It wasn’t pretty, but Clippers rout Rockets again to take commanding 3-1 series lead

18 Comments

LOS ANGELES — This game was ugly.

Not only because of the parade to the free throw line in the first half — the Clippers shot 44 free throws in the first 24 minutes, DeAndre Jordan had 28 of them — but also because by the fourth quarter the Clippers were just clowning the Rockets. Well, maybe Clippers fans didn’t find that hard to watch.

Houston has struggled all series to get stops against Los Angeles. On Sunday night only one defensive strategy worked for the Rockets — foul Jordan intentionally. They did that 14 times in the first half, making the game about as entertaining as a video of a clock ticking.

“Well, we got Dwight (Howard) in foul trouble, got in foul trouble right away…” Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said, referring to Howard picking up two fouls in the first 3:40 of the game. “We were just trying to see if we could muck up the game a little bit. We didn’t. We came back in, and we kind of had to play small, so we thought maybe we could just get them out of a rhythm a little bit.”

It seemed to throw the Rockets off their rhythm more. But at least that defensive strategy sort of worked — those 14 possessions the Rockets outscored the Clippers 11-10 (according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN).

The problem is when the Rockets stopped doing that in the second quarter the Clippers instantly went on a 9-0 run because they continued to get stops, get out and run, and then tear up Rockets poor transition defense. Then the Clippers came out in the second half and opened it on a 21-4 run, to push their lead north of 20 points —  Jordan pitched in and took his frustrations out on the rim with dunks. The Clippers grabbed 8 offensive rebounds (on 12 missed shots), scored 43 points, and had 103 points total after three quarters.

The game was all but over. So is the series. The Clippers won Game 4 128-95, and now lead the series 3-1.

It is clear the Clippers are the superior team. The Rockets do not have the defense to hang — and Patrick Beverley was not going to solve this problem, nor was Donatas Motiejūnas or K.J. McDaniels (all out injured). On Sunday night 55.7 percent of the Clippers shots were uncontested, according to the NBA’s player tracking data. The Clippers had the best offense in the NBA in the regular season and, even with a hobbled Chris Paul, the Rockets have no answers to slow it. Outside of fouling. Jordan hit 14 free throws (on 34 attempts) on his way to 26 points.

“I think both teams lost their rhythm for a while, so that’s the problem with it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of the second quarter fouling spree. “Especially if you’re then or us, teams that run, teams that like motion. It turns it into a half-court game, and, you know it allows us to set our defense.”

“Yeah, we’re not really moving,” the Rockets’ James Harden said (he had 21 points and got to the free throw line 10 times). “We’re not really moving on the offensive end. We’re pretty much stagnant, so it makes it easier for them to kind of load up and play their normal defense.”

That defense was good enough in the decisive third quarter to hold the Rockets to 33.3 percent shooting — and then the Clippers ran off the misses. They ran to the run and they ran to the arc. The Clippers put up 43 points in the third quarter with J.J. Redick leading the way with 15 points and hitting 4-of-4 from three.

The fourth quarter was simply a party for Clippers fans, who are about to see their team reach the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The only thing those fans enjoyed more than the alley-oop dunks in the second half was seeing Dwight Howard get ejected for throwing the ball at the referee’s feet after picking up his sixth foul.

While the Rockets have struggled to slow the Clippers, Los Angeles has found ways to reign in Houston. Put simply, James Harden is the only real shot creator off the dribble and the Clippers have done a good job of not letting him get to the line — on every drive they put their arms straight up and seem to give a little ground. The goal is not to get the call, although Harden thinks the refs are just missing the calls.

“I’ve got a couple scratches on my arms to show you,” Harden said when asked about the Clippers’ defense.

The Rockets players said all the right things about needing to be more focused at home, to bring a better effort in the third quarter, and a host of other cliches.

But unless they find some defense back in Houston, by Wednesday they could be making tee times.

Report: NBA deprioritizing playing regular-season games for local TV

Steve Kerr and LeBron James before NBA game
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA is financially incentivized to play more regular-season games to satisfy local-TV contracts.

How does that square with resuming play – currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic – with a play-in tournament and playoffs?

It doesn’t.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to one source, getting some teams to a magical number of 70 regular-season games had been a goal, but in the last week has taken on less of a priority.

