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Three Things to Know: Clippers falling apart, Sixers hand them sixth straight loss


Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while trying to figure out a coffee puzzle

1) What is wrong with the Clippers?Joel Embiid puts up 32 as Sixers hand them a sixth straight loss. The Clippers were a great story when the season tipped off, Chris Paul was gone, and they still won four straight and looked like a team, led by Blake Griffin, that was going to be a playoff team. The offense was great led by Griffin knocking down threes — he’s still doing that at 36 percent and taking a third of his shots out there, no longer living on long twos — and the defense was good enough.

Since then the Clippers are 1-7 and after the Sixers came into Staples and beat them Monday 109-105, Los Angeles has lost six in a row.

What happened? They stopped defending.

During the six tame losing streak, the Clippers still have a solid offense (scoring 106.1 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the NBA in that stretch) but they have the NBA’s worst defense (113.8 per 100). Teams are shooting 49.9 percent against the Clippers, and while the Clips are forcing midrange shots they are not contesting them enough. The defensive issues start with DeAndre Jordan, who has been an All-NBA level anchor on the defensive end for the past few seasons but has been a step slower this season. Monday night, Joel Embiid had far more energy and dropped 32 points and 16 rebounds on DJ (and backup Willie Reed, who got in a tussle with Embiid and motivated him). Another sign of his Jordan’s rim protection not being the same — and the Clippers rotations being lax — is Ben Simmons having seven dunks on the night.

Putting on a show… @bensimmons throws it down seven times in the @sixers W!

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We shouldn’t let the Clipper offense entirely off the hook, there has been a lot less player movement and a lot more isolation than there was, the ball is not switching sides of the court anymore, it’s just that Griffin and the Clippers are talented enough to keep scoring with the ugly ball. They just can’t get stops.

Injuries are part of this. Three starters have been out: Milos Teodosic with a plantar fascia injury since the second game of the season, Danilo Gallinari with a strained left glute, and Patrick Beverley, who has a sore right knee that was drained of fluid last week. Their team doesn’t have the depth to survive injuries for long. But that’s still not an excuse for the defensive effort.

The Clippers head back out on the road for five straight, starting Friday in Cleveland. Things could get worse before they get better.

2) LeBron James, Kyle Korver turn it on for one quarter, and that’s enough to beat Knicks. The Knicks thought they were going to have a statement win — they were up 23 points in the third, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter each had 20 points, and Madison Square Garden was rocking and climbing all over LeBron (both for his pregame comments and then having words with Kanter during the game).

Then the Cavaliers woke up and played one hard quarter — Cleveland put up 43 points on 26 shots, Kyle Korver hit five threes on his way to 19 points in the fourth, LeBron had eight assists, the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds and three blocks.

All of that got the Cavaliers back in it, then LeBron isolated against Kristaps Porzingis and put Cleveland up for good.

This was an ugly win for the Cavaliers, but it pulls them up to .500 at 7-7 so they will take it. For the Knicks, improving in the NBA as a young team comes with some hard lessons. This is one of them, but at 7-6 and with Porzingis playing well this looks like a playoff team. Just not on the level of the Cavaliers when the Cavs care.

3) Pelicans get Rajon Rondo back… and win over Hawks thanks to Darius Miller. Two of the most significant questions coming into this season in New Orleans were how well Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could pair along the front line, and how well Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo could mesh in the backcourt? The answer to the first question is very well — the Pelicans were +7.7 points per 100 possessions when both Davis and Cousins are on the court together coming into Monday night’s game against the Hawks.

We don’t know how well Rondo and Holiday will pair yet because Rondo has been out all season following a sports hernia surgery. But answers to that question is coming soon as Rondo was back on Monday night — on a minutes limit where he only played 4:55, but at least back. Rondo entered in the middle of the first quarter and made his one shot, and the Pelicans were +6 in the just over one minute he was paired with Holiday. It’s a start.

Atlanta somehow kept Anthony Davis in check despite Luke Babbitt being his opposite number most of the night, but New Orleans came back thanks to five threes from Darius Miller, who had 14 points in the fourth quarter to spark the win. It’s not a win the Pelicans should celebrate — they struggled with a bad Hawks team at home — but you take the wins where you can get them in the NBA.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3


Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: “I did a s–t job defensively against LeBron”

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.

