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Report: Clippers sign Luc Mbah a Moute for one-year, $4.3 million

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Houston’s defense got a little worse.

Last season they leaned on the versatility and switchability of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute on the wings to counter teams such as the Warriors. In the opening hours of free agency, Ariza grabbed the cash — $15 million worth — and signed with the Phoenix Suns.

Now Mbah-a-Moute is gone, too. He’s going back to the Clippers reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Carmelo Anthony signing with the Rockets is almost a certainty at this point.

The Rockets defense was 4.3 points per 100 possessions better last season when Mbah a Moute was on the court. He also shot 36.4 percent from three on his way to 7.5 points a night, although he did miss 21 regular season games plus some of the playoffs due to injury. He was a good fit as a role player on a contender.

He will be tough to replace.

As for the Clippers, they have some potential at the forward spot. Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris will start, with Mbah a Moute, Montrezl Harrell (once he is re-signed), Wes Johnson, and Sam Dekker off the bench. Overall the Clippers have a roster that can compete for a playoff spot, but it needs to stay healthy (something they could not do last season), and even then it will not be easy in the ring of fire that is the Western Conference.

Top 20 free agents still on the market

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There wasn’t much money available in the free agent market this season, and that message got through to players — they were grabbing the cash in a Piranha-like feeding frenzy starting on July 1. More than 50 players agreed to contracts in the first five days of free agency, and more than half of those were one-year contracts.

That’s bad news for anyone without a chair as the music stops — there is not much money out there for the guys still on the free agent market. Restricted free agents, in particular, have found the market dry and now have almost no leverage (every player can’t use the Kings as leverage, although they may try).

Those restricted free agents dominate the top of our list of the 20 best players still available as of Friday morning. If your team is looking to round out their roster, these are they guys they are considering, and most are going to sign for a lot less than they expected.

1. Clint Capela (Houston Rockets). He’s a max or near max player but there have been no offers for the restricted free agent because Rockets GM Daryl Morey made it clear he will match any offer and bring Capela back. That has left Capela with no leverage. Capela averaged 13.9 points, and 10.8 rebounds a game last season (with a 24.5 PER), plus was a crucial part of the Rockets starting lineup and switching defense (because he can handle himself on the perimeter fairly well, plus protect the rim). The Rockets were 4 points per 100 better with him on the floor, and he was a big part of their playoff run. Houston needs to make a fair offer, low-ball him and he can play for the qualifying offer then walk as a free agent in a year.

2. Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics). He’s frustrated that no offers sheets have come in that would force the Celtics to match (he’s a restricted free agent), and “hurt and disgusted” by the fact the Celtics have not not made a big bid (the two sides, have talked, despite reports). Boston is letting the market set the price, and Smart isn’t seeing what he expected. Smart is one of the better defensive two guards in the league who can guard one through three. He can switch, he plays with a high motor and gets loose balls, he can get steals. But on the other end of the court, you can help off him and not guard him on the perimeter, daring him to shoot. He wanted more than the $12 million a year or so the Celtics had offered, now he’s likely going to take a lot less.

3. Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls). UPDATE: He was the one restricted free agent able to use the Sacramento Kings as leverage — he signed a four-year, $80 million offer sheet with the Kings. The Bulls decided to match it, so he remains in Chicago. LaVine has a world of potential, but his game is based on athleticism and he is coming off an ACL surgery, then had to be shut down last season with knee tendonitis. It’s a concern, but if healthy he has the tools to be a quality two guard in the NBA.

4. Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks). Coming off two ACL surgeries, interest in Parker has been lukewarm (the Kings reportedly have had talks, but nothing came of them yet). He’s a versatile scorer who was a 20-point-a-game guy before the second surgery. That scoring made up for his poor defense in the past. Expect the Bucks to keep him, the only question is at what price and for how many years (Parker may want a short contract to prove himself and get back out on the market).

5. Isaiah Thomas (Los Angeles Lakers). His fall from near max player to today has been hard to watch (or imagine from when he was with the Celtics). However, the combination of his hip injury that sidelined him for the first half of last season, and perceived attitude problems in Cleveland that helped lead to a trade, has teams hesitant. He likely will have to take a one-year deal for a few million — maybe the minimum — and prove he deserves more money.

6. Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers). UPDATE: Nurkic has reached terms on a four-year, $48 million contract to stay in Portland. He’s a solid big man who averaged 14.3 points, and 9 rebounds a game with a very efficient 19.2 PER. While teams have moved away from more traditional centers he provides the inside balance, scoring, defense, and rebounding to allow Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum work on the perimeter. They needed to keep him.

7. Wayne Ellington (Miami Heat). Every team could use more shooting, and Ellington shot 39.2 percent from three last season, so it’s a surprise he’s still on the board. Ellington doesn’t bring much defense, rebounding, or anything else, but if a team is looking for a sniper Ellington can be their guy.

8. Luc Mbah a Moute (Houston Rockets). The switchable wing defender was a key part of the Rockets’ regular season defensive success — the team was 4.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was on the court last season. Plus he shot 36.4 percent from three. It’s a little surprising there have been no offers, the Rockets would like to bring him back.

9. Kyle Anderson (San Antonio Spurs). The Spurs want to bring him back, but they have a lot of other balls in the air right now, and no other team has stepped up with an offer for the restricted free agent. “Slo-mo” is a crafty pick-and-roll ball handler and a long, switchable defender, he’s got an unorthodox game that fits well with what the Spurs will do, but would it work as well with another team? He averaged 8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists this past season.

10. Jamal Crawford (Minnesota Timberwolves). Even at age 38, he can still get buckets. Not as efficiently as he once did, but the three-time Sixth Man of the Year can still score the rock. He’s also good in the locker room. He opted out in Minnesota and some team is going to get him to bolster their bench (the Warriors have long been rumored with a minimum deal, Crawford is waiting to see if anyone else will offer more).

11. Rodney Hood (Cleveland Cavaliers). Another player (like Isaiah Thomas) who saw his stock fall — went into last season as the expected go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz, and by the end of the season couldn’t get off the bench in Cleveland.He’s 6’8” wing who can get buckets, more than a few teams could use that. Is Cleveland one of them?

12. Brook Lopez (Los Angeles Lakers). He has some versatility, he can shoot the three (34.5 percent) and took 41 percent of his shots from deep last season. Plus, he’s an efficient scorer around the basket, hits the boards hard, and uses his size and length to defend the paint. A lot of teams are not looking for his style of traditional center, but a lot of teams could use him for depth off the bench.

13. Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers). This may be too low for him on this list. L.A. liked Harrell, a restricted free agent who found his scoring touch last season and averaged 11 a game for the team. He was very efficient with a PER of 24.7 for the Clippers. Other teams have not made an offer on the restricted free agent because it is assumed the Los Angeles would just match, but he may choose to play for the qualifying offer then hit the open market in a year.

14. Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs). UPDATE: It’s hard to picture, but Parker will be wearing teal on the court next season after reaching a two-year, $10 million deal with Charlotte. Parker admitted it was hard to leave San Antonio, where he has played for 17 seasons, but with the franchise in a state of change he went to the East where he felt wanted and where he could play a bigger role on a team gunning for the playoffs. Parker will backup Kemba Walker (unless Walker gets traded, then…).

15. Michael Beasley (New York Knicks). The man can still get buckets — he averaged 13.2 points per game and shot better than 50 percent overall, plus 39.5 percent from three. He’s not the most focused guy, not much of a defender, but for a mid-level or near-minimum contract coming off the bench he could help a lot of teams.

16. Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat). The real question here is does he retire? If not, if Wade returns, it will be to the Miami Heat for one more season. He’s not chasing a ring with LeBron James (not that the Lakers are winning one next season anyway) or anyone else, he’ll play for the Heat until he hangs it up.

17. Greg Monroe (Boston Celtics). Monroe has game — a below-the-rim game where he can score in the post efficiently and get some boards. Problem is, that’s not what teams want in a center now. He had some value for Boston last season (after falling out of the rotation in Milwaukee) but his style of play has him limited. New Orleans has been rumored, another team could jump in.

