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Three Things to Know: Lakers’ offense flat in the clutch, Clippers exploit that in win

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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) Lakers’ offense flat in the clutch, Clippers better in final minutes and overall right now.

Alex Caruso grabbed the rebound with 19 seconds left and got the ball to LeBron James, the Lakers down three with a chance to tie up the marquee game on Christmas Day. Frank Vogel kept his hands at his sides, trusting his best player to make the right play and not calling time out.

LeBron walked the ball up the court and the Lakers wasted 16 seconds lollygagging around to set up the final shot. That shot was a contested LeBron stepback three — a distance from which he as 2-of-11 shooting at that point on Christmas Day, and from an area on the floor LeBron is shooting 28.6 percent for the season. This was not a great shot choice, but that was moot because Patrick Beverley blocked it, it went out off LeBron (after a replay), and the Clippers won 111-106.

There are multiple reasons the Lakers lost this game (start with Kawhi Leonard‘s 35, he was a force), but there’s one critical area that’s concerning heading into the trade deadline, and potentially in the playoffs:

The Lakers’ crunch-time offense is not good.

It’s slow and predictable — “live by LeBron or die by LeBron” — and the best teams can exploit that. The Clippers — now 2-0 against the Lakers this season — are one of those teams.

In the final 4:30 of this game, the Lakers were outscored 8-3 as the Clippers cranked up their defense. That’s not an isolated issue — the Laker have an offensive rating of 100.7 in the clutch this season (final five minutes of a game within five points, stats via NBA.com). That’s 20th in the league. The Lakers are still 12-4 in those tight games because their defense has been elite in the clutch, but the best teams — and the Clippers are one of those, with all their stars getting to the line in the final 4:30 — are going to find a way to get points.

Once the Clippers cranked up their defense, the Lakers scored 20 points in the fourth quarter on 8-of-22 shooting. Los Angeles needs a better offensive flow late.

The Lakers had that flow in the first half because they are a good transition team that got out and ran, getting buckets before the Clippers’ defense got set. The Lakers led by 12 at the break (the Clippers’ halftime comeback from was the biggest on Christmas Day of any team since the Mavericks in 2003). Kyle Kuzma was the third scorer the Lakers needed for much of the game, scoring 19 in the first half and 25 on the night.

The Lakers need a consistent third scorer, games like this one on Christmas make you think Kuzma can be that guy. However, he’s not consistent and he needs to be — or be traded for someone who can be — by the time the playoffs roll around.

Another concern for the Lakers: LeBron is 16-of-43 against the Clippers this season (37.2 percent). Granted, LeBron looked slowed by his injury in this one and then got kneed in the groin in the first half. But if you’re out there, then you can play. The Clippers have the length and a multitude of defenders they can throw at LeBron, and it has worked.

The Clippers also can roll out a lineup late in games where they trust all five guys and do not need to hide anyone. Do the Lakers feel that way about Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?

While this game had the hype and feel of May, not December, both teams afterward were quick to play some variation of the “just one of 82” card. They’re right, both of these teams will evolve and look different by the time the playoffs roll around.

But if the Lakers don’t fix their clutch offense, the outcome will not be any different.

BONUS THING TO KNOW:

The best line of the night goes to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, when asked pregame about what he got for Christmas: “Yeah, I bought myself terrific presents, and I drank it all.”

2) Can Philadelphia keep shooting its way from deep past the Bucks?

It’s a difference in defensive philosophy:

Philadelphia allows the fewest three-point attempts against in the league, 27.5 per game. The Sixers chase teams off the arc.

Milwaukee allows 38.4 threes per game, second most in the league, they pack the paint, drop their bigs off pick-and-rolls, and try to take away anything at the rim. Milwaukee has the best defense in the NBA, it works for them, but coach Mike Budenholzer’s philosophy opens them up to teams willing to take, and who can make, from deep.

On Christmas, the 76ers shot 21-of-44 from three (47.7 percent) and handled the Bucks comfortably, 121-109.

The question becomes, is that level of shooting sustainable for the Sixers? Philly attempts an average of 30.2 threes per game, fifth-lowest in the league, although they hit 36.8 percent of them (fifth-highest percentage in the league). Can Philly shoot like they did on Christmas through a playoff series against Milwaukee?

