Associated Press

Wither Lob City? Clippers facing possible big changes

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Together for six years now, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs. Heck, the Los Angeles Clippers haven’t even gotten out of the first round two years running.

And that’s not the worst of it.

The Clippers are the first team in NBA history to blow a series lead in five consecutive playoff appearances.

“Once again, we’re done,” a dejected Paul said. “Too many times.”

Their latest failure came Sunday, a 104-91 loss in Game 7 at home against the Utah Jazz. After six closely contested games decided by an average of 5.1 points, the Clippers turned in a flat effort with their season – and perhaps future – at stake.

They fought all season to earn home-court advantage only to lose three of four to the Jazz at Staples Center. Their 2-1 series lead vanished along with Griffin, who went down with a season-ending toe injury in Game 3.

He wasn’t around to watch the team’s demise, having traveled to consult with a doctor about possible surgery.

Whether Griffin’s around next season is one of the big questions facing the franchise.

Griffin and Chris Paul can opt out of their contracts this summer. J.J. Redick – who made one basket in Game 7 – becomes a free agent.

Ultimately, they hold the future of the franchise in their hands.

For his part, third-year owner Steve Ballmer would have to shell out upward of $200 million, including the luxury tax, to keep the trio together.

“We’ve been reading about our obituary for about three months now,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure everyone will have their own suggestions.”

The Clippers began the season as the league’s best team at 14-2. They ended the regular season as the hottest team with a seven-game winning streak. Then they blew a 2-1 lead against the Jazz, leaving their fans wondering if the Lob City era is over.

Here are some things to know about the Clippers heading into the offseason:

GRIFFIN & PAUL

They can choose to exercise the early termination options on their contracts and become free agents. By doing so, they could still sign richer long-term deals to stay in L.A. Griffin has missed portions of the last two postseasons with injuries, and although he’s only 28, Ballmer will surely ponder whether he wants to continue focusing his franchise around such an injury-prone player. Paul carried the Clippers through the first six games against the Jazz before they shut him down with 13 points in Game 7. He turns 32 on Saturday and while he is still an All-Star, Ballmer must consider whether to commit bigger bucks over several years to Paul. Or Griffin and Paul could decide it’s time to go elsewhere to pursue an elusive title.

INJURIES

During the regular season, Griffin missed 19 games with a sore right knee that required a procedure, while Paul sat out 21 games with a hamstring issue and a ligament tear in his left thumb. A year ago, Paul broke his hand and Griffin re-aggravated a quad injury in a first-round playoff loss against Portland. Griffin had missed 41 games because of the quad during the regular season, in addition to losing time after breaking his hand punching the team’s assistant equipment manager. Because of the injuries, Ballmer may decide it’s worth keeping them around to take another crack at winning the franchise’s first NBA championship.

DOC RIVERS

He just completed his fourth season in L.A. working the dual roles of president of basketball operations and coach. Under him, the team has a .662 winning percentage in the regular season. But the Clippers have consistently failed to contend for a title, going 18-21 with a .462 winning percentage in the playoffs. None of the team’s draft picks under Rivers has developed into solid support for the Big Three of Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan. The team had a short bench against the Jazz, including 39-year-old Paul Pierce, who played 21 minutes in Game 7 and scored six points in his career finale. Four players – Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Brice Johnson and Wesley Johnson – saw little or no minutes in the series. Given his role as part of the brain trust, Rivers shares responsibility for the continued playoff failures.

REDICK

He didn’t boost his stock with a three-point effort on 1 of 5 shooting in Game 7 after slumping the entire series. Redick averaged 15.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists during the regular season, when he made a career and franchise-high 201 3-pointers. He’s one of five players to make 200 or more 3-pointers in three or more consecutive seasons. At 32, he may be ready for a change of scenery.

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors took Game 4 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, 120-102.

Things started off okay for Milwaukee but started to peter off as the hometown Toronto crowd got behind their Raptors. The bench continued to show up for Leonard’s squad, and it was Kyle Lowry dueling it out with Antetokounmpo in the first quarter.

Leonard scored 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals, and perhaps his most impressive play of the night came early in the third quarter. Running a little two-man game with Marc Gasol, Leonard cut to the basket and wound up dunking all over the Milwaukee star.

