The NBA season is into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Red-hot Clippers win sixth straight, but should they be trusted as contenders?
The Clippers beat the Bucks Monday night in the “we don’t care what you do in the regular season, let’s see it in the playoffs” showdown.
Both of these teams came into the season as potential contenders, both have had ups-and-downs as they tried to adapt to new personnel and new systems, and both have had stretches where it’s easy to think, “maybe this is coming together.”
The Clippers are in one of those stretches right now, having sone six in a row.
During this win streak, the Clippers have the best offense in the NBA (126 offensive rating) and the sixth-best defense, leading to a +19.3 net rating. They have done it despite missing key players — Paul George was out against the Bucks, Serge Ibaka has missed time, Patrick Beverley is still trying to get healthy, Rajon Rondo has yet to suit up for the Clippers — and against a fairly-challenging stretch of the schedule (they beat middle-of-the-pack teams like Charlotte and San Antonio that are playing well).
But is this 6-0 Clippers team one we should trust heading toward the playoffs, or are they the 5-8 team from the weeks before that?
“Down 22 changed everything. Something was born that night,” Nicolas Batum said of the Clippers’ comeback win against the Hawks on March 22, the second game of this win streak. Other Clippers echoed the idea that things are different and that game felt like a turning point.
Maybe. But the Clippers are a jump-shooting team and that can feel streaky.
Los Angeles gets the third-fewest percentage of its shots at the rim in the league (20.5%, via basketball-reference.com), and they start just 13.4% of their possessions in transition, the sixth-fewest in the league (stat via Cleaning The Glass). These Clippers don’t attack the rim. Instead, the Clippers take almost 23% of their shots in the midrange (10 feet out to the arc) — but they get their offensive efficiency by taking the second-most corner threes in the league and hit a ridiculous 49.8% of them.
As a team, the Clippers are hitting an insane 41.9% from three this season.
The Clippers added shooting — Luke Kennard is starting to find his groove — and have a system that emphasizes threes. If the Clippers can shoot like this from deep in the playoffs, they will be tough to beat. Especially if the defense that has been middle-of-the-road all season keeps performing like the top-10 team it has been during the win streak.
In the end, there is nothing the Clippers can do in the regular season to remove the seeds of doubt in all our minds. They look like contenders on paper, but we’ve seen the implosions before. Runs like this win-streak show this Clippers team’s potential — but we knew about the potential before last season, and we remember how that ended. It felt like part of a pattern for a Clippers’ franchise that has never gotten past the second round of the playoffs, despite the promise of some contending-worthy rosters in the Lob City era.
Maybe Batum is right, maybe the switch flipped and this season is different for the Clippers — but we don’t really care what L.A. does in the regular season. They will need to prove it in the playoffs.
2) Russell Westbrook is racking up numbers and re-writing the Wizards record books
It took 38 games for Russell Westbrook to take over the Wizards franchise lead in triple-doubles.
Westbrook had a ridiculous stat line on Monday as the Wizards beat the Pacers: 35 points, 21 assists, and 14 rebounds.
Westbrook now has 16 triple-doubles in a Wizards uniform, the franchise record. That says something both about Westbrook’s greatness and the Wizards’ franchise history.
Westbrook’s gaudy stats have not automatically translated to wins, both in Washington and Oklahoma City — this remains a team game, plus the Wizards are bottom five in the league defensively and that costs them wins. That said, the Wizards may be 11 games below .500, but they are just two games out of the 10-seed and a spot in the play-in games — something ownership in Washington always pushes for. It could happen, but it will take a lot more big nights from Westbrook to get there.
3) Chef Stephen Curry returns, gets cooking, scores 32 in Warriors win
Golden State had lost four games in a row, and what was Stephen Curry doing during all of that?
“It’s a lot of ice, a lot of finding the most comfortable chairs and sofas in the house and just letting the body do its thing no matter how long that takes,” Curry said of recovering from a bruised tailbone, “and having some fun with it. I think I’ve run out of tailbone and (butt) jokes. It’s kind of just one of those situations kind of uncomfortable all the way around.”
Curry admitted there was some pain playing on Monday night, but it didn’t show as he dropped 32 points and hit six threes in a Warriors win over the Bulls.
As it has been for years (even during the Kevin Durant era), the Warriors’ offense struggles when Curry is not on the court. This season the Warriors’ offense is 10.3 points per 100 possessions better when Curry is on the court. But you don’t need the numbers for this one. Just watch Golden State play with and without him and it’s obvious.