What is sustainable is the way Joel Embiid’s and Al Horford’s defensive energy can make Giannis Antetokounmpo work for his points. The Greek Freak was 8-of-27 shooting for the day, and while in future matchups Antetokounmpo will score better, he’s always going to have to work very hard for his buckets against the anchor of the Philly defense.

Philadelphia, when at home or in a big game, are so much more engaged and play with a different energy than other nights. On those off nights, there seems to be no good fit with Joel Embiid and Al Horford, and they don’t hit from three at the same pace. Brett Brown and the Sixers argue they are a team built for the playoffs (and playoff-like games, such as this one).

Maybe so, but Philadelphia needs to think about playoff seeding, too. Right now, they would face the Bucks in the second round (a 1-4 matchup), then have to play one (or two) series after that. Can the 76ers find enough regular season focus to get past Miami or Boston for the two or three seed? They need to make that path to the Finals a little easier with the higher seed if they can. (The Bucks will be the top seed, they already have a four-game cushion.)

3) Sleeper games? Not so fast, my friend. Warriors, Pelicans pull off Christmas Day upsets.

Christmas Day belonged to the dogs in the NBA — the underdog covered four of the five games (Boston ran away from Toronto and covered that spread).

The two biggest upsets were the Warriors and Pelicans as outright winners.

Golden State beat Houston by playing great defense on James Harden. Sure, the Beard still had 24 points in 9-of-18 shooting, but he only took one free throw all game. Golden State used Glen Robinson III as the primary defender but had Draymond Green (usually helping off Russell Westbrook) to challenge and crowd Harden before he could get a shot off. Make anyone else beat them. The Rockets couldn’t and lost 116-104.

New Orleans got 31 from Brandon Ingram, have a much better offensive flow with Derrick Favors on the court, and knocked off the Nuggets 112-100. Denver had been red hot coming into the game with six straight wins, but they laid an egg on the big stage (don’t read too much into that, but it’s not a great sign). Jrue Holiday had 20 points, played good defense, and his trade stock went up even higher with this win.

Rumor: The Cavaliers might try to flip Andre Drummond in trade at draft, or in July

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When J.B. Bickerstaff takes over as the new coach in Cleveland today, he will inherit a big, slow frontcourt of Kevin Love and Andre Drummond that will make a combined $60 million next season.

Will he still have that frontcourt when training camp opens next fall?

We know the Cavaliers tried to trade Love at the deadline but the remaining three years, $91 million on his contract after this season made that difficult. Instead, Cleveland surprised the league when it added Drummond at the trade deadline.

Now comes a rumor from Greg Swartz at Bleacher Report where an anonymous former GM says he thinks once Drummond picks up the $28.8 million option on his contract — something expected around the league — the Cavs will try to trade him, too.

“I don’t think [Drummond and the Cavs] will last long,” one former NBA general manager said. “I could see them trading him to a team this summer if he agrees to pick up his option. They could also do a sign-and-trade if he agrees to a new long-term deal. I don’t think he’ll be in Cleveland for long.”

For the record, the Cavaliers deny that is the case. GM Koby Altman said as much.

“Absolutely, we consider him a potential long-term play,” Altman said. “Obviously, he has a player option that if he picks up, we think we’re in good shape in terms of our cap space. There’s no better money spent than on Andre Drummond if he picks up his option.”

There could be interest in Drummond as an expiring contract next season because teams are trying to clear up cap space for a deep summer of 2021 free agent class (particularly if Giannis Antetokounmpo does not sign the $254 million supermax contract the Bucks will offer this summer). There may be teams interested in the 26-year-old Drummond longer term — he is averaging 17.7 points and 15.8 rebounds a game as a traditional big — just not at anywhere near his current salary.

Expect a lot of Cavaliers trade rumors around the draft and into July as they try to add talent. Don’t be surprised if Drummond is in some of those rumors; the Cavaliers should explore everything.

Also, don’t be surprised if Love and Drummond are the starting 4/5 for the Cavaliers when the season tips off next October.

 

Counter-report: John Beilein will receive some of remaining salary from Cavaliers

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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Initial reporting suggested John Beilein will walk away from the rest of his contract with the Cavaliers.

But apparently he’ll get a payout.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Beilein and the Cavaliers negotiated a financial settlement that will pay him a portion of the remaining money on his 2019-20 contract, league sources said. He left the University of Michigan and signed a five-year contract with Cleveland that included a team option for the final season, a deal that paid him more than $4 million a season, league sources said.

