With 18 games to play, Clippers still trying to figure out who they are


LOS ANGELES — Sixty-four games into the season is far too late to have an identity crisis.

But an identity crisis — or, more accurately, a lack of consistent identity — defines these Clippers. What we said about them during October’s preseason is just as true with the calendar flipping to March: They have the talent to contend if they can just stay healthy and figure out how to play together.

This team has had no story arc, just the same continued questions with no good answers. Roster changes — including bringing in Russell Westbrook, who now starts at the point — have only added to the recent on-court issues as guys figure out how to play with more new lineups and rotations.

It shows with the Clippers are 0-3 since the All-Star break — “It’s stressing me,” Westbrook said after the Clippers’ latest loss — with a critical playoff-positioning showdown against the Warriors coming Thursday.

Westbrook has not been the problem. Not only is he averaging 16 points and 9.3 assists a game since arriving, but he has also been efficient (64 true shooting percentage) and has largely played within the role coach Tyronn Lue as asked.

“In a lot of ways, this is like a perfectly crafted roster for him,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “You know, they have put a lot of spread lineups out there, they run to cover the three-point line in transition and really open up early attacks that he’s elite at… It’s a pretty seamless transition for me.”

“He’s been great,” Lue said. “You know, I think defensively been really good, and rebounds the basketball, getting into the paint and making the right play. Like I said he’s limited some of those early mid-range twos, and getting Kawhi, PG and those guys open 3s by getting into the paint.

However, Westbrook’s style and particularly his pace — something Lue wants — changes how the Clippers play at their core, and that adjustment is leading to mistakes.

The Clippers had 25 turnovers Tuesday in a loss to the Timberwolves, and in their three games with Westbrook have turned the ball over on 18.3% of their possessions (for context, the Jazz turn the ball over the most of any team this season at 15.3% of their possessions, and the Clippers averaged 10.9 turnovers a game when Terance Mann ran the point for 20 games at a slower pace).

“When you want to be a good offensive team you just can’t turn the ball over that many times, it just it’s too hard to recover,” Lue said. “I don’t care if you have Michael Jordan, Shaq, everybody on the floor, you turn the ball over 25 times it’s hard to win the game. We just gotta get guys used to playing with one another.”

The lack of chemistry shows in other ways. Tuesday, with just more than a minute to go and the Clippers down five, they needed a quick bucket but the half-court set developed slowly and became clear out for Westbrook, not action to get the ball to Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, or set them up in isolation (their strength).

“Those are situations where we had to get better,” Lue said. “You know, those are the areas we got to you know, be smart and make sure we were getting a good shot and who we want to get the basketball to…

“That’s on me too, because we haven’t had a chance to work late game [situations] with the team we have right now. But we should understand, we should be smarter about who we want to get the ball to and how we want to do it.”

Then there are the defensive issues. Lue talked about late rotations, the low man not getting to Rudy Gobert fast enough at points Tuesday, and just a defense where guys were not on a string.

“We’re still not where we need to be defensively,” George said. “Like our help-side defense, our shrinking the floor, our one-on-one defense, our transition defense, like we’re really not playing well defensively.”

What the Clippers need now is the one thing they don’t have — time. At 33-31, the Clippers sit just half a game out of the play-in, and their next six games are Warriors, Kings, Grizzlies, Raptors, Knicks, and then the Warriors again. The Clippers have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league.

“We just got to just continue to drill it,” George said of fixing the defense. “Continue to drill it with new guys here, new rotations, new personnel. We just got to drill it once we get it, you know, we’ll get back to what we were doing before the break.”

Can they do it fast enough is the question.

Damian Lillard says Trail Blazers shut him down, talks loyalty to Portland


Players feel the wrath of fans for load management in the NBA, but more often than not it’s a team’s medical and training staff — driven by analytics and the use of wearable sensors — that sit a player. Guys don’t get to the NBA not wanting to compete.

