan Farmar and Austin Rivers. None of it worked well. Jamal Crawford remains a quality sixth man, but that’s where the rotation stops. Because of that Rivers leans on his starters heavily — the Clippers starting five was the most used lineup in the NBA by more than 300 minutes (that despite Blake Griffin missing 15 games). Meanwhile, the Spurs’ bench is a Swiss Army Knife that Popovich can unfold in a variety of ways, depending on what the matchup calls for. He trusts Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner, and the rest to make plays if their number gets called. And they do. What this gives Popovich is more pieces on the chess board to move around and try to exploit specific situations and match ups. That versatility will be key for San Antonio as the series moves on, and Rivers may not have the players to counter Pop’s moves.

PREDICTION

This is not a first-round matchup, this is a conference finals level matchup — the Clippers and Spurs were second and third in the league respectively in point differential per 100 possessions. These are two of the NBA’s top five teams by any reasonable measure, and yet one team will not even make the second round. (This is also Golden State’s dream scenario, let these two challengers beat each other up and avoid either one until the conference finals.) This is clearly the best first round series this year.

The Clippers are an excellent team, but I think Doc Rivers the GM will have tied Doc Rivers’ the coach’s hands too much. The lack of depth leads to a lack of versatility that is the strength of the Spurs. Then there’s the fact the Clippers’ defense isn’t great — they play an aggressive, Heat-style trapping defense, but not as well and it can be exploited with ball movement. Add it all up and you’re left with a Los Angeles side that needs to play almost flawlessly to win this series. I don’t think they can do that four times out of seven. It’s going to be physical, hard fought and close, but I’ll take the Spurs in six.

Rumor: LeBron James hoping Kyrie Irving might join Lakers despite Nets talk

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The Anthony Davis trade saga is finally over. The deal between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been completed yet, and is expected to be done on July 6.

For now, L.A. can move its attention elsewhere to look for another star. The Lakers will have significant cap space — $23.7 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks — and they’ll need another star.

Talk recently has been that former LeBron James running mate Kyrie Irving is headed to the Brooklyn Nets. But no deal is officially in place, and free agency hasn’t started. According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, there are folks in LeBron’s camp who are hopeful that Irving could still join L.A.

Via The Athletic:

Just days before the Davis deal was done, a source close to James indicated some optimism that – Nets noise be darned – Irving was still in play for the Lakers.

Remember, Irving and James had a heart-to-heart talk earlier in the season. They hashed out what happened in Cleveland, with Irving apologizing to James for how he acted as a younger man.

That sparked speculation that Irving could be looking to join LeBron with the Lakers this summer when he had the ability to opt out of his contract with the Boston Celtics.

We haven’t even reached the 2019 NBA draft yet, and already free agency is ramping up and getting crazy. This July is going to be wild, and until the music stops and the butts are in the seats, don’t count anyone as being a sure thing for any team just yet.

There’s already an Anthony Davis Lakers mural up in Los Angeles (PHOTO)

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Anthony Davis isn’t in Los Angeles yet. In fact the trade between the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans hasn’t been completed, and reportedly won’t be completed until July 6.

But that doesn’t mean that Lakers fans aren’t already anticipating his arrival.

On Instagram Sunday, Venice muralist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. posted an incredible new rendering of Davis, draped in Forum blue and gold.

Via Twitter:

Zermeño is the artist who painted one of the LeBron James murals that was defaced in L.A. last summer.

The Lakers did nothing right last season, and are a train wreck of an organization. Despite that, they have landed one of the best players in the NBA and if he can stay healthy they should be able to find their way back to the playoffs next season. There’s lots of work to do on this Lakers roster, and as much as people want to jump to conclusions, it’ll take some filling out before they’re contenders.

Davis is a step in the right direction, but this whole thing could go in the direction of “Now This Is Going To Be Fun” very quickly.

Never put it past Lakers fans to go all in. Less than 24 hours from the announcement of the trade and we already have a mural of Davis.

Reports: Pelicans fielding calls from teams interested in No. 4 pick

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The trade for Anthony Davis has not been completed yet. The New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers are apparently not expected to finalize the deal until July 6.

But one thing that could throw those plans out the window is if GM David Griffin gets another offer before Thursday’s NBA Draft. According to multiple reports, teams have been calling the Pelicans interested in the No. 4 overall pick they gleaned in the deal in principle for Davis.

Via Twitter:

From a distance it appears Griffin is not looking to completely rebuild from the bottom. His roster isn’t really set up for that, anyway. Jrue Holiday is already 29, and having two 19 or 20-year-olds would necessitate waiting longer to contend than perhaps Holiday’s contract lasts.

Still, it’s not as though Griffin couldn’t have another deal in principle in place by Thursday for that pick. Teams select for other teams all the time. A wink-and-handshake deal could be done so the Pelicans select for whomever a potential trade partner wants at that No. 4 spot.

The NBA is a weird place so I wouldn’t be surprised if this deal gets done earlier, or even later as Adrian Wojnarowski has suggested is possible. At the end of the day, the outcome is that Davis is on the Lakers despite that organization doing absolutely nothing right to get him there other than being in L.A.

Report: NBA asked Drake not to attend games in Oakland

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Emotions were running high during the NBA Finals among the fan bases: The Raptors were on their way to their first-ever title and their fans were loud even on the road; In Oakland, there was a part-owner of the team shoving Kyle Lowry.

Drake giving Nick Nurse a shoulder massage on the sidelines at Oracle would not have gone over well.

So the NBA encouraged Drake not to come to the games in Oakland, according to a report from TMZ.

The NBA reached out to Drake and asked him not to travel to Oakland for any of the NBA Finals games at Oracle Arena due to “security concerns,” multiple sources tell TMZ Sports.

We’re told the league expressed concern about potentially angry Warriors fans doing something stupid like taunting Drake or throwing stuff at him … which wouldn’t just put Drake at risk, but also other people sitting near him.

In the end, they all agreed it was best for Drake to stay in Toronto for the away games — with Drake ultimately leading the Raptor fan watch party at Jurassic Park during Game 6.

They chose… wisely. I have no doubt the NBA encouraged this move, it only makes sense.

Besides, the last thing these Finals needed was more Drake.