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Three Things to Know: If the Clippers were trying to impress Kawhi Leonard it went poorly

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LOS ANGELES — 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. Today we come straight from Staples Center.

1) If the Clippers were trying to impress Kawhi Leonard Tuesday, it went poorly. When the discussion turns to speculation about where Kawhi Leonard could be playing next season, the Los Angeles Clippers are high on the list. He grew up in Southern California and wants to return there, sources say he doesn’t want to play with LeBron on the Lakers, and the Clippers have been surprisingly impressive this season but are a team without a true superstar that is looking to add one (or two, the Clippers reportedly want to add both Leonard and Kevin Durant).

Not that the notoriously media-shy Leonard cares about the speculation.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before his Raptors took on the Clippers Tuesday night without him (due to a tweaked hip). “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

If the Clippers — or any team — is going to impress and entice Leonard, it’s not going to be with a well-crafted marketing plan to grow his brand (the people advising Leonard on the other hand…). Leonard presents the image of being focused only on what happens on the court.

That’s where the Clippers fell short Tuesday.

Actually, “fell short” is putting it kindly. The Clippers got thumped by 24 on their home court, their worst loss of the season. Playing without its superstar, Toronto looked like a team much closer to the NBA’s elite in terms of talent and execution than Los Angeles. The Raptors won 123-99 in a game that was not in doubt from early in the third quarter on.

“I think we just played bad,” Clippers’ guard Tyrone Wallace said, summing it up well. “We just had a rough night, we didn’t play well defensively.”

That was the starkest contrast: While the Clippers looked like a dazed team on the second night of a back-to-back (and without Lou Williams, who will miss a couple of weeks with a tweaked hamstring), the Raptors’ defenders were on a string — they switched, they rotated, they even threw in a zone for a few plays and the Clippers could not adapt fast enough.

Toronto turned the stops into shots in transition and the Clippers were not getting back or handling their scrambling defense well. Serge Ibaka feasted on the Clippers with 25 points.

However, the best news for the Raptors was the “return” of the real Kyle Lowry, who had 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting to break out of his slump (he had shot 8-of-42 over his previous five games).

Whatever Leonard decides to do this summer — stay in Toronto, come to Los Angeles, or choose from the 28 other teams that will be knocking on his door — the decision will not be based on the outcome of one December game. However, if the Clippers were trying to show off an impressive young core Leonard could join and elevate, this was not the effort that they needed.

Toronto, on the other hand, looked exactly like a team with an impressive young core. One Leonard is already elevating to the top of the East.

2) The good Rockets show up — especially the bench players — and Houston knocks off Portland. About once every week or so I watch a Rockets game and think, “they can get it together and turn this around.” Not turn around to the level they expected entering the season — they are not going to be a threat to the Warriors with this current roster — but there are nights they look like a playoff team and better than their sub-.500 record.

Tuesday was one of those nights, mostly thanks to hot play off the bench. Houston’s second unit outscored Portland’s 37-13, and they were the group that blew the game open at the end of the third and into the fourth. Danuel House and Gerald Green combined for 25 points, shooing 4-of-7 from three and 64.3 percent overall, and they had nine rebounds. Houston was +22 when they were on the court together.

James Harden had 29 points (which Chris Paul continued to struggle, with 11 points on 12 shots).

While the Rockets looked better, Portland struggled. There was too much isolation, not enough ball movement, and Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum took 53 percent of the team’s shots. The Trail Blazers were predictable, and that made the struggling Rockets defense look good.

I’ve seen too many good games followed by bad ones from Houston to suggest the Rockets have turned the corner, so let’s just say the good Rockets showed up for one night. We’ll see who shows up Thursday night against the Lakers.

3) Gregg Popovich passes Pat Riley, moves into fourth on the all-time coaching wins list. When it is all said and done, Gregg Popovich will go down as one of the best coaches in NBA history. The sustained excellence, the five rings, turning small-market San Antonio into an NBA franchise to be feared on the court and modeled off it, all will be part of his legacy.

So will all the wins he’s racked up — 1,211 of them after the Spurs win over the struggling Suns Tuesday night. That moved Popovich past Pat Riley into fourth on the all-time coaching wins list.

Popovich is just 10 wins shy of tying Jerry Sloan for third, something that will happen in the coming months. I don’t know if he’s going to coach long enough to catch Don Nelson or Lenny Wilkins at the top of that leaderboard (it would take more than 100 additional wins), but Popovich’s win total just adds to his legacy and place in history.

Draymond Green on Kevin Durant: “If he go, he go. If he stay, he stay,” focus is on title

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The conventional wisdom among front offices (and league observers) is that this summer Kevin Durant will leave the Warriors. He will go to a team — maybe the Knicks, maybe the Clippers, maybe someone else — where he is the dominant force to help grow his legacy. The Warriors of the last three years, the Everest nobody else in the NBA has been able to climb, will be no more.

