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On the complications of Pistons’ new Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond pairing

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DETROIT – The Pistons acquired major star power in Blake Griffin.

Now, they’re rolling out the red carpet for him.

“We’re not going to ask him, quite honestly, to adapt to us,” Pistons president/coach Van Gundy said. “He’s going to be our best offensive player. So, I think with those guys, you build around them and what they do.”

That could be a tough adjustment for Detroit’s top incumbent player, Andre Drummond.

More than anything, Griffin’s durability will determine whether he justifies the $141,661,920 remaining over the next four years of his contract and the package the Pistons traded the Clippers (Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a lightly protected first-round pick and a second-round pick). But Griffin’s fit with Drummond looms large.

Drummond has been the Pistons’ best player since his rookie year, when Lawrence Frank stubbornly kept him coming off the bench behind Greg Monroe. Frank, now running the Clippers’ front office, has once again undercut Drummond. By trading Griffin to Detroit, Frank dropped Drummond to second in the pecking order.

Griffin brings massive marketing appeal and a track record of success Drummond hasn’t neared. In his sixth season, Drummond has made the playoffs only once and never won a postseason game. Unless something goes horribly wrong, Griffin will be the best-playing teammate Drummond has had.

“I’m looking forward to building this new empire with him,” Drummond said Tuesday after getting named an All-Star then posting 21 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks in a win over the Cavaliers – maybe his last game as Detroit’s preeminent player.

The Pistons are confident the Griffin-Drummond partnership will work because both are good passers, a skill that lends itself to unselfishness. Griffin’s 5.4 assists per game rank second among power forwards (behind Draymond Green), and Drummond’s 3.9 assists per game rank fifth among centers (behind DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford, Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol).

Griffin and Drummond are good passers, yes. But they don’t specialize in the quick keep-the-ball-moving dishes that would allow them to thrive as passers simultaneously. They each like to hold the ball and survey the defense as teammates cut around them. Griffin adds superior ball-handling ability, which twists defenses even more. That’s why he’s getting lead duty in Detroit. But both look most comfortable as offensive hubs.

Griffin ranks No. 1 and Drummond ranks No. 8 among bigs in average seconds per touch (minimum: five games), per NBA.com:

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Pistons backup center Eric Moreland also cracks the leaderboard, but that seem to be less about his unique skills and more about Detroit trying to maintain continuity in its offensive system when Drummond rests. That suggests an opening for the Pistons to stagger Drummond and Griffin, maybe even enough to remove Moreland from the rotation. Drummond could keep his current role while Griffin sits.

But that still leaves plenty of time where Griffin and Drummond share the court.

“We have played through Andre on virtually every possession all year long,” Van Gundy said. “And now we’ll play through Blake a lot. And so Andre will have to adjust a little bit. But I think the adjustment will be relatively easy and painless.”

It sounds as if Drummond will no longer have carte blanche to operate from the high post/elbows, where he could look for teammates cutting to the basket:

Flip the ball to a teammate behind him while effectively serving as screener:

Dish to an open teammate spotting up away from the attention Drummond draws:

Or just drive to the basket himself if everything else is overplayed:

Instead, the ball will go through Griffin – who can do all those things and more. Griffin can also bring the ball up court himself, run pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler, isolate and post up. But where does that leave Drummond other than mucking up spacing? A non-shooter, Drummond isn’t pulling a defender out of the paint off the ball.

That’s why leaving Drummond as the primary big-man playmaker would be the easier adjustment. Griffin has grown into a competent 3-point shooter (34.2% on 5.7 attempts per game). He can spread the floor and cut off the ball as Drummond controls it.

But the Pistons’ didn’t trade for Griffin to keep the ball out of his hands.

Van Gundy drew comfort in Griffin’s fit with DeAndre Jordan in L.A. Drummond has the ability to replicate Jordan’s lob finishing and could become an even more effective offensive rebounder thanks to the attention Griffin draws. Griffin-Drummond pick-and-rolls should be a weapon, just as Griffin-Jordan ones were. In that play and others, Griffin is adept at setting up his high-jumping, non-shooting center.

But Drummond isn’t yet accustomed to playing with Griffin. Even with Jordan, who developed his comfort with Griffin over nine years, it worked far better with Chris Paul orchestrating. Reggie Jackson is not Chris Paul.

Still, Griffin, Drummond and Jackson (once he gets healthy) will learn the intricacies of playing with two more traditional bigs. For the Pistons, two games out of playoff position, it’s probably still more about next season than this season.

There’s another potential long-term snag, though.

