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Three Things to Know: Clippers depth, versatility too much for Lakers on opening night

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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.

1) Deep bench gives Doc Rivers options Frank Vogel just doesn’t have, and it shows in Clippers’ win. Less than four minutes into the season opener Tuesday night, the Clippers had already been down 11 points, and were having trouble generating good looks and knocking them down. The Lakers fans who made up half the crowd at the Clippers’ home opener were full-throated.

Coach Doc Rivers turned to players he trusts, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and his pick-and-roll partner Montrezl Harrell.

“Let’s get settled down and play some ball,” Williams said of his goal entering the game. “They made some shots and everything was overhyped because of the atmosphere and everything, but it was just an eight-point lead. So we just wanted to get a different lineup in, settle everyone down.”

Harrell got a couple of buckets rolling to the rim, the Clippers got a couple of stops, and the complexion of the game started to change. Eventually, the Clippers would go on to beat the Lakers 112-102 in the season opener, a game where the Clippers were in control most of the way from the second quarter on.

In control because the Clippers had depth and versatility Rivers could trust — the Clippers won the bench scoring battle 60-19. Rivers had multiple ball handlers and shot creators he could turn to. He had Williams and Harrell to settle things down and get some buckets in the first and fourth quarters (the latter after the Lakers made a 15-0 run to tie the game). He had JaMychal Green to come in off the bench and hit four threes. He had Moe Harkless who could come in and play good defense plus score 10 points. He had Patrick Beverley‘s toughness to lean on.

He had the versatility of Kawhi Leonard’s game. Leonard would hit seven shots in a row in the second quarter, and by the end had 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

Leonard, Williams, and Harrell were running actions where Williams would do a dribble hand-off to Leonard, who would then come around a screen by Harrell, and all of them could find a little space. It worked, and it could be so much better yet.

“I was frustrated tonight offensively,” Doc Rivers said after the game. “Because I saw so many things we didn’t see, yet. They shouldn’t have seen them but… you saw so many things with Lou and Kawhi and Trezl that they just didn’t see yet. So it will be great to grow together.”

All that, and the Clippers still don’t have Paul George back until next month.

The Lakers don’t have those options. 

Los Angeles tried to post up LeBron James and Anthony Davis a lot to take advantage of their size, plus run some of LeBron/Davis pick-and-roll (but not enough). As the game wore on, the Clippers started to defend those actions better — switching but having the big man (usually Harrell) stay back and dare LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender. He did neither well, and he seemed to want to force-feed Davis, which led to five LeBron turnovers. Plus, if Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee were on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing to attack inside. The Clippers clogged the paint, and LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night. Outside of Danny Green, no Laker could make the Clippers pay for how they chose to defend.

Laker coach Frank Vogel didn’t have another playmaking option that worked. (Rajon Rondo didn’t play in the opener, but teams are going to dare him to shoot jumpers, too.) LeBron is the guy with the ball in his hands for the Lakers, the primary and by far best shot creator on this team, and there aren’t other reliable options. Against most teams that may work, but against an aggressive and strong Clippers defense the Laker offense stalled out.

It’s just one game of 82, the start of a marathon of a season. The Lakers and Clippers are going to be different teams come the start of the playoffs next April. This game will be long forgotten. But it showed how the depth and versatility of the Clippers are going to make them hard to beat this season. And how the star-heavy Lakers are not built the same way.

2) Raptors’ championship rings are ginormous, but Pascal Siakam wears it well in Toronto win. Championship rings are supposed to be oversized and gaudy — the team just won a title, celebrate that and show it off. However, the Raptors took that to an almost comical degree with their design. The ring ceremony and banner raising in Toronto Tuesday struck the right notes and was emotional. But I couldn’t stop staring at the rings. They looked like brass knuckles as much as rings.

Oh, by the way, they played a game north of the border, too, and the theme of depth and versatility played out there as well.

Pascal Siakam just inked a four-year, $130 million max contract extension that had plenty of fans asking if he was worth that much. He looked every bit of it on opening night, both scoring 34 points and finding ways to impact the game when he didn’t have the ball. Exactly like one should expect a max player to do.

However, it was that Raptors’ depth that got them a win on the night. Siakam fouled out late in the fourth quarter, then it was Fred Van Vleet — who also had 34 points — that guided the Raptors to a critical win. He looked like the Van Vleet from the NBA finals, seemingly hitting every shot and making every right decision.