18. Kyle O’Quinn (New York Knicks). UPDATE: Literally as this story was going live online, O’Quinn messed it up by accepting a one-year, $4.4 million deal with the Pacers (they are using their room exception, so he got more than the $4.2 million he opted out of with the Knicks. He averaged 7.1 points per game for the Knicks last season, plays within himself, can hit midrange jumpers and can pass.

19. Shabazz Napier (Portland Trail Blazers). The unrestricted free agent had a strong first half of last season and looked like he and his game had grown up, but he struggled after the All-Star break and slid out of the rotation. With Seth Curry in house a return to Portland is unlikely. He should land a deal as a bench point guard somewhere, but for the minimum.

20. Dante Cunningham (Brooklyn Nets). The veteran forward gave Brooklyn and before that New Orleans about minutes and some points (5.7 average) a night last season. He’s not a classic shooter but he can hit a three and will keep defenses honest. Can provide solid depth for a team and a fair price.

Pelicans beat Clippers 113-100 to clinch playoff berth

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 28 points, Nikola Mirotic had a double-double and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Los Angeles Clippers 113-100 on Monday night to clinch their first playoff berth in three years.

Mirotic had 24 points and 16 rebounds in the Pelicans’ fourth straight victory. It will be just their second playoff appearance in seven years and they made it without big man DeMarcus Cousins, who sustained a season-ending Achilles injury on Jan. 28.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 20 points off the bench, DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds and Montrezl Harrell added 15 points for the Clippers, who have lost three in a row while being eliminated from playoff contention.

The Pelicans shot 51 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range in the first half. The Clippers fought back from an 11-point deficit to lead 47-45 before New Orleans closed on a 13-2 run to lead 59-49 at the break.

The Pelicans were just getting rolling.

Their scoring binge continued into the third, and when it was over – a 33-6 spurt over both halves – they led 79-53. Davis had nine points, Mirotic eight and E'Twaun Moore seven.

Davis stirred the crowd with an off the glass, one-handed alley-oop dunk in the run.

@rajonrondo tosses, @antdavis23 FINISHES!

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Thornwell got a roar for a jam over DeAndre Liggins in the game’s final minutes.

 

Jazz put Clippers on brink of elimination in playoff race

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points, Rudy Gobert had 15 point and 10 rebounds and the Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 117-95 on Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.

Derrick Favors scored 16 points, and Jonas Jerebko and Alec Burks each had 13.

The Clippers were playing for their playoff lives but the Jazz displayed the intensity and urgency from the opening tip and never trailed. L.A. trails eighth-place New Orleans by 2 1/2 games with just three to play.

The Jazz have pole position for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs – win out and they will host at least the first round, an almost inconceivable notion before they went 27-5 the last ten-plus weeks.

Austin Rivers led Los Angeles with 19 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 17.

Clippers, who shot just 3 for 17 from beyond the arc, have lost three of four and have nearly been eliminated from the postseason.

The Jazz put the game away a 9-2 run early in the second half and led by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers had trouble staying with Utah’s multiple screen-and-roll actions and seemed to be chasing the ball all game.

Utah claimed the season series 3-1.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Tobias Harris got a technical with 5:58 left in the second quarter for arguing. … Danilo Gallinari missed his fourth game in the last six with a sore right hand. … The Clippers failed to reach the 100-point mark for just the second time in their last 12 games.

Jazz: Rubio, who missed the Memphis game with a sore left hamstring, scored nine points in the first quarter but did not return as his leg tightened. … Jae Crowder also left the game in the first quarter after getting poked in the eye. … Gobert got a technical in the second quarter. … Mitchell had scored at least 20 points in his last 10 games but sat the last 14 minutes of the blowout.

GOOD FROM DEEP

Ingles became the first Jazz player to make 200 3-pointers in a season after hitting a jumper from beyond the arc in the opening minutes of the second half. The Aussie forward is fourth in the league in 3-point percentage at 44.2 coming into the game. Mitchell, who is six behind the all-time rookie record for 3-pointers made, has the second-best mark at 179 and counting. Both passed the 178 that Randy Foye made in the 2012-13 campaign.