Via Twitter:

Leonard appeared to hobble a little bit after his dunk, but he should be ready to go for Game 5 on a Thursday night. Meanwhile, the series heads back to Wisconsin all tied up at 2-2.

The victor of this series will get to take on the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Andre Iguodala says Stephen Curry is the second-best PG ever

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The Golden State Warriors are moving on to the NBA Finals yet again, thanks in large part to the efforts of Stephen Curry. Golden State’s point guard is now heading to his fifth-straight finals, and without Kevin Durant he was a big reason why the Warriors were able to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in just four games.

Of course there is a real worry that Durant won’t be able to play in the NBA Finals, either partially or fully, thanks to a calf injury. If that’s the case, and the Warriors can take home another championship trophy, it could mean great things for Curry’s legacy.

Curry is currently chasing Magic Johnson as the best point guard ever in the eyes of many folks. What might help solidify Curry’s place in history would be an NBA Finals MVP, which he would likely wind up with if Durant is unable to impact the Finals the way he has.

At least for Andre Iguodala, Curry is already the second best point guard of all-time.

Via The Athletic:

“I think he’s the second best ever,” Iguodala said. “I always thought that about him. I knew but other people didn’t know. So I wasn’t surprised when he took over that series. But I always gave Tony Allen credit. Playing against him made you understand the grind of how hard it is to win. It’s supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to have to find another way. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. He just embraced that. Just ingrained that into his system and it’s been there ever since.”

The real question is what Curry’s legacy will be after these Finals, particularly if they win without Durant. Some people aren’t keen to compare eras, and might never move off of Johnson for that spot. It seems reasonable to say that Curry is already the best shooter of all-time, but June could elevate him even further.

Raptors’ halfcourt defense, big games from Gasol, Lowry evens series with Bucks

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Slow your roll on “these Bucks can challenge Warriors” takes…

They are going to have to get out of the East, first. And that is proving to be more difficult than it looked after two games.

Back home in Toronto, the Raptors slowed the game’s pace down and used an impressive halfcourt defense — the Bucks scored less than a point per possession — to control this game. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Khris Middleton had 30 points, but outside those two the Bucks shot 35.4 percent and had just 13 fast break points. It all kept the Bucks offense relatively in check.

Relatively is good enough when everyone is hitting their shots.

Kawhi Leonard had a quiet 19 points, although he did have the dunk of the playoffs all over Antetokounmpo.

Leonard didn’t have to carry the team because everyone in white seemed to be knocking down their shots. Kyle Lowry had 25 points on 11 shots, Marc Gasol had 17 (and his aggressive offense the last two games has stressed the Bucks defense), Nick Powell had 18, Serge Ibaka 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Fred VanVleet had 13 points on six shots. The Raptors bench scored 48 points.

All that led to a 120-102 Raptors win that wasn’t even that close.

The series is now tied 2-2 and heads back to Milwaukee where the best-of-three left starts.

The Raptors continue to defend well in the halfcourt, with the Bucks coring less than a point per possession (0.93) this game. In three of the four games, the Bucks have scored less than a point per possession in the halfcourt, but that only really matters if they can keep Milwaukee out of transition. The Raptors did that at home.

Milwaukee and Mike Budenholzer have leaned on Nikola Mirotic more in recent games, and the Raptors are now attacking him when they have the ball.

Combine that with an aggressive Gasol — he has started taking the shots from three that he hesitated on in the first two games — and his 3-of-6 from deep has become a big problem for Toronto.

Toronto had this in hand much of the second half, so much so that Drake was helping Nick Nurse relax on the sidelines.

The Bucks will also need their other players — Eric Bledsoe, who had 5 points on 7 shots, and Brook Lopez, who had 8 points — to step up in the final games.

The Raptors have found a formula that works, it’s on the Bucks now to adjust.

Kyle Korver says the copier Nets bought with cash from his trade is broken

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Kyle Korver was taken by the New Jersey Nets with the 51st pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He was traded on draft day by the Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers for cash considerations. The Nets famously — or infamously — used the cash from that trade to purchase an office copier.

More than a decade and a half later, Korver is still playing in the NBA at age 38. And now, thanks to Korver giving the commencement speech at his alma mater Creighton, we have an update on the status of that copier.

Via Twitter:

Kyle Korver does not have a depreciation expense method. He is timeless.