Toronto also got 22 from Kyle Lowry and 13 from Serge Ibaka.

With Zion Williamson out (at least 20 games, but more likely close to 30, think Christmas return), the Pelicans became a little less watchable. Just know this: they are still good. The Pelicans moved the ball well, got 22 points out of Brandon Ingram, 16 out of J.J. Redick, and some surprisingly good big man play from rookie Nicolo Melli. The Pelicans also tied a franchise record with 19 made threes. All that on a team where coach Alvin Gentry is clearly still trying to figure out his rotations.

3) The NBA’s China problem isn’t going away. As you walked up to Staples Center for the season opener between the Lakers and Clippers, two things jumped out at you. First, security was at a level usually reserved for the All-Star Game or NBA Finals (TNT’s outdoor stage by the arena tied into that).

Second, people approached you giving away “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts for free. When asked about it, I was told the goal was to hand out 13,000 of these for free. (Photo via Dave McMenamin on Twitter.)

I certainly saw some shirts worn inside Staples Center (as well as some of the Clippers giveaway shirts), but mostly this is Los Angeles so nobody wants to cover up the $400 T-shirt they conspicuously wore to the game. Still, people were taking them.

There was a group giving away shirts outside the arena in Toronto Tuesday night, too, although on the broadcast it appeared most fans seemed to go with the giveaway shirt on a banner raising night.

Nobody in China saw any of this because Chinese state media chose not to broadcast the opening night games. Plenty of people in America heard another discussion of it because Shaq, Charles Barkley and the Inside the NBA crew on TNT discussed it pregame.

With actual NBA games starting, league officials are hoping the situation with China will calm down. It likely will, for now. But it’s going to be simmering along on the back burner and at some point something will crank up the heat and it will boil over once again.

Report: Nets signing Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford vs. Nets
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Most points scored in a player’s last game (among non-active NBA players):

  • Kobe Bryant: 60 (LAL-UTA April 13, 2016)
  • Jamal Crawford: 51 (PHO-DAL April 9, 2019)
  • Alec Peters: 36 (PHO-DAL April 10, 2018)

It’s time to remove Crawford from the list.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

A defensive liability who needs the ball in his hands, 40-year-old Crawford can still make difficult shots remarkably well. But most teams can build a lineup and system that consistently create more efficient shots than the tough looks Crawford specializes in.

The Nets aren’t most teams.

Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie are both out. Caris LeVert, Garrett Temple Chris Chiozza and Tyler Johnson are an underwhelming backcourt rotation.

Crawford can add scoring punch. With the point guard-deficient Suns last season, he also showed passing ability, though a good team won’t ask too much of him.

Reminder: The Nets will keep their first-round pick only if they miss the playoffs. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving healthy, Brooklyn would probably convey a later pick to the Timberwolves next season.

If nothing else, this is a tremendous personal achievement for Crawford, who badly wanted to keep playing. He has kept in tremendous shape for his age and built a strong reputation in the locker room, earning himself more opportunities.  If everything goes according to plan, Crawford will join Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to play 20 NBA seasons.

Stephen Jackson peddles another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, says he’s misunderstood

Stephen Jackson
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Former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has drawn criticism – including from the Eagles – for posting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory (incorrectly) attributed to Adolph Hitler.

DeSean Jackson apologized twice and pledged to educate himself.

Stephen Jackson insists he’s being unfairly maligned.

Stephen Jackson:

Today’s word is assume. Assume.

To all my Jewish people, I love y’all. Y’all took the video the wrong way. I said he was right stemming from a conversation we had before I got on Live about how they’re handling him and how they handled Cooper when he said the n-word. They didn’t handle them the same way, and that wasn’t right. And that’s what I was talking about. I love y’all. You’ll never find a video or article of me saying I hate anybody. Let me clear that up.

Assume. Today’s word. As a black man, you get pulled over by the police, they assume you’re about to run. They assume you’ve got drugs in the car. They assume you’ve got a gun. They assume the worst, right?

I didn’t say nothing about Jews or supporting Hitler at all in that video. But that’s what they assume I said. And y’all wonder why we’re fighting for equality. Because y’all assume the worst from a black man. I love everybody. I’ve always stood that way. Love for all who have love for all. So, why would you assume I hate somebody?

