Paul has 25 points, Clippers beat Hornets 97-83

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Clippers continue to win games without their leading scorer. And whenever Blake Griffin gets rid of those street clothes and returns to the lineup, they’ll only get better.

Chris Paul had 25 points and seven assists and the Clippers extended their winning streak to eight with a 97-83 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

Los Angeles is 7-0 since Griffin went down with a partially torn tendon in his left quad. Overall, they are 19-8 when the five-time All-Star has been sidelined due to injury or suspension – including a 9-6 mark last season.

“I think it’s because we all had to step up by committee,” Paul said. “We’re moving the ball and putting a huge emphasis on defense. The only way we can really score without the big fella is we defend and get out in transition.”

Center DeAndre Jordan, making a push for his first career All-Star selection, had 19 rebounds. It was the 11th straight game in double digits for the franchise’s career rebounding leader. He led the NBA in rebounding the previous two seasons.

J.J. Redick added 17 points for the Clippers. The winning streak is their fourth of eight or more games in the past four seasons. They had an 11-game run in 2013-14, a nine-game stretch last season, and won a franchise-record 17 straight in 2012-13 – going 16-0 in December.

Jeremy Lin made his sixth start of the season and scored 26 points for the Hornets, who have lost a season-worst six in a row and seven straight on the road. Shooting guard Nicolas Batum missed his fourth straight game because of a sprained toe on his right foot.

“At this point, we are just trying to get a win,” Lin said. “But I would say today that we played harder and had more communication on the defensive end than we have had in previous games. If we keep playing as hard as we did today, good things will happen in the near future.”

Jeremy Lamb had 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.

Kemba Walker, the Hornets’ leading scorer this season, had 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting after averaging 26.6 over his previous seven games.

“He missed some shots, but I thought C.P. and Austin were really effective with their size and getting into him,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But I thought our bigs were good with Walker today, too. They were very alert to him and they were up to the pick-and-rolls a little bit more.”

Paul’s 19-footer capped a 13-1 run that turned a three-point Clippers deficit into a 58-49 lead with 6:02 left in the third quarter. They led by six entering the fourth and made it 86-75 on Redick’s 19-footer from the left of the key. The Hornets got no closer than nine after that.

“We don’t have the residual effect of bad play. We just get out of it,” Rivers said. “I didn’t have to say much at halftime. You could just see that guys were upset, and they were talking about it when I walked in. So what else do I need to say. They’re policing themselves, and that’s important.”

The Hornets’ losing streak began with a 122-117 home loss to the Clippers, who have won 10 of the last 11 meetings. They are 7-12 since signing coach Steve Clifford to a three-year contract extension Dec. 2.

TIP-INS

Hornets: F Spencer Hawes, who spent last season with the Clippers and was traded along with Matt Barnes for F Lance Stephenson in June, had seven points in 14 minutes. … The Hornets, who came in averaging 38.5 points off the bench, finished with 31 from their reserves. … Seven-foot C Frank Kaminsky, the ninth overall pick in the draft, scored 20 points the last time the teams met. He had four in the rematch. … The Hornets had 16 turnovers. They entered Saturday averaging a league-low 12.7, after finishing last season with the fewest in the league.

Clippers: Griffin isn’t expected to see a doctor until next week. … Jordan closed out last season with a career-best double-digit rebound streak of 31 games, and had a 24-game streak in 2013-14. He entered Saturday with a .league-best 73.1 field goal percentage. The highest percentage in NBA history at the end of a season is 72.7, by the Lakers’ Wilt Chamberlain in 1972-73.

UP NEXT

Hornets: At Denver on Sunday.

Clippers: Host New Orleans on Sunday.

Report: Clippers teammates rolled eyes at Paul George’s postseason calls for togetherness

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Paul George and Montrezl Harrell reportedly had a heated exchange on the bench during the Clippers’ loss to the Nuggets.

Apparently, that wasn’t an isolated incident.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Paul George had a disappointing series against Denver, and had several moments that left him in compromising positions with his teammates — beyond just his production. Multiple teammates had verbal spats with George throughout the postseason, citing in their exchanges a lack of accountability from him.

In the postgame locker room Tuesday night, George was preaching to teammates to remain committed, for all the players to return to the team this offseason and stay ready to make another run. It was met by some eye rolls and bewilderment, sources said, because George did not back up his words with action in the series and the team has multiple free agents with decisions to make.

George wanted more time with his teammates. They already had enough of him.

This had been a simmering problem – George and Kawhi Leonard getting preferential treatment, their teammates resenting it. Harrell sounded particularly bothered by the dynamic.

Losing exacerbates issues like that, and getting upset by Denver was a big loss. Both George and Harrell faced oncourt and offcourt stressors – only further contributing to squabbling.

Harrell will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Clippers should try to keep him. He’s a good player, and they wouldn’t gain much cap flexibility without him.

But the 26-year-old might also want to explore the market and secure the most lucrative deal. It’d be reasonable for him to resent a teammate pressing him just to take the Clippers’ offer – especially if Harrell felt George wasn’t as committed to the team in the first place.