Just don’t think that is bothering the Warriors.

Not according to Draymond Green, who told Sam Amick of The Athletic that the incident he had with KD early in the season is long forgotten and the team just wants another ring and parade.

“It’s not important,” he said of the Durant dynamic. “We’re not about to sit around and walk around, or carry something around, that happened in November.”

Free agency questions be damned.

“He’s part of it right now,” Green said about Durant. “Whatever happens this summer happens. Whatever the hell he do, he does. If he go, he go. If he stay, he stay. But while he’s here, we’re going to win another championship. It’s just that simple. Nothing else matters.”

The Warriors have shown that attitude recently when they rolled Denver and Oklahoma City, and beat surging Houston without Kevin Durant. Golden State can still flip the switch. They can also still sleepwalk through games (which is why the Nuggets have caught them in the standings).

Internally, the buzz has been the Warriors expect they may well lose Durant. They will have a strong pitch of (likely) having won three straight titles, they can offer more money and guaranteed years than any other team, and they will be opening a new arena in San Francisco proper (close to Durant’s home in the area). That may not be enough, but it has to be a tempting offer.

The idea this could be the last run of this version of the Warriors is fueling the team. It will make them that much harder to knock off.

If KD leaves, then the Warriors will have to return to a lineup like the one that won a title before Durant arrived. Life is so hard for them. (Read that last sentence in a sarcastic voice.)

Kobe on Kuzma, Ingram, Ball: “Are the three of them better than Anthony Davis? No!”

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There are Lakers fans that balked at the idea the franchise would trade their best three young players — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball — for Anthony Davis. Those fans thought that (plus first round picks and salary filler) was too steep a price.

Kobe Bryant disagrees.

Kobe is on a global tour (he was just in China to help with the draw for the FIBA World Cup) and there spoke with the Spanish language sports powerhouse AS.com, and when asked about the possible trade for Davis and the impact on the team, Kobe said this (hat tip Reddit user hoodiefern for posting and translating):

“Kuzma, Lonzo, Ingram… are the three of them better than Anthony Davis? No! Ciao! Bye! Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the world. Not currently, in history. What are we talking about? If you can trade for Anthony Davis, you do it. If not, alright. We have three players who are very young and work hard. They’re smart and they have to develop. But if you can trade for Anthony Davis… yes!”

He’s right.

In the NBA, talent wins and Davis is as talented a player as the league has when unleashed (he has been reined in with the Pelicans since the trade deadline). Put Davis next to LeBron James and the Lakers can quickly become a genuine threat in the West. Whether New Orleans is willing to play along is another question, which is why the Lakers also are focused on free agency.

Elite talent alone is not enough — a lesson the Lakers brass did not take to heart this season. Stars such as LeBron and Davis (or Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, etc.) can thrive in any system because of their talent, but around them needs to be a system and role players picked to fit said system. Want to run a lot of pick-and-roll and/or isolations? Better get shooters who can knock down kick-out passes. Want to play uptempo? Better get athletes who thrive in that system, and shooters. Back in Kobe’s era, the Lakers were a triangle team but the non-stars fit the system and were good shooters of the era (think Derek Fisher, a guard who fit the triangle well but did not thrive in other systems).

Kobe gets that, but he knows the hardest part of the equation to get is the elite talent because there simply isn’t much of it.

The Lakers should be willing to trade their young players for a talent upgrade, but beyond that they still need an identity and players who fit whatever that identity/system is. Oh, and they need shooters.

 

 

Grizzlies: C.J. Miles likely out rest of season

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis Grizzlies guard/forward C.J. Miles is expected to miss the remainder of the season after injuring his left foot over the weekend.

Miles left a 135-128 loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday due to left foot soreness. The Grizzlies announced Tuesday that an MRI revealed a stress reaction.

The 6-foot-6 Miles appeared in 53 games this season for the Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. The Grizzlies acquired him from Toronto in the Marc Gasol trade Feb. 7.

Miles came off the bench in 13 games with the Grizzlies and averaged 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 22.6 minutes.

Report: Timberwolves fan called Blake Griffin ‘boy’

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With his recent outburst at hecklers in Utah, Russell Westbrook ignited a long-overdue discussion of how fans interact with players during games. The Jazz even recently banned a fan who repeatedly called Westbrook “boy” last year.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an isolated case of that racist language being used toward a player.

Pistons Blake Griffin confronted a fan in Minnesota in December.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

The fan was seemingly ejected. The Timberwolves didn’t respond to questions whether he faced additional punishment.

I’m all for good-natured heckling. Racist taunts are completely unacceptable – and maybe still more common than we realized. Because Griffin didn’t get as enraged as Westbrook on video, this got swept under the rug.

It shouldn’t be Griffin’s responsibility to fix this. Teams must do a better job holding accountable fans who cross the line.