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Three things to watch: Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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As we dive into the playoffs, we at PBT are going to break down each first-round playoff series and give you three things to watch in each. The Clippers have owned the Jazz the past few years (won 18 of the last 20), but with the Jazz healthy will this series be different? Let’s break it down.

Which team controls the tempo? The Utah Jazz are deliberate, playing at the slowest pace in the NBA last season (93.62 possessions per game, according to NBA.com). It’s a good strategy — if you have a great defense led by Rudy Gobert, limit the other team’s chances with the ball and keep the scoring low. The Clippers are a middle-of-the-pack pace team, and we’re used to seeing Chris Paul casually walk the ball up the court — or, often, “walk the dog” letting the ball roll for as long as he can before picking it up — and not rushing into sets.

Except when the Clippers play the Jazz, then CP3 pushes the tempo. You will see Paul run off missed shots and try to get shots early in the clock — this is an elite Utah defense when it gets set, so why let it get comfortable before attacking? The Clippers starters can put up points — the starting lineup of Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan — was the third most used lineup in the league and outscored opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions. However, against the Jazz this season the Clippers got fewer assists than normal thanks to that Utah defense. Get offense early in the clock and the Clipper ball movement should open more things up. If the Clippers pull away in games, look at the tempo while that happens.

Can Derrick Favors — or another Jazz power forward — have a monster series? For Utah to have a real chance in this series, Derrick Favors needs to show he is healthy and have a big impact. That matters when he is on the court next to Gobert, but also when he plays as a backup center and maybe can space the floor and pull Jordan away from the basket.

When Favors was out injured Boris Diaw started at the four for Utah, and he has played well offensively, but he is a big problem defensively where a healthy, active Favors can help limit Griffin. The Clippers will likely run a lot of Chris Paul/Griffin pick-and-roll, with Jordan lurking off ball and cutting to the rim from the baseline if Gobert has to help (although Gobert can recover on that thanks to his length) — if Favors isn’t healthy and Diaw has to be out there, the Clippers will have a lot more success with that play.

Due to injury we just haven’t seen a lot of Utah’s preferred starting five, but when Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Gobert have played in a game together the Jazz are 20-5. However, add Favors to that mix and they have only played 159 minutes together all season. Compare that to the Clippers starting five which is over 800 minutes.

There is a Clippers’ corollary to Favors here — Marreese Speights. If Gobert is having a strong game (or series) expect to see more of the veteran Clipper big man because he can shoot the three and pull Gobert away from the basket. The risk there for Doc Rivers is that Speights is a weak defender and the Jazz will exploit him in the pick-and-roll at the other end.

Ultimately, where will Utah’s points come from? Utah plays a lot in the half court, and they have strong ball movement there, but the Clippers have the defenders to challenge what the Jazz do well.

Mbah a Moute has done a good job this season holding Hayward in check and not letting him dominate in the half court. CP3 is a good defender who can limit the damage Hill can do. Los Angeles is strong against the pick-and-roll with Paul and Jordan. Points are not going to come easily for Utah in this series and some guys are going to have to step. Hayward is one of them. Joe Johnson coming off the bench needs to have a big series.

Utah is going to need to knock down its threes. The Jazz were top 10 in three-point percentage in the league but middle of the pack in attempts — they are going to need those extra points. Utah needs at least 10 and even more made threes per game this series (they averaged 9.6 per game in the regular season)

Prediction: Clippers in six. I’m tempted to say in five here. Yes, the Jazz are an up and coming team, the problem is this is not a good matchup for them — there’s a reason the Clippers have won 18 of the last 20 head-to-head meetings.

Austin Rivers opting in for $12.65 million with Clippers

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Austin Rivers‘ three-year, $35,475,000 contract caused resentment within the Clippers when his father – Clippers coach and then-president Doc Rivers – gave it to the guard in 2016.

But don’t think for a moment that will bother Austin into bypassing $12.65 million next season.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

That high salary will put a target even more squarely on Rivers’ back, but he’s used to it.

He’ll be overpaid, but he can still help the Clippers. Maybe that’s as an expiring contract used to facilitate a larger trade. Maybe that’s on the court. L.A. will reportedly drop guard Milos Teodosic. The Clippers, with the Nos. 12 and 13 picks in tonight’s draft, could select another guard, but few rookie point guards are reliable.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.

League buzz: Kings will take Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, Luka Doncic gone at three

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It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.

The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.

After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.

At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.

If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.

How is it going to shake out?

That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:

1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges

The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.