Ivica Zubac

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s sloppy first game shows promise

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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) Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s first game together is both sloppy and shows moments of real promise. This was what the Clippers had been waiting for since July, what they had paid a steep price to make a reality and change the course of a franchise.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shared an NBA court for the first time and it was…

Sloppy.

A bit awkward, like a blind first date. Credit Boston’s active defense for some of that — it’s not a fluke Boston has the seventh-best defense in the league this season and forced 23 turnovers on the night — but through the muck there were moments of real promise. Like the first play of the game, when the Celtics trapped Leonard off an Ivica Zubac pick, Leonard fed Zubac, who quickly found Leonard for a three.

Moments later, when the Celtics trapped Leonard, and he found George for three.

For much of the game, things were not as smooth with those two on the court together — as should be expected. George missed the first 11 games of the season following double shoulder surgery this offseason. Once he returned, Leonard was out three games with a bruised knee. The pair had literally one practice together, and in the full-contact scrimmage to end that day they were on opposing sides.

This marriage going to take time. The Clippers didn’t even explore a Leonard/George pick-and-roll in this game, but you know that’s coming. As Doc Rivers put it postgame:

“We were kind of trying not to get in each other’s way at times, you could feel that…

“We need a lot of work, you can see that… part of that was we were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score.”

With the game on the line in overtime against one of the NBA’s better and hotter teams in Boston, two things that make the Clippers so dangerous were evident.

One is the defense — George and Leonard each made big defensive plays late, including Leonard blocking Marcus Smart’s attempt at a game-winner.

All game long the Clippers length and defense gave Boston — which came into the game with the league’s fourth-best offense — trouble.

Second is Leonard and George have a good team around them — Patrick Beverley was the best Clipper on the floor Wednesday night and the team gave him the game ball afterward. He was intense on defense (as always), had 14 points and 16 boards, and with the Celtics making the choice to trap and double on offense guys were open, and it was Beverley who made Boston pay with the overtime dagger to seal a 107-104 win.

The Clippers, for all their star power, look a lot like Beverley. This is a scrappy, hard-working team with guys who play their roles and bring intensity. Even their stars are that way — George and Leonard are not anointed No. 1 picks where everyone saw their stardom coming, they are lunch pail guys who had talent but came out of smaller colleges and had to work hard to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, they had to grind it out.

This is why pairing Leonard and George was always going to take a little time to make work. They were always going to have to figure it out.

But when they do…. you can already see why the rest of the league should be worried.

2) Another night, another ridiculous Luka Doncic triple-double. This feels like a nightly thing, and I’m fast running out of ways to praise Luka Doncic, his play, and to remind everyone that he’s just 20 years old and in his second NBA season.

Age doesn’t matter, he’s been so good he’s injected himself into the way-too-early MVP conversation. His latest feat Friday night was a 35-point, 11 assists, 10 rebound triple-double against the hapless Warriors — this time he did it in just 25 minutes on the court.

Doncic scored more points in the first quarter than the Warriors (22-16) and also had more rebounds and assists than the Warriors team. The last guy to do that to any NBA team was Allen Iverson.

Doncic is now averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games: 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in that stretch. Here’s the list of other NBA players to average a 30+ point triple-double for 10 games or more: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson. That’s it.

Doncic is special, has willed the Mavericks to a 9-5 record, and has them looking like a playoff team in the West. Lifting up your team to the next level is what MVPs do, and so far in Dallas it’s what Doncic has done.

3) Do you believe in miracles… YES! Ben Simmons hits his first NBA three. That headline may overstate the excitement around Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons on Wednesday. But not by that much. Sixers fans — and coach Brett Brown — has had to wait three seasons, 193 games, and 18 attempts from three clank off the rim, if they hit anything at all. (Those numbers include his playoff stats.) It finally happened:

Ben Simmons has made his first NBA three.

We’ve all seen the videos of Simmons knocking down threes in an empty gym, but that’s the NBA equivalent of dunking on an 8-foot rim at the local elementary school. Not the same thing.

This was Simmons’ first attempt at a three all season — that’s the real concern. To create floor spacing Philly wants and needs, Simmons needs to be much more willing to uncork this shot — he’s got to take a bunch and make enough of them before teams respect him from deep.

This is at least a start. And it feels like a miracle.