This stoppage is going to cost the NBA a lot of money. There’s no way around that. Not every source of revenue can be preserved. It’s about finding the optimal setup.

Importantly, canceling games could allow the NBA to reduce player salaries through force majeure. Of course, the union would consider that action when negotiating how to proceed.

LeBron James advocated for playing some regular-season games before the playoffs so everyone could get back into shape. But Steve Kerr called it very unlikely the Warriors would play another regular-season game. Perhaps, playoff-bound teams like the Lakers will play tune-up regular-season games while Golden State – the only team officially eliminated from the playoff race before the hiatus – doesn’t. It’d be a little odd to have such different formats, though. (Then again, these are odd times).

Considering this report, we ought to give more credence to the idea that Kerr knows something about the NBA’s plan and that the regular season is finished.

Lakers update that all players ‘currently symptom-free of COVID-19’

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nearly two weeks ago, the Lakers announced that two of their players tested positive for the coronavirus. “Both players are currently asymptomatic, in quarantine and under the care of the team’s physician… All players and members of the Lakers staff are being asked to continue to observe self-quarantine,” the Lakers said at that time.

On Tuesday, the team provided an update saying nobody on the team is showing any symptoms after a couple of weeks of quarantine.

“All Lakers players are currently symptom-free of COVID-19. The team will continue to follow the health and safety guidelines set by government officials, the Lakers and the NBA,” the statement said.

The Lakers’ players who tested positive were never publicly identified (in fitting with HIPAA regulations).

A total of 10 NBA players — plus five members of staff associated with teams — have tested positive for the virus that has upended life in the United States. None reportedly have had to be hospitalized. Players such as Marcus Smart and others have recovered and free from the virus.

The NBA remains suspended, with the league hoping to jump-start the playoffs in June, possibly with all the teams in one location.

Report: NBA won’t hold draft until after season

NBA draft
Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA draft is scheduled for June 25. Most expect that date to change as the coronavirus pandemic causes postponements around the world.

Apparently, the draft will come after the NBA season – whether the season is completed in a modified format or just cancelled.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I think everybody in the league feels it’s almost impossible to have a draft if you still have a season that’s ongoing.

You can’t have a draft while teams are still playing. You can’t have some teams able to do trades because their season’s done and then some teams unable to do trades because they’re still playing.

It doesn’t strike me as difficult to hold the draft before the season ends. Teams wouldn’t be allowed to trade current players. The restriction would apply across the board, just like the interrupted pre-draft process. That’s not ideal, but compromises must be made amid this chaos.

Importantly, holding the draft sooner could appeal to both sides of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

It’d be an opportunity to hold a revenue-producing TV event. Obviously, drafted players wouldn’t attend a mass gathering. But with sports fans starved for content, people would watch the selections. A handshake with NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only a small part of the festivities.

The National Basketball Players Association should also push for an earlier draft. Prospects want information sooner so they can prepare for their next step – whether that’s the NBA, returning to college or playing overseas. That said, the union has bigger priorities than potential future members.

So, it’s easy to see why postponing the draft has gained momentum, even if that’s not a no-brainer solution.

Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell headline televised NBA video-game tournament

Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA season isn’t returning any time soon.

So, the closest thing you’ll get to live basketball on television is a video-game tournament between NBA players. The bracket has been revealed.

The Boardroom:

1. Kevin Durant (Nets)

2. Trae Young (Hawks)

3. Hassan Whiteside (Trail Blazers)

4. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

5. Devin Booker (Suns)

6. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)

7. Zach LaVine (Bulls)

8. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

9. Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)

10. Deandre Ayton (Suns)

11. DeMarcus Cousins (previously Lakers)

12. Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

13. Rui Hachimura (Wizards)

14. Patrick Beverley (Clippers)

15. Harrison Barnes (Kings)

16. Derrick Jones Jr. (Heat)

I have questions:

  • How does Hassan Whiteside have the same rating as Donovan Mitchell and a higher rating Devin Booker?
  • Does being extremely online bode well for Kevin Durant?
  • Is Donovan Mitchell, who spent his coronavirus isolation playing video games, in the best game shape?
  • Will Zach LaVine redeem himself?
  • Will players use their own teams? If so, will Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton both use the Suns, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley both use the Clippers? If not, the most interesting aspect of this tournament – to non-esports aficionados – could be reading way too much into which teams players pick.