DeMarcus Cousins on re-signing with Pelicans: ‘I’m very open to that’


New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is still nursing a torn Achilles injury, the one that kept him from being part of his team’s sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs this year. But he’s getting better, and this summer should be a big one for the 27-year-old. It’s the first time Cousins will be a true free agent, having signed an extension with the Sacramento Kings back in 2013.

There have been rumblings that the Pelicans might not want or need Cousins back. They played incredible small ball against the Blazers, although they fell apart while matched up against the Golden State Warriors in the second round. Cousins, meanwhile, is one of the best centers in the NBA and should demand a sizable salary. Signing Cousins would put the Pelicans deep into the luxury tax without other moves to cut money from the books.

Then there’s the question of whether Cousins wants to be back in New Orleans. He’s said all the right things, but Cousins recently unfollowed the Pelicans on Instagram and it caused folks around the NBA to shift their biases every so slightly on his re-signing in Louisiana.

Still, Cousins says he would gladly return to New Orleans. Speaking to The Undefeated, Cousins maintained that he was going to look out for himself but that he did not hold any grudges, and he would be happy to be a Pelican.

Via The Undefeated:

Are you open to re-signing with New Orleans if the deal is right?

Oh yeah, for sure. This is my first time in free agency, but I’ve been around this business long enough. I know how things work. I’m not out here trying to hold a grudge or anything like that. I’m going to make the best decision for me, and I believe teams are going to do the same thing.

What’s your mindset, your view of how to approach free agency? Do you feel like you owe it to yourself to do your due diligence and hear what everybody has to say?

Yeah, like I said I don’t plan on rushing through this process. I’m going to make the absolute best decision for DeMarcus Cousins. We’ll see what that is. As of right now, I don’t really know. I can’t answer that. Would I like to go back to New Orleans? I’m very open to that. I love what we created. I love what was created after I went down. I would love to be part of it. But I’m going to do what’s best for me, and I feel they’ll do the same.

These are basically the things you expect to hear from a pending free agent, but the NBA is a business and obviously Cousins made reference to that several times.

The “grudge” part is the most interesting part to me. Why would Cousins hold a grudge against the Pelicans? Or is this a reference to the fact the Kings have significant cap space this summer?

I’m mostly kidding about that, but the NBA is crazy. Where Cousins ends up is anyone’s guess, and it’s hard to get true free agents to sign there, even with Anthony Davis on board. The Pelicans are in a position like many other teams in the NBA, where the harsh reality is you need to pursue the best talent you have available to you.

This summer is going to be wild, man.

Could Kansas City be potential expansion city for NBA?


Most talk around expansion or team movement revolves around one city: Seattle. Obviously, the league hurts from not having the Sonics among its ranks, and the move of the team during the last decade was one of the messier business storylines of that era.

As a resident of Seattle, it always strikes me how odd it is a metro area of this size — one that’s still focused on basketball — doesn’t have an NBA team. It just feels weird, even considering the context of Howard Schultz, Clay Bennett, and Key Arena. “Soon but not that soon” is the general feeling about getting an NBA team here in Washington.

Then again, some other cities may be in the mix, too.

According to a rumor from SEC Network’s Jarrett Sutton, at least one NBA executive thinks that Kansas City is another potential spot for expansion.

Via Twitter:

Kansas City does have the advantage of already being a sports town, a top 33 TV market, and it has an NBA-sized arena in the Sprint Center. KC is also the host city for the Big 12 tournament.

Still, the city hasn’t had an NBA team since the Kings left in 1985, and Adam Silver has said that expansion isn’t really on the docket for the league in the near future.

The question is also whether the NBA needs more teams or fewer. Some folks have started to take the stance that they would actually prefer contraction away from markets that never seem to compete. I’m not sure if that’s realistic, but re-arrangement by teams moving also seems less likely in this day and age, too, especially after the last-ditch effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento in 2013.

When will Seattle get an NBA team? Will Kansas City get a team? Will it be in tandem? This is fun speculation at this point, but we won’t get our answer for some time.