Posts Tagged ‘Clippers’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 26




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors | Questions abound for new-look Hornets | Pistons open camp in much better space | What’s next for KG?

No. 1: Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors — They can’t hide from it, the expectations or the obstacles. And Doc Rivers knows as much, has prepared for as much heading into the 2016-17 NBA season with designs on taking the Los Angeles Clippers to places they haven’t been before, even with the Golden State Warriors and their superstar-studded roster (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) standing in the way. Rivers insists his Clippers are ready to challenge the Warriors, no matter what the doubters think. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times breaks down the challenges facing the Clippers with training camps set to kick off around the league:

Last season the Clippers had another successful regular season (53-29) and had high hopes going in the playoffs. But that quickly evaporated when they lost a first-round series to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.

Once again there were complaints that the L.A. Clippers still had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

“You should never run from the truth. That’s true,” Rivers said. “But getting past the second round is such a [expletive] goal. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the winner. So, to be the winner, part of that is getting past the second round. The second round talk does nothing for me. The endgame is being the winner.”

Rivers quickly pointed out that “we’re not” one of the favorites to win the 2017 NBA championship.

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Warriors as the title favorites at 5-7 odds, with defending NBA champion Cleveland second (5-2), San Antonio third (6-1) and the Clippers fourth (20-1).

“We’re in the conversation,” Rivers said.

So much of the Clippers’ success will be determined by the health of Paul and Griffin, both of whom Rivers said are 100% healthy based on how well they have looked while playing in pickup games at the practice facility.

But Griffin has another cloud hovering over him. He broke his right hand in a fight last January with then Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Griffin penned a letter to Clippers fans on the Players’ Tribune Friday, apologizing for last season.

“It’s been a hard year for Blake – from the knee injury to the Matias thing,” Rivers said. “Blake had a year of life lessons. And that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We all have them. I actually will say Blake is in the best physical and mental place he’s been in since I’ve been here.”

The Clippers will gather together for media day Monday and open their training camp Tuesday at UC Irvine.

In recent weeks Rivers has watched as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the the national anthem in his quest to raise awareness about racial injustice.

“When I hear people say, you have to stand with your team, that’s true. But there are certain issues that transcend everything,” Rivers said. “This is a very serious problem we have. And to me, none of us are smart enough to know the solutions. But what we can do is start the debate and the talk.

“And usually when enough people get to talking, there are usually results in some type of action. To me, whether you like what Kaepernick did or not – and it’s not for me to tell you if you should or shouldn’t – the fact that you’re reading about a statement that I’m making about it means what he’s doing has had an impact. Now we have to get to the endgame and that’s the hard part.”

On the basketball court, the hard part for the Clippers and the rest of the league will be getting past the Warriors with Durant and two-time MVP Stephen Curry as the expected super team of the NBA.

“There’s always going to be a competitor in our league. There’s never going to be one team that wins it every year,” Rivers said. “There’s always going to be someone that’s standing in front of you and our job is to stand directly in front of them and block their way.…

“But that’s fine, if that’s what people want to believe [about the Warriors]. We’re just not going to believe that crap.”

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 25




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bosh won’t surrender | Davis feeling explosive | Shot changed Kyrie | Clips wanted K.G.
No. 1: Bosh says it’s not over — He may have flunked the training camp physical. The Heat may be doing everything they can to keep him at a distance. Friends may be whispering that it’s time to move on to a life after playing in the NBA. But veteran Chris Bosh says the latest “little setback” is only motivating him to keep moving forward in his quest to return to the court. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel has the story:

“That doesn’t stop me from wanting to share my creative side with you guys and hoping that you want to come along on the journey with me,” he said of his failed physical in his video post. “So, just because the journey has ups and downs doesn’t mean that I will stop sharing with you guys. So I will just continue to share, despite what’s going on.

“Little setbacks happen, but that doesn’t change my intentions and what I want accomplish. So, I hope you continue to watch. I hope you continue to really just take in my journey and just come along with me, with the ups and the downs. So it’s a down moment right now, but everything’s going to be all right.”

With that, Bosh went ahead with the online release of the second chapter of his documentary “Rebuilt” that is featured on the LeBron James-operated digital outlet Uninterrupted, a chapter titled “Renewal.”

Among the references in Bosh’s documentaries have been ones to former Florida Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann, who has pushed past similar issues with blood clotting to return to the NHL. On Friday, however, Fleischmann failed his physical amid a tryout with the Minnesota Wild, leaving his career in doubt, as well.

Bosh’s latest documentary installment was updated to include the statement, “On the eve of the 2016-17 season, the Miami Heat have not cleared Chris to play. It is Chris’ hope that he can return to playing basketball.”

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 236) Featuring Dan Woike

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The “Clippers Curse” seems all too real these days for Doc Rivers and his crew.

You lose Blake Griffin to a quad injury for the remainder of the playoffs after losing Chris Paul (broken hand), on the same night, and yes, you are entitled to believe in any urban legend you’d like if you are a Los Angeles Clippers fan.

