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Clippers show resolve, while Lakers show why they will miss playoffs in loss

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LOS ANGELES — Playoff teams have players that step up in the face of adversity.

When the Lakers make a third-quarter push (what is it with the Clippers and the third quarter?) and took to take an 82-79 lead, the Clippers responded with their own 8-0 run — with every basket from rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet. The Clippers moved the ball and trusted their teammates, particularly in the fourth, and it led to open looks. All night long Patrick Beverley was a pest.

In the fourth quarter and down 12 — with their season essentially hanging in the balance — the Lakers finally started to play with real urgency. Or, desperation if you prefer. It worked for a stretch, the Lakers cut the lead to five. However, to complete a comeback a team has to get stops and the Lakers defense, which has been worst in the NBA in the 10 games prior to Monday, could not stop the Clippers. With the lead at 5 LeBron James hustled hard and overhelped, which left Danilo Gallinari open, and the Clippers best shooter drilled a three.

The Lakers never got closer than those 8 points.

The Clippers responded to adversity and that earned them an important win Monday night, 113-105, both helping secure their playoff spot and putting a dagger in the Lakers’ playoff dreams.

It was the kind of win that had Clippers owner Steve Ballmer walking down the halls of Staples Center after the game yelling, “Yes! Yes!”

With this loss, the Lakers playoff chances are all but mathematically dead. They are now 5.5 games back of the eight-seed Spurs with 18 to go. Basically, the Lakers have to go 15-3 the rest of the way to get to the 45 wins it will take to make the dance in the West. That’s not happening from a team that has gone 2-4 since LeBron said he was activating playoff mode after the All-Star break, and they are 4-9 overall since LeBron returned from his groin injury (4-8 when LeBron plays).

The Clippers will be going to the playoffs (barring an utter collapse). And it’s because when this team was hit with serious adversity this season, the players rallied.

“We took a hit. When we made that trade (sending out Tobias Harris at the deadline) it hit our locker room,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “But we got them to believe we want to win still, we’re going to win still. Then for them to start start doing it just shows you how resilient they are.”

The Lakers were done in Monday by three things that have plagued them all season and will have them vacationing by mid-April.

One is injuries. Brandon Ingram, who has averaged 27.8 points per game on 57 percent shooting since the All-Star break, was out with a sore shoulder. LeBron grabbed his groin and asked out at one point. Kyle Kuzma left the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his right ankle, and while X-rays came back negative coach Luke Walton said after the game he didn’t expect Kuzma to be ready for the Lakers next game Wednesday.

“The injuries are taking their toll on us,” LeBron said after the game, noting the Lakers were basically down to a six-man rotation by the end of this one.

Without Ingram, the Lakers didn’t have a consistent secondary scorer. Rajon Rondo started that way shooting 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and hitting some driving layups. However, the Clippers kept letting him take jumpers and Rondo shot 1-of-7 the rest of the way.

Which leads to the second issue — the Lakers do not have enough shooting. The Lakers got a lot of clean looks in this game but shot just 26.2 percent outside the paint. They were 10-of-36 from three (27.8 percent). That was a design flaw in the roster from how Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka constructed it last summer — saying they thought it was more important to put playmakers around LeBron than shooters — that has come back to bite them on too many nights.

However, it is the defense — the third issue — that has done them in. While the defense was better for stretches against the Clippers than it was in recent losses to the Suns and Pelicans, it was not good. And not near good enough consistently. The Lakers didn’t close out well on shooters and didn’t protect the rim. Gallinari led the way for the Clippers with 23 points, and Lou Williams had 21 off the bench.

The Clippers stars stepped up under adversity and executed. It’s something the Lakers need to model… next season.

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.