Damian Lillard won’t campaign for an All-Star spot


The first set of All-Star voting returns was released on Christmas Day, but the presents were nowhere to be found for the Blazers or their fans.

Portland has been playing as well as anyone this season, yet LaMarcus Aldridge ranked just sixth in votes among frontcourt players, and Damian Lillard managed to come in at just eighth on the list of guards as voted by the fans.

It’s not uncommon for players to put together clever campaigns in order to raise fan awareness and try to gain some additional votes. But Lillard says he won’t resort to using those tactics.

From Mike Richman of The Oregonian:

“I didn’t know how it worked,” Lillard said. “I had to ask my agent, ‘How does it work? Is it fans or is it regions? How do they get these numbers?'” …

“(My agent) just told me it was early and you’re just not as popular as these guys, I guess,” Lillard said. “That was my best guess that I’m just not as popular as them.” …

“I’m not going to do a campaign to try to start anything. It ain’t that serious,” Lillard said. “I feel like it’s a respect thing when you’re voted in by the coaches so I don’t mind that.”

It’s a wise choice by Lillard, for a couple of reasons.

First off, he has no shot of being voted in as a starter in the Western Conference. Stephen Curry leads every player in the league not named LeBron James in fan votes at this stage of things, and his play this season has earned him a place in the MVP conversation.

The other starting guard spot will be taken by Kobe Bryant, who, in his 19th season, is almost 200,000 votes ahead of James Harden, and has zero chance of being overtaken by anyone else.

The other reason Lillard doesn’t need to lobby for a spot is that he already has the attention of the coaches, who are responsible for voting in the reserves. He made the All-Star team last season the very same way, and as long as we get six guards in total on the roster (as we did a year ago), Lillard — along with Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul — are the ones more than likely to ultimately be selected.

Are these Clippers as good as last season’s version? No. Or at least not yet.


LOS ANGELES — Last season after 32 games, the Clippers were 21-11.

This season after 32 games, the Clippers are 21-11.

But this season doesn’t look or feel the same.

“I don’t think we’ve played as well,” Blake Griffin said after a hard-fought 101-97 win against a scrappy Utah team Monday night. “I mean maybe to this point, it is kind of hard to remember exactly how we were playing, but we hit a stretch last year, late in January early in February, when (Chris Paul) came back where we really hit our stride. That’s what we have to find again, we have to find our stretch.”

That stretch of play at the start of 2014 meant the Clippers entered this season talked about as potential title contenders. However, in a loaded Western Conference the Clippers flaws — defense and depth — have the team looking so far like it might not get out of the first round.

To a man the Clippers own up to their spotty performance so far, they know they are not playing at the level of the other top teams in the West right now. But they also are taking a big picture view that there are 50 games left in the season, they have just gone through a crowded and tough stretch of the schedule, and that they can get back to the team they were. They believe they can still build the needed good habits.

If they are going to do that, they are going to have to defend more consistently.

In last five games entering Monday night the Clippers had surrendered to opponents 6.2 points per 100 possessions more than their season average (which was already 18th in the NBA) and opponents had an eFG% of 56.2 percent. The Clippers are 4-6 in their last 10 games and their defense is 26th in the league in that stretch.

“We’ve shown we can be very good defensively, we just pick and choose to do that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We played Golden State the other night (Christmas) and our defense looked as good as anybody in the league…. I think we’re going to be a really good defensive team at the end of the day.”

But they are not now and the Utah game Monday night was an example of why. After a rough 18-point first quarter the Jazz scored at a 120.8 points per 100 possessions offensive rating in the second and third quarters (a number that is phenomenally high). The Jazz were led by 15 points from Gordon Hayward in those middle 24 minutes and their guards were getting into the paint and breaking down the defense.

But then come the fourth — the game was tied 77-77 entering the frame — the Clippers became focused and the Jazz scored at an 83.9 points per 100 pace in those final 12 minutes. The Clippers got the win.

“Just a commitment, effort,” Clippers starting three Matt Barnes said of what is needed to change team’s inconsistency on defense. “Not to make any excuses but we’ve been on a hell of a schedule lately, playing every other day for like a month.”

While there are no excuses in the NBA, the Clippers have a pretty good one with their schedule and practice concerns — they are just coming through a loaded stretch of the schedule with a lot of games. Rivers, who already practices less than pretty much any other coach in the league, decided to keep his players fresh by not practicing on off days.

The Clippers last real “lace up, get after it” practice was Dec. 5, according to Blake Griffin. That’s going on nearly a month. While there are fewer practices in the NBA than many fans realize (due to travel schedules and the volume of games) that is a long time.

“When you don’t practice there’s slippage,” Rivers said. “Offensively we’re catching the ball in the wrong spots, one foot off. Defensively we just need to be reminded of what we should do. We take pride in a lot of things — making them make the second pass, defending the three-point line — and we’re slipping on a lot of those areas. I think we’ll have the time to fix those because it’s nothing new.”

The other big area of slippage is transition defense, that’s the area which let the Jazz hang around on Monday night. The Clippers defense in the paint with DeAndre Jordan has been pretty good (he had four blocks vs. Utah) but on the perimeter the Clippers are virtually matadors waiving their cape as the guy with the ball slashes into the lane and breaks the defense down.

The other issue has been the lackluster bench play — Monday night Rivers played Griffin the entire fourth quarter, including with the second unit, to give them another scoring option. That came after the bench couldn’t hold the lead they had been given in the first half.

In a brutally tight Western Conference, these inconsistencies and concerns about defense and depth could have the Clippers sixth or seventh in a power ranking of the conference (in PBT’s latest power rankings they are sixth in the West).

