Clippers dominate first half, even series with Jazz, but health questions linger


The questions about Game 4 were decided by halftime.

But the questions about Game 5, and the rest of this now-tied second-round series, start off the court — the condition of Kawhi Leonard‘s knee and Mike Conley‘s hamstring will go a long way in determining which team advances to face Phoenix.

The Clippers and Jazz are now tied 2-2 after the Clippers ran away early and held off the Jazz late for a 118-104 win behind 62 combined points from Leonard and Paul George. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Utah.

As it seems with every playoff series this season, the health of key players — All-Stars on both teams — will play a large role in where this series now goes.

Leonard sat the final 4:35 of Game 4, which was not yet decided and when all the other Clippers were on the floor. His right knee — a chronic issue that leads to his load management during the season — seemed to be at issue late in the game, although his knee was not iced and no trainer worked with him while he sat on the bench those final minutes. Will his knee impact him in Game 5?

“It’s good. Next question,” Leonard said postgame.

Conley missed his fourth straight game due to the hamstring he strained in Game 5 of the Jazz’s first-round victory over the Grizzlies. For the second straight game, the Jazz missed his steadying influence on the court when things went bad, and they missed him as a secondary shot creator in the pick-and-roll. Without Conley, the Clippers have been able to load up on Donovan Mitchell and make his life more difficult. Without Conley, it’s much harder to imagine the Jazz winning the series now that the Clippers are playing their best basketball.

We saw that version of the Clippers — the “this team could win the title” version of the Clippers — in the first half.

They were hitting their threes — 11-of-22 in the 24 minutes — and getting those shots by driving into the paint and kicking out. They were playing small ball but getting offensive rebounds. Defensively they made smart switches and cut off lob passes into Rudy Gobert. It was a masterclass performance.

Plus, Leonard was doing this.

On the other hand, Utah got away from its move-the-ball and put the other team in the blender offense that earned them the best record in the NBA this season. It was one pass than an isolation play for too much of the first half. The Clippers didn’t do anything special on defense, it was conventional pick-and-roll coverages (although done with a non-conventional lineup), but their rotations were sharp and the Jazz had no answers without Mike Conley on the court (missing his fourth straight game this series with a hamstring strain).

Donovan Mitchell did his best, he scored 17 in the second quarter, but the Clippers were firing on all cylinders and led by 29 at one point and 24 at the half. Mitchell finished the game with 37 points on 9-of-26 shooting.

In the second half the Jazz looked better, moved the ball, hit threes, and got back to being more like themselves. They won the second half by 10 points but just could never get out of the hole they dug in the first half.

“The way we played in the second half, that’s who are, that’s what we do,” Mitchell said. “That second half, we need to take that home and play with that same energy.”

It’s fair to expect a different energy from Utah in Game 5. It’s also fair to wonder if the strong second half performance by the Jazz was about their play or because the Clippers got comfortable and took their foot off the gas. Those questions will be answered on Wednesday.

Still, the bigger questions are which stars will be playing, and how healthy will they be?

Watch Trae Young get ejected for launching ball at referee


Trae Young screwed up and he knew it.

“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said via the Associated Press after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”

With the score tied at 84 in the third quarter, Young had a 3-pointer disallowed and an offensive foul called on him for tripping the Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith. A frustrated Young picked up a technical foul for something he said.

Then walking back to the bench, Young turned and launched the ball at the referee with two hands. It was an instant ejection.


“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.

Young can expect a fine for this. It also was his 15th technical of the season, one more and he will get an automatic one-game suspension.

The Hawks went on to win 143-130, improving Atlanta to .500 at 37-37 and keeping them solidly as the No. 8 seed in the East.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.