Will Doc Rivers, Clippers build championship chemistry in Orlando?

Leave a comment

Through the first two weeks, the bubble has felt a lot like the regular season for the Clippers: They entered being mentioned as serious title contenders, they keep winning games, but injuries and personal situations have kept everyone from being on the court and developing chemistry together.

Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, and Lou Williams have all left the Orlando bubble — with the club’s blessing — to attend to personal, family matters. All three are expected to return to the NBA Orlando campus at some point. The Clippers looked strong in their first scrimmage in the limited minutes Paul George and Kawhi Leonard played together, but for a team trying to develop chemistry having players out is not ideal.

“I don’t think it hurts our team…” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said Friday after a team practice. “Today we have a practice, a lot of our guys aren’t here. That’s never healthy for your team, especially a team that really hasn’t been together. We’re a new team. We had Kawhi and PG miss training camp. PG missed the first, what, 16 games. Then Kawhi missed games. Lou. This year so far we really have not caught a great break as far as being able to work together.

“I got to say this team so far, they keep impressing me. as well with their ability to figure out a way of playing together even though we don’t have a lot of minutes on the floor playing together.”

“You know, we’ve been down and missed guys pretty much all season long, so we’ve been filling it in,” George said last week. “We’ve been holding it down until everybody has been available, and we plan on continuing to do so.”

“We’re not worried about our depth right now, these pre-season scrimmages, whatever this is,” Marcus Morris said Friday, noting this is a veteran team that knows how to fit together. “ We know what we’re getting back, what kind of team we’ve had. We’re not real worried.”

The rest of the NBA should be real worried if Doc Rivers can get his Clippers to build championship chemistry in the Orlando bubble.

We only saw the Clippers at full strength for a limited time this season, starting around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far. It’s small sample size theater, but they looked like a title team coming together.

Then the coronavirus hit the NBA and the nation.

“It was a little frustrating because we played our way all the way up until that point, we played ourselves into that chemistry, into that zone we were in…” George said. “It was tough to take this little break. But I think ultimately it’s going to pay off. Again, we had so many guys dealing with little nicks and bruises, and we were one of the teams that could have benefitted off of the healing process and coming together healthy. This break did wonders for this group, and we’re going to pick up where we left off at.”

What makes the Clippers legit championship contenders starts with Leonard and George. Talent wins and the Clippers bring two of the top 10 players in the league (when healthy). More importantly, these are two elite players wing, a position that grows in importance in the playoffs because of the versatility it provides. In Leonard the Clippers have a top-five, proven champion — he was the Finals MVP last season and looks healthy and poised to pick up this season where he left off. He is a force on both ends of the court.

George also makes an impact on both ends of the court. Rivers added that in this restart he is giving PG more responsibility in the pick-and-roll, and there is a good reason for that.

“Because he’s a great shooter…” Rivers said. “Paul George does a lot. Great post game. With Paul’s size, we just put him in a lot more pick ‘n rolls than he’s ever been in his career. With his size, it’s so effective that we’re doing it more, work on it every day, and he’s gotten better and better at it.”

What sets the Clippers apart as contenders is the depth around their two stars, assuming that Williams, Harrell, and Beverley all return to Orlando.

Up front the Clippers start Ivica Zubac (who has yet to arrive in Orlando), a quality defensive big in the paint who sets a strong screen and rolls to the rim hard. Then there’s the Sixth Man of the Year energy of Harrell. Now behind them is Morris (who just started practicing with the team) and veteran Joakim Noah, who looked spry and active in the Clippers one exhibition game. Morris and JaMychal Green will split time off the bench at the four, and both bring shooting and veteran presence.

Up top they have Beverley with Williams behind him, and don’t forget they added Reggie Jackson behind those two. At the two-guard there is Landry Shamet (who tested positive for the coronavirus and is not yet in Orlando with the team).

Coaching all this is Doc Rivers — a championship coach who quietly is one of the smarter Xs and Os coaches in the league and a guy who treats his veterans like adults, but knows how to push and motivate them when its time.

If there is one coach who can bring this crew together, it’s Rivers.

On paper, the Clippers can (and maybe should) beat anyone. In reality, they have only put that version of the Clippers together for a short stretch. The Clippers have not been bad (fourth-best record in the NBA, top five in both offense and defense) but we have only seen the fully formed, championship-level version of this team for a short stretch.

If George can reach his peak and the Clippers’ depth can stay healthy and in Orlando, the Clippers could have their first title, an incredible turn around from the franchise that just more than a decade ago was the laughing stock of the league.

But can complete that turnaround? Doc Rivers and crew have a lot to prove still. Doing it on paper is not enough.

Report: Philadelphia ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as next coach

Mike D'Antoni 76ers
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Philadelphia 76ers ownership (led by Josh Harris) reportedly has been very hands-on in picking the team’s new coach — even if that means a new direction for the roster. That hands-on style reportedly why ownership likes Elton Brand as GM and may balk at bringing in a big-name president of basketball operations — that person would want total control of basketball decisions. Right now, ownership is pulling a lot of those levers.

And ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as the next head coach in Philadelphia, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have been saying since last week that the job is D’Antoni’s to turn down. They say he’s the guy the ownership group wants. One source even said the 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with the Sixers owners not to be offered the job.

The problem is that Brand is supposed to have a huge input on the hire. The ownership is only supposed to approve or deny Brand’s suggestion. Now, word is leaking out that Brand is pushing hard for the Sixers to hire D’Antoni and that Joel Embiid gave his blessing. In addition, there are reports that the Sixers will make trades if D’Antoni is hired. The expectation is that he’ll have a say in picking players for his freewheeling style of play.

With Billy Donovan taking over in Chicago, the list of top candidates for the Philadelphia job seems down to two: Tyronn Lue and Mike D’Antoni. Lue would be the conventional choice, a guy who would try to make it work with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together, along with Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford. Roster tweaks would be coming, but with Lue the idea would be making better use of the roster and style the 76ers have already built.

D’Antoni would be a radical change of direction — he is coming from a team that just started 6’7″ Robert Covington at center. The current 76ers roster would need changes to fit with D’Antoni’s freewheeling ways, and even then the coach would need to adapt what he wants to do. (No contract is untradeable, but moving the four-years, $147.2 million left on Harris’ deal, or the three years and $81 million on Horford’s contract, would require Philly to throw in a lot of sweeteners.)

D’Antoni would mean another change of direction in Philly, but that seems to be what ownership wants.

Bam Adebayo on injury: “I’m good,” expects to play in Game 5 Friday

Bam Adebayo injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the final minutes of Miami’s Game 4 win, while Tyler Hero was knocking down shots and Jimmy Butler was getting to the line, Miami‘s Bam Adebayo was dealing with an injury, walking around holding his wrist, his arm dragging. He had gotten tangled up with Daniel Theis under the basket and clearly injured something.

The questions raised post game were about what happened, how serious it was, and could Adebayo be out for Game 5 on Friday? There was nothing official from the team but it looks like he will play, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press and Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.

Adebayo had 20 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4, and his play is critical to Miami’s game plan against Boston. His ability to protect the rim at one end, then come out high to set screens and pull Theis out of the paint on the other end, is at the heart of what the Heat want to do in this series. If he is even slowed in Game 5 it is an advantage for Boston.

This time of year, and with the Heat one game away from the NBA Finals, no chance he sits if he can at all play.

LeBron James: Neighbor’s walls, not Breonna Taylor, got justice

Lakers star LeBron James
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Louisville police officers were not charged with killing Breonna Taylor. However, former officer Brett Hankison was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly firing firing recklessly into nearby apartments during the incident.

That outcome left NBA players unsatisfied.

LeBron James:

The emotions LeBron – and many others – are feeling are completely understandable. This was a tragedy. Faced with an obvious injustice, it’s easy to demand the harshest-imaginable punishment. That didn’t come.

But it is not too late to address the injustices – which were always far larger than the officers at the scene returning fire – at play in Taylor’s death.

Tyler Herro carries Heat over Celtics in Game 4, within one game of NBA Finals

Leave a comment

If the Boston Celtics targeted Tyler Herro in the 2019 NBA Draft, they have more reason than ever to lament their near miss.

Herro scored 37 points to lead the Miami Heat to a 112-109 win over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday. The 21-year-old rookie put Miami up 3-1 and himself in the record book.

The only other player so young to score so much in a playoff game? Magic Johnson, who had 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals at age 20.

The Heat will look to reach the NBA Finals in Game 5 Friday. Teams leading a best-of-seven series 3-1 have won 95% of the time.

Miami’s big concern: Bam Adebayo, who hurt his wrist late in the game. Adebayo (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals) played through the injury but appeared to be feeling it.

He and the Heat just kept grinding through everything, though.

Miami won despite shooting only 10-for-37 on 3-pointers (27%). Forget about make-or-miss league. The Heat willed themselves to victory with aggravating defense, hustle, rebounding… and, yes, big-time shot-making by Herro, who made 9-of-11 2-pointers and 5-of-10 3-pointers

The Celtics committed 19 turnovers – some forced by Miami, some self-inflicted. The Heat’s zone defense continues to make Boston uncomfortable, though Marcus Smart (10 points and 11 assists) found some success penetrating and kicking against it. Jaylen Brown (21 points and nine rebounds) knocked down some of those created looks.

After a scoreless first half, Jayson Tatum scored 28 points in the second half. Stephen Curry scored 33 second-half points after a scoreless first half in Game 6 against the Rockets last year. That’s the only time someone followed a scoreless first half with so many second-half points in the Basketball-Reference postseason database, which dates back to 1997.

But those successes weren’t sustained. Tatum (six), Smart (four) and Brown (four) all had too many turnovers.

This series is even by points scored. But Boston has been just a little too erratic, which is why Miami has the key 3-1 lead.