Both Rivers and the locker room embraces big picture — they think they have plenty of time to fix this. To get back to the team they were last season.

And they do — there are 50 games left before the playoffs start, more than three months of basketball.

But those other teams in the West are improving too, they are making moves to give them an edge (the Rockets have been the most aggressive). There is time to make personnel moves to add depth, although the Clippers are not far below a hard cap (which kicked in when they gave Spencer Hawes the mid-level exception last summer) so they don’t have much money to offer the few players out there.

Every team goes through down stretches over the course of 82 games. Maybe the Clippers are getting theirs out of the way early, maybe the schedule and lack of practices to fine tune things are the issue. Maybe they can find their stride again.

But right now, they do not look like the same team from last year.

Rudy Gay hits Ben McLemore for half-court alley-oop (VIDEO)


Rudy Gay threw a perfect half-court lob to Ben McLemore for a dunk in the Kings’ 115-106 loss to the Suns:

It was a perfectly executed play off a defensive rebound, up there with anything from Kevin Love to LeBron James or Chris Paul to Blake Griffin in terms of flash.

John Stockton’s State Farm twin ad is the best (VIDEO)


The Chris Paul/Cliff Paul State Farm twin ads were pretty good (if a tad overplayed). Then Stephen Curry joined he twin series of ads.

But it was a stroke of genius to add John Stockton to the mix. This ad debuted on Christmas.

Clippers win ‘nice, boring’ Christmas Day battle with Warriors

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers and the Warriors have been one of the league’s best rivalries over the last year, and if the way the past battles have gone was any indication, with players needing to be separated following hard fouls and on-court scuffles that resulted in ejections, it was worth wondering whether or not this season’s Christmas Day matchup would produce similar fireworks.

But while the level of competitiveness and relative animosity was palpable, there was zero in terms of the types of physical confrontations we’ve seen in the past. What we were treated to, however, was plenty of missed shots.

Both teams went cold for an extremely lengthy stretch, and since L.A.’s came at the beginning of the game and Golden State’s came near the end, the final result was a 100-86 Clippers win that the team cautiously praised as being among its best of the season.

“It’s a good win for us,” Chris Paul said afterward. “I mean, it’s not like everything is right, or all that different type of stuff. But in the West, you’re just trying to get as many wins as possible and it’s a good win for us.”

It started out as anything but a winnable effort from the Clippers. After opening the game with a DeAndre Jordan dunk, L.A. missed its next 16 shots. But the Warriors couldn’t capitalize — their biggest lead in the period was 10 points, and a 2-of-9 shooting performance from three-point distance allowed the Clippers to stay in the game after the first 12 minutes.

Jamal Crawford was the one who was finally able to ignite L.A.’s offense. When nothing else was working, he came off the bench to score 10 points late in the first to drag his team back into it and give them a chance.

“I could see we were struggling a little bit,” Crawford said, after finishing with a team high 24 points. “They weren’t scoring a lot, but tonight I knew I was going to be more aggressive because I knew I needed to get the score up a little bit.

“We all started making shots. That kind of changed the game, and we were able to with stand it from there.”

The Warriors found their groove a bit in the second, and had the lead back to eight with just 1:23 remaining in the half. Steve Kerr elected to sit Stephen Curry with two fouls, not wanting him to pick up a third in the small window of time that was left. But it proved to be a costly decision, as L.A. closed the half on a 7-0 run to trail by a single point at the intermission.

Then came the third, and then came Chris Paul.

With the game tied at 59 apiece, Paul got going. He found Jordan for an alley-oop slam, shook Curry with a one-handed crossover before getting to the rim for an and-1 finish, and then drained a contested three before ending the period with a layup at the buzzer.

His play seemed to give the team the confidence boost it needed to finish the job. It was Golden State’s turn to go through an offensive drought, and a 19-3 Clippers run sealed it — one that fittingly ended with a dagger three from Crawford that pushed the lead to 20 with just under three minutes left.

“A signature win, right” Crawford said. “There are games during the course of a season where no matter what you say it means a little bit more. Obviously the whole country, the whole world was watching this game. They’re playing as good as anybody in the NBA. We’re trying to continue to be consistent and get back on track, so I thought it was good.”

The Warriors weren’t about to overreact after suffering a second straight loss, because they still sit with a record of 23-5 atop the league-wide standings.

“Overreacting would mean questioning our system or questioning individual abilities or the reasons that got us here,” Curry said. “The system works, we just have to execute. Our defense works; obviously we showed in the first half we could do it. But it’s important to not doubt what we’re about and what it means to play Warriors basketball regardless of these last two games.”

There were no fights, no confrontations, and no real battles — even though the feelings appeared to be seething just beneath the surface. Draymond Green seemed to want to up the ante, and spent time trying to engage Paul in trash talk for much of the night.

“He was telling me Merry Christmas and he was telling me to tell Little Chris (Paul’s son) Merry Christmas,” Paul joked afterward.

Green, though, took things more seriously.

“I didn’t think we were intense, as far as our fire, but I didn’t think they were either,” Green said. “I don’t know what the cause of it was. Maybe everybody was a little too jolly, but it was too nice. It was boring, I mean, I’m sure that was not the prime time game everybody expected. I’m not saying you have to have the elbows and all the crazy stuff, but the battle? It just wasn’t there.”

What was there was an impressive win for the Clippers. But don’t ask Blake Griffin if it had any additional meaning or significance just because it happened to be played on Christmas.

“We’re just so proud to represent the NBA on this blessed day,” he said.