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With Rudy Gobert out, Clippers throw party in paint, win Game 2 99-91 to even series

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This was what the Clippers had expected this series.

With Rudy Gobert sidelined with a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise, Los Angeles threw a party in the lane — 60 points in the paint, eight offensive rebounds, and just two shots were blocked. They played downhill, to use Doc Rivers’ postgame phrasing. DeAndre Jordan thrived most of all, the Clippers’ center had 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter, he was getting dunks at the rim and dominating the glass. Clipper guards were driving the lane with impunity — heck, even Paul Pierce had a driving layup at one point.

“We just wanted to be aggressive,” Chris Paul said after the game. “DJ (Jordan) was great, Blake (Griffin) was great, but our guards were just getting in the paint.”

The Jazz scrapped and stayed within striking distance, but the Clippers held on for a 99-91 win. That evens the series at 1-1 heading back to Utah for Game 3 Friday night.

This game was what the Clippers wanted in that their three stars had big outings. Jordan was a force early and finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, Blake Griffin led the way with 24 points including the dagger three, and Chris Paul had 21 points and 10 assists, and he owned the game in the fourth quarter.

But the key was Los Angeles attacking the vacuum left by Gobert’s absence — Los Angeles shot 27-of-33 in the restricted area Tuesday. Defensively, other Jazz players did not step up and help enough.

Utah also could not generate consistent offense. They struggled mightily early, shooting just 29.4 percent in the first quarter, and while that improved the Jazz were rarely efficient for longer than a short stretch. Gordon Hayward led Utah with 20 points on 5-of-15 shooting, while Joe Johnson became the guy the team leaned on to create shots and he finished with 13 points on 15 shots.

Derrick Favors, who was so crucial for the Jazz in Game 1, had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting but didn’t have the same impact.

The Clippers came out of this game both even in the series and with something to build upon. They were the aggressors and will look to carry that over, plus they didn’t have a great shooting game from the outside (6-of-20 from three), and that should change with time. Los Angeles would like to get J.J. Redick going next game, he hasn’t had a lot of space to work in the first two (it’s not like the Jazz are worried about Luc Mbah a Moute, so they have stuck tight with Redick and helped).

For the Jazz, they fought and kept the game close, and going home they have to think some role players will step up (such as Rodney Hood or Joe Ingles, both of whom were okay but not great in Game 2).

Utah got the split on the road to start the series. Now they need to protect their home court.

Gobert would help with that, but it’s not known when he will return. Coach Quin Snyder said recently Gobert would be out “a week or two,” which would seem to make at least Friday unlikely. But nobody really knows.

Report: NBA opened investigation into free agency tampering

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Summer in the NBA is always the most interesting time in the league. Free agency lets us see where players have not only decided to land, but which have schemed together in order to play with each other.

The term “preagency” has been coined to mark the period in which teams and players work out deals before free agency officially opens, and well before the moratorium ends.

It’s been thought that these rules have been circumvented as part of a gentlemen’s agreement between all teams with equal ability to navigate around the written rules. But according to a new report, several team owners are upset about the way things are going in the player empowerment era.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting this week, saying that the league has even opened an investigation into what went on this summer in terms of potential tampering.

Via ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, even if something does come of this, the fine has to be puny. Adam Silver has not strayed on the disciplinarian side the way David Stern did — much to his credit — and any reprimand is unlikely to satisfy upset parties.

Second, there will definitely be sweeping changes in the next CBA. So much has changed since the last lockout, and the money has gotten so big it’s inevitable that people want to make things better for their side. The players got themselves in a hole since 2011. They mishandled the cap jump in 2016, and the max contract rules didn’t create a rising tide that floated all boats. Star players benefited, but low-level guys are even more disproportionately compensated.

This stuff seems like the most boring part of the league, but in reality it’s what makes everything tick.

I won’t be surprised if the NBA levies tampering charges against one or even several teams. I’d be surprised if the league did much about it, though.

Wizards owner says John Wall ‘probably won’t play’ in 2019-20

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It was always likely that Washington Wizards star John Wall would be out for much of next year’s regular NBA season. The team has even filed for a disabled player exception for the 2019-20 season.

Now we have confirmation that the team is expecting Wall to miss significant time.

According to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said that they are going to take things slow with Wall, and that he will miss serious time.

Via Twitter:

Washington is still trying to figure out what to do with Bradley Beal, and with Wall’s contract on the books, they don’t really have much of anywhere to go. The Wizards used their No. 9 overall pick on Rui Hachimura, which raised a few eyebrows.

But the team at least does have a GM in Tommy Sheppard, and they’ve made several hirings in the front office to try and out-think their competition. Washington has made a few moves, including trading for Davis Bertans and signing Isaiah Thomas.

Expect to see the Wizards at the bottom of the East next year. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.