Associated Press

Physical Clippers push past struggling Jazz for 88-75 win

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LOS ANGELES — This game was not a thing of beauty. The video is not headed to Springfield.

When two teams expected to be in the league’s top-10 in defense meet, it often isn’t, but this was uglier than anticipated. The Sunday matinée at Staples Center was physical, it was slow paced, it was workmanlike, it was at times sloppy.

And the Clippers will take it.

Los Angeles won 88-75 in a slow, grinding, defensive game. The Clippers improved to 2-0 on the young season, while the Jazz fell to 1-2 with the Spurs on the road next on the docket.

You know it’s a rough game when this is the winning team’s shot chart.

Clipper shot chart

The Clippers defense was the difference.

“I thought our defense was terrific,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We were very physical, you know, two games in a row our physicality has been something you would notice. When (the Jazz) miss that many shots and they only have seven offensive rebounds, with the type of rebounding team they are, that’s great.”

“Our defense has been a main point of emphasis for us every day at practice,” said Blake Griffin, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds on the night. “We are harder on ourselves about our defense in practice than anything else. It’s been a big point of emphasis for us and we make a point to maintain our defensive identity throughout each game.”

Credit the Clippers’ defense, but it’s a two-sided coin.

Watching the Jazz offense without Gordon Hayward‘s shot creation is like watching Sisyphus. It’s not the effort, they simply don’t have the players. Against that physical defense of Los Angeles Utah shot 39.7 percent and had an offensive rating of 83.6 percent.

“I think they are that good a team. I don’t think we played well offensively,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “Our defense kept us in there for a while, but some of our better players struggled tonight, and when that happens it puts a lot of pressure on our other guys and puts a lot of pressure on your defense. We just weren’t very good offensively.”

Boris Diaw, in particular, struggled, not scoring in his 18 minutes and getting pushed around by Griffin much of the night. Snyder said he is battling through injuries.

The Clippers got a third-quarter scare when DeAndre Jordan reached out for a loose ball and his hand was hit by George Hill. Jordan instantly grabbed his right hand in obvious pain, the Clippers called timeout and Jordan went to the bench. It was a sprained right thumb, and while Jordan did return to the game Doc Rivers said postgame there was swelling and the team would X-ray the injury to make sure it wasn’t anything worse. (UPDATE: Those X-rays were negative.)

This was obviously going to be a strange game just by the vibe in Downtown Los Angeles Sunday — Los Angeles’ Comic Con was taking place across the street from Staples Center. Cosplay was everywhere downtown — I parked next to an SUV where the entire original cast of Donkey Kong got out.

It was the kind of sloppy start often seen on NBA Sunday day games, when rhythms and routines are thrown off by the sun still being out. The Clippers and Jazz combined to shoot 13-of-38 in the first quarter, it was like watching the Knicks’ version of J.R. Smith on Sunday days.

The Clippers were able to take a small lead in the second quarter, mostly due to getting to the free throw line more often, 10 offensive boards, and a dozen efficient points from Blake Griffin, but it was only 42-35 at the half.

Clippers start the second half on 7-0 run, and they stretch the lead out to double digits — which was more about the Jazz offense than the Clippers’ scoring. As Los Angeles upped its defensive pressure, Utah had few answers. The only thing that broke the scoreless drought was Rudy Gobert outran DeAndre Jordan down the floor and got a bucket early in the offense. The Clippers held that double-digit lead most of the third, and it was 69-56 Los Angeles after three.

From there, the Clippers got enough shots to fall — and Utah could not — to get the win.

Austin Rivers led the Clippers with 19 points off the bench. George Hill led the Jazz with 18 points and Dante Exum had 10 off the bench, while Derrick Favors, trying to return from injury, was 1-of-8 from the field.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

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Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.