Case in point, Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season, but he told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show that it was a team call, not his.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my decision at all. I think maybe the team protecting me from myself… Every time that I’ve had some type injury like that kind of get irritated or aggravated or something like that, it’s come from just like a heavy load, and stress, and just, you know, going out there and trying to go above and beyond. So, you know, I would say just; there is something there, and also them just trying to protect me from myself as well.”

Maybe it’s a little about protecting Lillard at age 32 — who played at an All-NBA level this season — but it’s more about lottery odds.

Portland and Orlando are tied for the league’s fifth and sixth-worst records. The team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance at the No.1 pick, the sixth worst is 9%. More than that, the fifth-worst record has a 42% chance of moving up into the top four at the draft lottery, for the sixth seed that is 37.2%. Not a huge bump in the odds, but the chances are still better for the fifth seed than the sixth, so the Trail Blazers as an organization are going for it.

Lillard also talked about his loyalty to Portland, which is partly tied to how he wants to win a ring — the way Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo did, with the team and city that drafted them.

“I just have a way that I want to get things done for myself… I just have my stance on what I want to see happen, but in this business, you just never know.”

Other teams are watching Lillard, but they have seen this movie before. Nothing will happen until Lillard asks for a trade and he has yet to show any inclination to do so.

But he’s got time to think about everything as he is not taking the court again this season.

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.



Report: NBA minimum draft age will not change in new CBA, one-and-done remains


While the NBA — representing the owners — and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continue last-minute negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before an opt-out deadline Friday night at midnight, one point of contention is off the table:

The NBA draft age will not change in the new CBA, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The NBA one-and-done rule will remain in place.

The NBA one-and-done rule is unpopular with fans and college coaches (and, of course, players coming up). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had worked to eliminate that restriction saying it was unfair, but he could not get it done.

There wasn’t much motivation from either side to make a move. From the players’ union perspective, lowering the draft eligibility age to 18 would bring more young players in to develop in the league and take away roster spots from veterans (and the union is made up of those veterans, not undrafted players). The union has suggested ways to keep veterans on the roster (possibly a roster expansion) as mentors, but a deal could not be reached. As for the teams, plenty of GMs would prefer an extra year to evaluate players, especially with them going up against better competition in college/G-League/Overtime Elite/overseas.

There are other impediments to a CBA deal, such as the details around a mid-season NBA tournament, the configuration of the luxury tax, veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards.

If the sides do not reach a deal by midnight, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would likely opt out of the current CBA, meaning it would end on June 30. The two sides would have until then to reach a deal on a new CBA to avoid a lockout (although they could go into September before it starts to mess with the NBA regular season calendar and not just Summer League).


Timberwolves big man Naz Reid out indefinitely with fractured wrist

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

UPDATE: Naz Reid had surgery on that fractured wrist and will be out six weeks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That means he is not only out for the rest of the regular season but likely the first couple of rounds of the playoffs, if the Timberwolves can make it that far.


This sucks for a Timberwolves team finding its groove.

Part of that groove was the offensive spark of big man Naz Ried off the bench, but now he will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist, the Timberwolves announced. From the official release:

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) taken yesterday at Mayo Clinic Square by Dr. Kelechi Okoroha on Reid revealed a left scaphoid fracture. He will be out indefinitely and further updates on his progress will be provided when available.

A scaphoid fracture involves one of the small bones at the base of the hand that connects the wrist and fingers. Reid injured his hand on this dunk attempt against the Suns, he instinctively used his left hand to help break the fall and it took the weight of the landing.

Impressively, and despite being in pain, Reid played through the injury.

Reid developed into the sixth man, spark plug roll for the Timberwolves behind starters Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. In his last five games, Reid averaged 18.8 points on 59.1% shooting (including 45% from 3 on four attempts a night) and grabbed 5.2 rebounds in his 22 minutes.

Reid is a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves want to keep him and have had talks with him, but he will have plenty of suitors.

His loss will be a blow to Minnesota, especially heading into crucial games down the stretch — starting with the Lakers Friday night (a team Reid had some big games against) — and into the postseason. Expect coach Chris Finch to stagger Towns and Gobert a little more, and he can turn to Nate Knight or Luka Garza off the bench, but their role would be limited (especially come the playoffs).