Too often, apologies get labeled as a “non-apology.” This is a non-apology.

When he said DeSean Jackson is “speaking the truth,” Stephen Jackson sounded like he was talking about DeSean Jackson’s Hitler post – not a private conversation with DeSean Jackson, as Stephen Jackson indicates now.

A reminder of what Stephen Jackson said about DeSean Jackson (emphases mine):

He was trying to educate himself, educate people, and he’s speaking the truth, right? He’s speaking the truth. You know he don’t hate nobody, but he’s speaking the truth of the facts that he knows and trying to educate others.

How do those bolded sections make any sense based on a private conversation between DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson?

If this is a case of Stephen Jackson simply not choosing his words carefully enough, it’d be far easier to forgive him. After all, he has now gone out of his way to say he loves Jews.

But Stephen Jackson doesn’t deserve much benefit of the doubt while he also spreads other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Fred Katz of The Athletic:

Police too often make negative assumptions about Black people. That should be addressed.

But, best I can tell, Stephen Jackson is being judged fairly here. He’s promoting anti-Semitic messages. He’s getting treated like someone promoting anti-Semitic messages.

Do I believe Stephen Jackson wants to be anti-Semitic? No. My best guess is his heart is in the right place while his head is in the wrong place. But Stephen Jackson is still spreading anti-Semitism. Even if that’s due to “only” ignorance, he can’t correct that until acknowledging his errors and learning from them. Blaming everyone else for misunderstanding him is not the answer.

Stephen Jackson is also wrong in his comparison to Riley Cooper, a white Eagles receiver who was caught on video saying the n-word in 2013. Like with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles released a statement criticizing Cooper. They didn’t cut Cooper. They also haven’t cut DeSean Jackson. Even if they eventually cut DeSean Jackson, I suspect they’ll follow similar guidelines: Deciding whether the player is good enough to offset the trouble caused by his reprehensible speech.

Magic player tests positive for coronavirus

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The race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference keeps getting sadder. Somehow.

The Nets are decimated. The Wizards are missing their best players. And the Magic – who already have Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu sidelined – have complications with Markelle Fultz and another unnamed player.

Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic entered the NBA bubble Tuesday without an unidentified player who tested positive for COVID-19 and guard Markelle Fultz, whose entry was delayed due to a personal issue.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday that Fultz is dealing with a personal matter unrelated to the virus. His absence is excused and the league is aware of his situation, according to Weltman. He said Fultz is following all safety protocols and expects a “seamless transition” for the guard’s return, although Weltman did not have a specific timetable for when that will be.

It’s unclear whether the unnamed player was among the 25 players the NBA announced tested positive.

Fultz and the other player will have to follow protocols for players travelling to Disney World after their teams arrive.

The Magic have D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard if Fultz is unavailable. But I’ll take Weltman at his word that Fultz will return to the team smoothly.

Philadelphia’s Shake Milton: “I don’t really think we should be playing”

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There are a lot of players with doubts about the NBA’s restart bubble. They’re going, in part because they understand the financial implications of not going, but there is far from universal enthusiasm for the NBA’s plan.

Put Philadelphia’s Shake Milton in that concerned group.

The Sixers’ two guard, expected to play a significant role in his team’s chances at the restart, expressed real concerns about the bubble in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. Courtesy NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I don’t really think we should be playing,” Milton said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday, “but I think the NBA is doing all that they can to make the environment as safe as possible. My teammates want to play so we’re going to go down there and try to win…

“I think [the spread of the virus], and then also I feel like there’s a lot of other stuff going on,” Milton said. “There are issues going on right now in the world that are way bigger than a sport, way bigger than the game of basketball. I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.”

Milton said he wanted to know more about how the league plans to highlight social justice and take concrete steps toward making a change.

Milton isn’t the only Sixers player saying he doesn’t like the restart plan, here is what Joel Embiid said on his call with reporters:

“Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.”

Even with all those concerns, Milton and Embiid are headed to Orlando with teammates.

Milton is going to be asked to play a big role — possibly starting in place of Al Horford — and bring much-needed shooting and floor spacing to the roster. Philadelphia starts the seeding games July 30 as the six seed but is looking to move up in a tight middle of the East. They are a dark horse threat at the restart — with Embiid, a healthy Ben Simmons, and an elite defense — but they need to find a steady offense while defending well, a combo that eluded them earlier this season.