That doesn’t sound like a substantial settlement (relatively).

But Beilein had some leverage. Because he did so poorly, it seemed the Cavs might just fire him at the end of the season. While it appears to be his choice to walk away now, everyone seemed ready to move on soon enough.

There could have been more of a fired-or-quit standoff. But Beilein was so done, he left a lot of money on the table. That’s still the story, even if he’ll walk away with some.

Kevin Durant not close to return, but his jumper still looks wet

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Kevin Durant will not play an NBA game this season.

His jumper, however, looks to be in midseason form. Following All-Star Weekend, a video surfaced on Instagram of Durant working out at UCLA, and his shot remains a thing of beauty. His pull-up works, too.

There’s some debate around the league about just how good 31-year-old Durant will be when he returns.

When he left he was the best player on the planet, an unstoppable scorer who could defend LeBron James in the clutch of a game, KD was a two-time defending Finals MVP at the peak of his game. Suffering a torn Achilles means he’s not going to have the same level of explosiveness, but when you’re pushing 7-foot tall (in shoes), have a high release over your head, can hit from anywhere, and have a deadly fade away, does it matter if you lose half-a-step?

With Kyrie Irving possibly done for the season in Brooklyn, these videos provide a little hope to Nets fans. Get this roster healthy next season and they can hang with anyone in the East.

Chris Bosh: “I’m disappointed” not to be Hall of Fame finalist

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MIAMI (AP) — Chris Bosh is not hiding his frustration about not being a finalist for this year’s enshrinement class for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The former Miami and Toronto forward released a video statement on social media Tuesday, using some version of the word disappoint – be it “disappointed,” “disappointment” or “disappointing” – no fewer than 15 times in 5 minutes.

Bosh was a surprising omission last week from the class of eight finalists announced by the Hall as still being under consideration for enshrinement this year, a list that included contemporary players Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. The class of inductees will be revealed in Atlanta on April 4 at the men’s college basketball Final Four, and the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony is in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Aug. 29.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Bosh said. “I’m a competitive man. I’ve been competing my whole life. A lot of people don’t really know that about me, but I’m a fierce competitor. Losing bothers me. Coming up short bothers me. It always has, you know, since the moment I started playing basketball and it kind of bleeds over into everything that I do. So I’ll just get ahead of it. And so you hear this from me, I’m disappointed.”

Bosh is one of 13 players in NBA history to average 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in a career that included at least 11 All-Star selections.

The other 12 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Larry Bird, Bob Pettit, Patrick Ewing, Elvin Hayes and Elgin Baylor – are all in the Hall of Fame.

Bosh is also the only Hall-eligible player with 17,189 points, 7,592 rebounds, 1,795 assists, 11 All-Star selections and two championships who is not already in, or a finalist this year for, the Hall of Fame. There are other players with those numbers, such as LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, who are not yet eligible because they’re still playing or retired too recently.

“One of the things people like to say is, ‘Oh, next year,’” Bosh said. “What if there’s not a next year? That’s something that I think about every day. And I hope you think about it as well, but what if there’s not a tomorrow? What does that even mean? That is a definite question that’s been on my mind quite a bit, but I just have to be honest with you guys. I’m very disappointed.”

Bosh, who turns 36 next month, said he wishes he was still playing and believes he would still be in the NBA if not for the health issues that abruptly ended his career in 2016. Bosh had at least two bouts with blood clots.

He was an All-Star for Miami in his final season, 2015-16. He was averaging 19.1 points and 7.4 rebounds that season and had just arrived in Toronto for that year’s All-Star Game when a clot in one of his legs was discovered.

He never played again. Bosh eventually came to grips with that reality, saw his jersey be retired by the Heat – the team with whom he won two championships, a stint perhaps most notably remembered by his rebound and assist that set up Ray Allen’s season-saving, game-tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals against San Antonio. Bosh also blocked a 3-point try by Danny Green at the end of overtime to seal Miami’s three-point win, and the Heat would go on to win Game 7 for their second straight title.

“I’ve been disappointed with my career coming up short,” Bosh said. “I feel that I should still be playing basketball right now, but that’s neither here nor there. That was in my goals. That was in my plans and it just did not work out like that. I don’t want to be in this position. Now I’m here dealing with that. Had other plans, started making plans on the potentiality of going in with such a great class, didn’t even qualify. You know what I mean? … It’s just disappointing.”