Rivers still has a chance to do the unthinkable and guide his team to the conference semifinals without Griffin and Paul in uniform. It’ll require him trusting the role players and supporting cast in ways no coach has had to in years.

It’s up to you Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, and Austin Rivers. And you Paul Pierce, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan. And yes, even you Cole Aldrich.

It’s going to take everyone for the Clippers to survive the Portland Trail Blazers in this first round series and that still might not be enough to get past Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and their suddenly confident supporting cast.

That curse … it’s real.

We discuss that and all things Clippers and playoffs on Episode 236 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. And Woike is pronounced “woy-key.”

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Can the Clippers win without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? We’re all about to find out

Chris Paul fractures right hand

PORTLAND, Ore. — Chris Paul of the Clippers fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand in the third quarter of Monday’s 98-84, Game 4 loss to the Trail Blazers, sidelining him the rest of Monday night and likely the remainder of the first round series, which is now tied at two games apiece. Paul suffered the injury when his hand hit the lower back of the Blazers’ Gerald Henderson as Henderson drove to the basket.

There was no immediate timetable from the Clippers when their All-Star point guard might return to action.

L.A. was 16.6 points per 100 possessions better with Paul on the floor than they were with him on the bench in the regular season. Among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes, only Draymond Green and Stephen Curry had a higher on-off-court NetRtg differential. In the first round, the Clippers are a plus-30 in 125 minutes with Paul on the floor and a minus-11 in 67 minutes with him off the floor. Paul scored his team’s first 12 points on Monday.

“He’ll get evaluated tomorrow,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said about Paul, “but it obviously doesn’t look very good for him.”

Paul was seen leaving the Moda Center with his hand bandaged and his right arm in a sling.

“He runs the team,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He’s been having an outstanding series. They’re a different team without him.”

Game 5 is Wednesday in Los Angeles, with Austin Rivers likely starting at point guard in place of Paul. Clippers power forward Blake Griffin also left Monday’s game after reinjuring his left quad, and guard J.J. Redick has been dealing with a bruised left heel.

“We’re not sure with Blake yet,” Rivers said. “He’ll get evaluated tomorrow when we get back. I would say 50/50 on the next game with him. I expect him to be back, but we don’t know that yet.”

 

Report: Players union, NBA agree to shorter free agent moratorium

So now the Clippers are going to have to be quicker with their planes, trains and automobiles emojis. Coach Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin will have to get the sofa barricaded in front of the door faster.

In plugging what has long been an annoying, unnecessary — and last summer an embarrassing — hole in the off-season talent bazaar, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have agreed to shorten the moratorium period for free agents from 10 days down to five.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, teams were informed with a memo on Thursday that verbal commitments can be made with free agents starting July 1 and the moratorium would end on July 6.

The DeAndre Jordan Rule has found its way into summer free agency.

In the aftermath of the free-agent center’s tortured change-of-heart that led him to return to the Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA and the players association agreed to shorten the July free-agency moratorium and allow verbal commitments to become signed contracts in a shorter period of time, league sources told The Vertical.

The NBA and union agreed to make an alteration to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, shortening the moratorium this summer to July 1-6, sources said.

Teams were informed with a memo on Thursday evening, sources said.

As the NBA points out, though, contracts cannot actually be signed until July 7.

Of course, it will forever be known as the “DeAndre Rule” in the aftermath of last summer’s silly circus played out on Twitter and in headlines after a dramatic change of heart by the Clippers’ free-agent center, DeAndre Jordan.

Jordan had agreed to terms on a maximum contract to jump from the L.A. Clippers to the Dallas Mavericks in the opening days of the 2015 free agency period. The Mavs had promised to make Jordan the centerpiece of their offense and touted him as their next franchise player to eventually succeed Dirk Nowitzki.

But a full-court press by Rivers, various Clippers players at Jordan’s house in Houston, resulted in a flip-flop by the leaping 7-footer and he eventually jumped at the opportunity to return to L.A. as part of the core trio with Griffin and Chris Paul.

All the while that the Clippers entourage was holed up with Jordan, the Mavs were unable to make contact with him. Team owner Mark Cuban was angry with the reversal and the way the whole affair played out publicly.

The reason there is a moratorium period is so the NBA can have an ample time to calculate revenue figures and deliver teams the exact figures on the next season’s salary cap. Still, it often left fans puzzled and angry and the fiasco of 2015 was evidently the last straw.

Simple solution: hire more accountants.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 230) Featuring J.J. Redick

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When Doc Rivers revamped his bench in the offseason he made sure the Los Angeles Clippers would be one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA this season.

Even now, after shipping both Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson out, the Clippers remain a team of intrigue. They have an elite coach in Rivers, superstars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (yes, he’ll be back), one of the league’s best rim protectors and rebounders in DeAndre Jordan, a super sixth-man in Jamal Crawford and one of the league’s deadliest pure shooters in J.J. Redick.

So what’s holding them back?

Why are they stuck in the fourth spot in the Western Conference standing?