“I think I’ve got a little more to my game than DeAndre does offensively,” Drummond said.

In the NBA, there’s a near-constant give-and-take between bigs who want to be heavily involved offensively and their coaches who want them to focus on setting screens, rolling hard and rebounding. Van Gundy went through it with Dwight Howard in Orlando, and Drummond carries similar complications. For years, Detroit practically wasted possessions on Drummond post-ups, seemingly just to have him feel involved.

Using Drummond as a passer from the elbows was a genius adjustment this season. He was no longer sabotaging the offense with low-efficiency shots, and the ball was in his hands more than ever. Drummond clearly worked hard to become a better passer and make good on his new responsibilities.

Now, they’re being reduced for Griffin.

Jordan is exceptional in his contentment with his limited role. Is Drummond cool with the ball going through him less often?

“You’ve got to make adjustments to win basketball games,” Drummond said. “So, if that’s what I’ve got to do to win games, then it is what it is.”

Drummond is saying all the right things. He added he already spoke to Griffin, with whom he shares an agent, Jeff Schwartz.

But Griffin shakes Drummond off his perch, and that leads to major questions.

Is this town big enough for the both of them? Will Drummond subvert his ego and play Robin to Griffin’s Batman? Could Detroit, which has explored trading Drummond before, deal the center for someone who better complements its new star?

For now, the Pistons are just basking in the glow of landing Griffin. But they’re also going from one franchise player to another, keeping both on the roster. That’s never simple.

It was an ugly end of the game by Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Warriors

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With 1:10 left in the game Saturday night, the Golden State Warriors were down just one point, 109-108, to the Dallas Mavericks following a Luka Doncic floater. Warriors fans — and the Warriors themselves — had to feel confident, this is the kind of game they close out and win. The Warriors have done it for years. Sure Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were out, but is where the Warriors other big stars hit big shots.

Not on Saturday night:

Kevin Durant missed a running hook shot from 7 feet.

• Durant missed an 11-foot fadeaway jumper.

Klay Thompson missed a clean-look 16-foot baseline jumper.

• Down 3 with :04 seconds left, Durant intentionally misses a free throw, Jonas Jerebko gets the offensive rebound, then goes up with an 11-foot two-pointer that does the team no good.

It wasn’t just the final minute. In the fourth quarter, Durant was 1-of-7 shooting, missed his last four shots, and was a -7. Thompson was 3-of-8 in the fourth and also a -7.

With Curry and Green out — something to expect for a few more games — Durant and Thompson combined to shoot 41.7 percent overall (20-of-48) overall and 2-of-15 (13.3 percent) from three. The Warriors can’t win that way, and didn’t.

Don’t read “the Warriors are in trouble” into that — it’s just one game. In November. We all should expect the Warriors to be healthy when it matters most next April and reform Voltron to wipe out the rest of the NBA.

However, in the short term, the Warriors need their stars to step up. This is not as deep a team as Golden State has rolled out during this run, it relies more on its star power, and Saturday night that let them down.

Anthony Davis scores 40, leads Pelicans past Nuggets 125-115

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 10 field goals for New Orleans against Denver on Saturday night. That’s not a bad total, but it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story about how he carried the Pelicans.

Davis added 20-for-21 shooting from the free throw line and finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Pelicans defeated the Nuggets 125-115 Saturday night.

Davis’ performance on Saturday followed a 43-point effort a night earlier in a win over New York.

“It’s pretty hard to stop him, especially when he gets in a groove like that,” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who overcame foul trouble to finish with 19 points and match Davis’ assists. “We don’t think anyone can guard him in the first place.”

Julius Randle had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Nikola Mirotic had 20 points and 10 rebounds and E'Twaun Moore scored 13 for New Orleans, which won for the fifth time in six games.

Nikola Jokic had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Gary Harris scored 24, Juancho Hernangomez had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Monte Morris came off the bench to add 13 and Jamal Murray had 11 for the Nuggets, who lost for the fifth time in six games.

Davis’ assists tied a career-high and it was his seventh game with at least six assists this season. In his previous six seasons, he had just eight such games.

“I just realized that a lot of teams are scouting for me,” Davis said. “They didn’t want me to go off I guess, so I’m just trying to find guys and guys are playing with a lot of confidence and making shots. They know and I know where they are going to be and they know where I like them to be.”

The Pelicans made 31 of 34 free throws, and the Nuggets made 8 of 13.

“I felt we were doing things that should’ve generated some more free throws,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “Obviously, the referees didn’t see it that way tonight. They saw them getting fouled quite a bit.”

The Pelicans, who rallied from a 19-point deficit against the Knicks, had a much easier time against the Nuggets.