UP NEXT

Clippers: Host Denver on Saturday.

Jazz: At Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Three Things to Know: Damian Lillard drops 44, drops Warriors to second in West

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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) Kevin Durant drops 50, but Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers get win. The malaise — I’ve been calling it “senioritis” — that the Golden State Warriors have had of late (they have gone 4-4 in their last eight, with their defense falling to the middle of the pack in the league in that stretch) has finally cost them.

The Warriors have fallen to the second seed in the West after a loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers 123-117, where Damian Lillard went off for 44 points, and Kevin Durant had 50. It was one of the most entertaining fourth quarters of the season to see two of the best scorers in the game go back-and-forth.

Portland needed the win because they are playing for their playoff lives. With the win, the Blazers are now the six seed in the West — just one game up on the nine-seed Clippers and two up on the 10-seed Jazz, who won their 11th straight game Wednesday. The back half of the West is one of the most interesting races to watch for the final 20+ games of the season, just two games separate six seed Portland and 10 seed Utah. Evey win counts.

If the Warriors finish with the two seed, that doesn’t matter to them too much (it would matter more to the Rockets in a likely Western Conference Finals showdown). Steve Kerr has tried to find ways to spark his team of late — such as letting the players coach time-out huddles — but this is a veteran team that has been to three straight Finals and won two. They know when it’s time to flip the switch. After the All-Star break and some time away from each other, expect them to get their focus back. There is nothing wrong with the Warriors, let’s not go there.

2) Celtics fall to Clippers, is it time to worry about Boston’s offense? Here’s a little-discussed fact: While the Boston Celtics have the best defense in the NBA over the course of the season, their offense is bottom 10 in the league (21st). Remove garbage time from the equation (as is done at Cleaning the Glass) and the Celtics move up to 20th in offense, hanging around the likes of the Pistons and Knicks in the rankings. While the Boston offense is pretty good when both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are on the court together (and they will be more in the playoffs), the lack of a secondary playmaker is going to be an issue when teams can really dial in on what the Celtics do during the postseason.

Right now, like the Warriors, the Celtics just look a little mentally tired and in need of a break — Brad Steven’s team is all about effort and execution, and that has not been the same recently. For example, in Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers the Celtics gave up 129 points, the second consecutive game they have given up the most points they have allowed this season. The Celtics have dropped four-of-five, and Steven said after the All-Star break he will consider rotation changes to turn things around with his squad.

The seeming turnaround in Cleveland after the trade deadline provides a little urgency to Boston’s moves. Expect the team to be a little more focused when they get back to work next week.

Let’s give the Clippers some credit here — DeAndre Jordan owned the paint and scored a career-high 30 points, Montrezl Harrell make key plays late, Tobias Harris had 21 points, and the Clippers made good play after good play to get this win. Los Angeles is part of that clump of five teams within two games of each other battling for three playoff spots in the West, and they have a tougher schedule than most the rest of the way out. That makes wins like this — beating a top team in the East on the road — all the more crucial. Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Clippers a 61 percent chance of making the postseason after this win, but it’s going to be close — Cleaning the Glass projects the Clippers, Pelicans, and Nuggets each to have 43 wins when the season ends while the Trail Blazers would have 42 (the Jazz are seen with 45, they have the softest schedule the rest of the way of the group). Every win matters. This was a big one for a Los Angeles team that looks good and deep enough to get into the dance.

3) Isaiah Thomas, Rajon Rondo ejected after getting tangled up. Was this really worthy of an ejection? Maybe the players said something, but it didn’t look that bad.

That said, there is a history of bad blood here — Rondo questioned if Thomas even deserved a tribute video in Boston. On Wednesday night, Rondo was guarding Thomas on an inbound pass — getting in his face — and the two got tangled up. That led to a couple of technicals, but Rondo (and both players) continued talking after being separated, and that was enough to get them tossed.

Still not sure that was ejection worthy.

Lakers coach Luke Walton was ejected later in the first half after storming on the court to protest a call against Kyle Kuzma. That was not enough to spark the Lakers’ defense, which was a mess and the Pelicans got the needed win 139-117.