Three Things to Know: Ice cold Harden can’t warm up even with Antetokounmpo out

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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) Ice cold James Harden doesn’t warm up with Giannis Antetokounmpo out, Bucks win. The “fancy” advanced statistical way of putting it would be shooting variance from a team’s statistical norms, something smart people look at when breaking down a game.

A simpler way to put it: It’s a make-or-miss league.

Thursday night, the Rockets were making in the first half, when they shot 52.4 percent from three and led by 16 at halftime. Then they missed in the second half, when just 18.5 percent of their threes fell.

That’s when the Bucks got back into it by using their size on both ends — Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the charge, and the Bucks went on to win 117-111 in the season debut for both teams.

Antetokounmpo finished with a triple-double of 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists — getting 20 of those points in the second half — but with 5:18 left in the game the Greek Freak used his off arm to clear out Clint Capela, got called for his sixth foul of the night, and went to the bench.

The Bucks were up just six at the time and it felt like the Rockets’ chance. Russell Westbrook made a push to close the gap to one, and then… nothing. The Rockets could not get their shots to fall, going 1-of-5 from three after the Greek Freak fouled out. James Harden was 0-of-1 from the floor in that stretch. Scrappy play from Milwaukee had it holding on for the win, thanks to a critical three from Khris Middleton and Lopez playing well as the fulcrum of the offense.

Harden, in particular, couldn’t find the range all night, no matter who was on the floor. The former MVP was cold, shooting just 2-of-13 (although he did get to the free throw line 14 times). Check out his shot chart.

Even when Harden got off a decent shot, this happened.

Westbrook had a better night in his Rockets debut, scoring 24 points, grabbing 16 boards, and dishing out seven assists.

This loss wasn’t about Harden and Westbrook not meshing — although they did argue a little — but more about defensive questions for Houston, something that is going to follow them all season long. Getting stops is going to be a challenge.

Also in their opener, the Rockets just missed shots. And it’s still a make or miss league.

2) The positive vibes in Phoenix didn’t even last 24 hours, Deandre Ayton suspended 25 games. Wednesday night, Deandre Ayton had his best game as a pro. It was well rounded — he has scored more than 18 points and grabbed more than 11 rebounds before, but he was an efficient 9-of-14 in the opener. More importantly, he had his best defensive game ever, including four blocks. Yes it’s small sample size theater, but Ayton and the Suns looked better than expected in blowing out the Kings.

Thursday all that momentum came crashing down — DeAndre Ayton was suspended 25 games by the NBA for testing positive for a banned substance. Specifically, a diuretic (which is on the list of banned substances because it can be a masking agent for steroids).

“I want to apologize to my family, the entire Suns organization, my teammates, partners, our fans and the Phoenix community,” Ayton said in a statement. “This was an unintentional mistake and unfortunately I put something in my body that I was completely unaware of. I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that I am deeply sorry. I’m extremely disappointed that I’ve let my team down. I will continue to work with the NBPA to go through arbitration and am hopeful of a positive resolution.”

About that resolution, there is a portion of the CBA that allows redress if the banned substance was taken without the players’ knowledge. That is the claim of Ayton is making with the players’ union (as well as Ayton’s agent, who clearly spoke to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). It may be true.

Whatever happens, Ayton is going to miss time. If it is the full 25 games he is not back until Dec. 17.

Aron Baynes will start at center for the Suns, which is a defensive upgrade (even compared to the improved Ayton) but a significant drop off on the offensive side of the ball. Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio, and Kelly Oubre Jr. are going to have to generate a lot more looks and knock a few down for Phoenix.

The Suns are trying to develop their young core into something special, this is a setback — albeit a temporary one — along that road.

3) The Clippers haven’t even added the guy who was third in the MVP voting last year yet. Kawhi Leonard is making a habit of ruining things for Golden State fans. For example, their last memory of Oracle Arena in Oakland was watching Leonard and his Toronto Raptors teammates celebrate winning a title on that floor.

Thursday night, the new Chase Center in San Francisco opened its doors for basketball — and Leonard and his Clippers blew the doors off the Warriors, winning 141-122 in a game where the fourth quarter was garbage time.

Leonard had 21 points and a career-high nine assists.