Though Denver got off to a fast start, New Orleans took the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed again.

Davis scored 12 points as the Pelicans held a 37-35 lead after the first quarter. He wound up with 12 at halftime as his team clung to a 70-67 halftime lead and even though he had just four points in the third quarter, New Orleans took a 98-88 lead into the final period.

The Nuggets got within seven points three times early in the fourth quarter, but Davis and Holiday scored four points each during an 8-0 run that gave New Orleans a 110-95 lead midway through the quarter.

The closest Denver got after that was nine points.

“It’s hard to stop him,” Jokic said of Davis. “He’s a really great player. We didn’t do a good job tonight.”

 

Luka Doncic leads Mavericks over short-handed Warriors 112-109

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic gave the Dallas Mavericks a glimpse of an exciting future – and extended a bad week for the Golden State Warriors.

The rookie scored 24 points, including a short jumper that put Dallas in front for good, and the Mavericks beat the Warriors 112-109 on Saturday night.

The 19-year-old from Slovenia arrived in the NBA having led Real Madrid to the 2018 Euro League title. On Saturday, he hit a 10-footer in the lane with 1:10 left to put Dallas up 109-108, then sealed the game with two free throws with seven seconds remaining.

“I’ve been doing this when I was in Madrid, too,” Doncic said. “I love the last-minute shot. (But) of course it’s different. It’s the NBA. It’s the best league in the world.”

Golden State played without injured starters Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and lost for the fourth time in six games. The Warriors dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, and Saturday they led by eight points in the second half before the Mavs rallied.

Kevin Durant scored 32 points, but only three in the fourth quarter on 1-for-7 shooting. Klay Thompson added 22 for the two-time defending NBA champions. Durant missed two shots and Thompson one in the final minute, all of which could have either tied the game or put Golden State ahead.

“You don’t set NBA records being frustrated,” Thompson said. “I’m not going to go over here and dwell on missing a couple of shots, missing a game-tying shot this early in the season.”

Harrison Barnes had 23 points for the Mavericks, who have won four in a row. It was just the second time Dallas has beaten Golden State in their past 19 meetings, the other coming on Dec. 30, 2015 – one of only nine games the Warriors lost that regular season.

An 8-0 Mavs run early in the fourth quarter, capped by Dwight Powell‘s three-point play, gave Dallas its first lead since early in the third quarter, 93-92, with 9:18 to play. After Golden State surged ahead again, the Mavericks hung tough and Dorian Finney-Smith‘s fast-break layup put Dallas back up 107-106 with 1:45 remaining.

“Our guys worked incredibly hard to wear on them throughout the game and we made their shots a little more difficult,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you work as hard as we did, you get luck to go your way.”

In addition to missing Curry (left groin strain) and Green (right toe sprain) in the midst of this rough stretch, the Warriors are still trying to repair the bad feelings caused by Green’s dust-up Monday night with Durant and subsequent suspension.

“Just trying to move forward,” Durant said. “Are we going to talk about this the whole year? We just want to play ball. I know that’s all I want to do.”

 

Donovan Mitchell scores 28, Jazz beat Celtics 98-86

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BOSTON (AP) — Donovan Mitchell had 28 points and six assists, bouncing back from one of his worst performances of the season and leading the Utah Jazz to a 98-86 win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.

Ricky Rubio scored 20 points for Utah, which beat Boston for the second time in eight days and swept the season series. Rudy Gobert had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Derrick Favors finished with 10 points and eight boards.

Mitchell took 35 shots and did not record an assist in Friday night’s 113-107 loss at Philadelphia. He was far more efficient against Boston, going 10 for 21 from the field and 3 for 4 at the free-throw line.

Boston scored its fewest points since a 93-90 loss at Orlando on Oct. 22.

Kyrie Irving had 20 points for the Celtics, who had won two in a row. He also had the move of the night.

Jayson Tatum finished with 10, but no other player scored in double figures for Boston.

The Celtics were just 8 for 26 from the field in the third quarter. They had to play much of the period without Irving, who fouled Mitchell on a 3-pointer with 5:40 left. Mitchell made all three from the line to put Utah up 68-55, and then Irving picked up his fifth foul just 28 seconds later.

Irving returned in the fourth, but Boston was unable to catch up. Mitchell blocked a dunk attempt by Gordon Hayward and Utah took it the other way for an alley-oop dunk by Favors from Geoges Niang to put the Jazz up 83-64 with 9:07 left to play.

Utah ended a two-game losing streak, which started with a 118-68 loss at Dallas on Wednesday.