George and Leonard have earned preferential treatment. Leonard in particular has shown he benefits from load management.

However, that can annoy teammates. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan. It just means that downside should be accounted for.

It’d be nice if Leonard were more vocal or George rubbed fewer people the wrong way. But their basketball talent means dealing with their shortcomings. It’d be nice if George’s eye-rolling teammates realized that, too.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers bears responsibility for managing this tension. A this best, he connects well with players and gets everyone pulling for the same goal. That’s his job as the Clippers try to make the next step.

Miami’s Meyers Leonard adjusting to going from starter to out of rotation

Meyers Leonard
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Meyers Leonard was bent forward at the waist, standing a few feet away from Miami coach Erik Spoelstra on the Heat sideline, screaming with every bit of the volume that his deep and booming voice can generate.

This is his role right now for the Heat.

His only role.

Leonard is in a tough spot these days; a full-time starter during the regular season, he is now out of the rotation as the Miami Heat have made their run to the Eastern Conference finals. It is a bitter pill for him to swallow — yet to his credit, he hasn’t acted the least bit bitter about his current reality.

“My team knows this, and our coaching staff knows this,” Leonard told The Associated Press. “I would do anything to be out there. And I’d be lying if I said that I’m not competitive as hell. I wish I was impacting the game on the floor. I’m not, but as a person and as a player, I want what’s best for everybody.”

So for now, the 7-foot, 260-pound, chiseled center is the tallest, strongest and best-paid assistant coach in these playoffs. He calls out what he’s seeing on every possession, pulls aside teammates for quick one-on-one chats when necessary, and on off days he’s getting his on-court work in just in case he’s needed to play.

Leonard has started 49 of his 51 appearances with the Heat this season, more starts than he made in his seven seasons with Portland combined. But in the playoffs, he’s logged a total of nine minutes, all in one appearance.

“Meyers is one of the most special people I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach and to be around,” Spoelstra said. “He is just an incredible human being and teammate. He has all our hearts. We will do anything for him because he is so pure.”

Leonard, more than anything else, got unlucky at the worst possible time.

He badly sprained his left ankle in early February and wasn’t anywhere near being ready to return to the lineup when the NBA season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. And then when team facilities shut down as a precaution, Leonard’s rehab process had to be amended as well.

That was the first issue. The second was Miami became a different team a few days after he got hurt, pulling off a trade to bring Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Heat. Crowder has become a starter, and Spoelstra told Leonard before Miami resumed play in the NBA’s restart bubble that he was taking the rotation in a different direction.

It was tough on Leonard mentally. He was struggling when he got to the bubble because of his ankle, then spent days wrestling about whether he should stand for the national anthem or kneel with his teammates, and on top of all that he essentially lost his job as well.

“There’s just two things that I won’t ever let be questioned and that’s character and work ethic,” Leonard said. “Every day when I walk through the door, I’m going to be a great guy, a great teammate. It’s not fake. So I’m trying to make my impact now from the sideline.”

There are a few starters who aren’t in the same roles that they were for the four teams remaining in this NBA season. Avery Bradley opted out of joining the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble. Will Barton — who led Denver in minutes per game this season — has a knee injury and has missed the Nuggets’ entire postseason run. Gordon Hayward has missed much of Boston’s playoff stint while recovering from a sprained ankle. Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn, a starter all season, is in Miami’s second unit now.

Leonard saw the Heat change, and his role change with it. He didn’t sulk, lash out or complain.

“It’s not easy, being in this kind of situation, going through the injury he went through and having the hiatus where he didn’t get the full opportunity to rehab it,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s making the most of it, and if he gets his opportunity, he will be ready.”

Leonard also sees the reason why he should be helping the Heat however he can right now. He’s never been this close to an NBA championship; the Heat lead the Celtics 2-1 in the East finals, with Game 4 on Wednesday night.

He’ll be ready to scream some more then, too.

“I am, in the best way possible, the most jealous of watching our team’s success,” Leonard said. “I literally said this to my wife the other night. I said, ‘Elle, we are six wins away from a ring.’ That is so damn special.”

Anthony Davis yelled “Kobe” after he sank game winner

Anthony Davis Kobe
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The Lakers played in the Kobe-designed Black Mamba jerseys on Sunday night, when Anthony Davis did about the most Kobe thing possible — he drained a buzzer-beater game-winner.

When Davis did it, he yelled “Kobe.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have talked a lot this season about honoring the legacy of Kobe with their play and effort this season, and coach Frank Vogel did after this game.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “AD flying to the wing like that, catch and shoot with the game on the line, the biggest moment of the season, nothing but net? That’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers are now 3-0 in those black Mamba jerseys these playoffs. Expect to see them again.

NBA world reacts to Anthony Davis’ game-winner for Lakers

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It might go down as the shot of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets had battled back from 16 points down to take the lead behind a brilliant performance from Nikola Jokic, who had the team’s final 11 points. Throw in a Jamal Murray block and the Nuggets were up one with 2.1 seconds left.

Then Anthony Davis happened.

The Lakers won the game (going up 2-0 in the series) and the NBA world took to Twitter to react — including a lot of NBA players.