As the Lakers learned Monday night, the Clippers come with a balanced attack — Lou Williams had 22 points off the bench and his pick-and-roll partner Montrezl Harrell added 18, Patrick Patterson had 20, even Ivica Zubac had 16. Through the non-garbage time part of the game, the Clippers had a 136.1 offensive rating (stat via Cleaning the Glass). Los Angeles also played good defense, making it difficult for the Warriors to find a rhythm.

The Clippers are 2-0, have looked dominant, and they don’t even get Paul George back until next month. This team looks scary.

The Warriors look like a team with a lot to figure out.

Stephen Curry is going to have to carry the Warriors on offense this season, and he had 22 points but was 2-of-11 from three and had eight turnovers on the night. Without the gravity of Klay Thompson (knee) and Kevin Durant (Brooklyn) to pull defenders away, the Clippers were in Curry’s face contesting everything. Los Angeles is looking like (and on paper should be) an elite defensive team and an exception, but Curry is going to have less space to operate this season than he is used to. The former MVP is going to have to adapt, and the other Warriors are going to have to make teams pay for all that focus on Curry. D’Angelo Russell shot 6-of-16 (for 20 points) and struggled defensively at times.

It’s just one game for the Warriors, but this season is going to be a struggle in ways Warriors fans are not used to watching. Curry will have better nights, as will the Warriors, but it will be a long road.

It is still a long road for the Clippers, too. But they have reinforcements coming.

Clippers agree to one-year deal with veteran stretch four Patrick Patterson

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The Clippers know what they want to do at center: Ivica Zubac will start games and Montrezl Harrell will come off the bench behind him and be a force of nature.

With those two, the Clippers need guys at the four who can space the floor. JaMychal Green will start at the four and provide that spacing, with Moe Harkless can fill some of that role as well.

Veteran stretch four Patrick Patterson agreed to a buyout with the Thunder a couple of weeks ago to clear out his path to the Clippers. Now that deal is done, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That is a veteran minimum contract, as expected.

Paterson played a limited role for Oklahoma City off the bench last season as he continues to try and get right following knee surgery a couple of years ago. He played in 63 games and averaged 3.6 points per game when he got on the court. That said, he’s a solid veteran presence and he can shoot the three still, hitting 33.6 percent from deep last season.

The signing is a bit interesting because the Clippers could use a third center off the bench (Patterson played 13 percent of his minutes last season there but he’s not a five) and another, more traditional backup point guard (to play behind Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams). That said, Patterson is one of the better veterans still available and the Clippers want the floor spacing at the four.

Report: Clippers re-signing JaMychal Green for two years, $10M

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The Clippers made Ivica Zubac their highest-paid center.

But when the slower Zubac got played off the floor in the playoffs, the Clippers turned to JaMychal Green.

That shows the importance of Green, who will also return to L.A.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is nice value for the Clippers. They’ll apparently give Green the room exception, which will be worth $9,772,350 ($4,767,000 next season, $5,005,350 the following season).

Green will have the ability to seek a larger contract in free agency next summer or the following summer. Though they renounced Green to clear cap space for Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers will retain Green’s Bird Rights by re-signing him. That’ll allow them to exceed the cap to re-sign him again in 2020 or 2021. As they build around Leonard and Paul George and likely get capped out, the Clippers could find paying Green long-term quite important.

At 6-foot-9, Green can play either big-man spot. He plays hard, crashes the glass and shoots 3s. The Clippers will find ways for him to contribute with and without Zubac or Montrezl Harrell on the floor.

Report: Ivica Zubac returns to Clippers on four-year, $28 million contract

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The Clippers were shocked the Lakers were willing to give up Ivica Zubac in a trade at the deadline last year, giving up on the promising young rotation center. So much so former Laker executive turned Clippers consultant Jerry West laughed about the Lakers making the trade.

So, of course, the Clippers were not going to let him go. Los Angeles reached a deal with the restricted free agent that will have him back in Los Angeles for years, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Not long after he arrived Zubac started for the Clippers, with Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench behind him (although Harrell often closed games and played critical minutes). Zubac averaged an efficient 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds a game with the Clippers, shooting 53.8 percent. While Zubac got played off the court by the Warriors in the playoffs, that happens to a lot of good big men against Golden State.

The Clippers add a solid, big-bodied center to their contending roster, and he will blend right in.