It might have something to do with the reigning champions up in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors on a historic roll this season and the San Antonio Spurs aren’t far off the pace. And then there is the matter of that two-headed superstar monster from Oklahoma City.

So perhaps it’s understandable, the Clippers’ current predicament. Even as they continue to shine without Griffin in the lineup, they still have ground to make up in the standings.

We dig deep on the Clippers and much more on Episode 230 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring J.J. Redick.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Clippers sharpshooter J.J. Redick put up a 20-spot in the first round of the Foot Locker Three Point contest during All-Star Weekend in Toronto

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 226) Back Together Again

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It took a while, nearly two months, but the crew is back together again. And just in time for the latest “Game of the Century” on Super Bowl eve (Thunder visiting the Warriors), a vintage effort from Kobe Bean Bryant and next week’s All-Star extravaganza in Toronto.

That’s right,  The Hang Time Podcast crew is reunited this week to discuss, debate and drill down on the hottest topics around the league — and yes, that means the elusive Rick Fox has finally been located.

He’s been busy the past couple of months doing prep work for the All-Star Game’s visit to his native Toronto (where he swears we’re going to be on the VIP list at Drake‘s restaurant and every other hot spot throughout All-Star Weekend).

We needed the entire crew to sort out the mess in Phoenix (Earl Watson taking over for Jeff Hornacek), to address the rumors that Kevin Durant could be headed to join Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in free agency, the state of the Lakers (and their precocious rookie D’Angelo Russell, who is caught in the middle of a tug of war between his coach Byron Scott and the man who trained him in the lead up to the Draft, Clippers’ analyst Don MacLean), the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers under Tyronn Lue (and the new super friends LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) and so much more.  some wicked resistance from the champs, who shouldn’t have to do anything else to convince the remaining non-believers that luck had nothing to do with their championship run last season.

Crazy season (the NBA trade deadline) is near, so you’ll have to forgive us for diving in on so many different topics. But it’s been so rare this season that we’ve been at full strength that we simply could not resist.

Check it all out on Episode 226 of The Hang Time Podcast where the crew gets back together again.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Kobe Bryant turned back the clock on the Minnestoa Timberwolves for a season-high 38 points in the Lakers’ win

Reports: Clippers’ Griffin injures hand in scuffle with equipment staff member

NBA.com news reports

UPDATE 2:10 p.m. ET

Per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, Griffin will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand

UPDATE, 11:04 p.m. ET

Per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, Griffin was involved in a scuffle with a team staff member. Others have chimed in since with more details, and coach Doc Rivers is expected to address the situation before tonight’s road game against the Indiana Pacers (7 ET, NBA League Pass) …

Here’s more from ESPN.com on the situation:

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin injured his right hand after hitting a member of the team’s equipment staff during an argument, multiple sources told ESPN’s Michael Eaves.

According to the sources, Griffin and the equipment staffer got into an argument in a restaurant during the team’s trip to Toronto. Griffin hit the man, who then left the restaurant and went outside. Griffin followed him outside and hit him again.

Griffin suffered a suspected fracture in his hand in the incident, sources told ESPN’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne early Tuesday morning.

The equipment staffer’s face was injured, sources told Eaves. Both Griffin and the equipment staffer were sent home after the incident.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said at practice Tuesday morning that the team would issue a statement on the situation before its game against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.

L.A. travels to Atlanta to face the Hawks on Wednesday before returning home to square off with the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at Staples Center.

Griffin, who has been out with a quadriceps injury, originally hoped to return to the lineup during this road trip. The Clippers have gone 11-3 in his absence.

The Los Angeles Times‘ Ben Bolch has further details on the incident as well:

Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin injured his right hand throwing a punch during an altercation with a member of the team’s traveling party over the weekend and will be sidelined a few more weeks.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers would not divulge whether there would be any discipline involved as a result of the incident but said he would more fully address the situation before his team plays the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The equipment staff member involved in the altercation has not been fired, a team spokesman said.

The injury imperils Griffin’s ability to play in the All-Star game Feb. 14 in Toronto if he is selected to be among the reserves for the Western Conference roster. The reserves will be announced Thursday.

It is the second physical altercation involving Griffin in the last 16 months. A West Hollywood man accused Griffin of snatching his cellphone and grabbing him after the man took a picture of Clippers players at the Tao nightclub in Las Vegas last October.

The misdemeanor battery case later was dropped after prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence.

FROM OVERNIGHT …

Just as Clippers forward Blake Griffin was nearing a return from a quadriceps injury that has sidelined him since Dec. 26, news broke late Monday night that Griffin could miss more time, this time due to an unrelated injury to his hand.

According to the ESPN.com report, the outlook doesn’t look good:

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin r‎eturned home early from the team’s five-game road trip after suffering a suspected broken right hand in an undisclosed team-related incident, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources told ESPN.com that the hand injury — unrelated to the torn quadriceps muscle that has sidelined Griffin since Dec. 26 — is expected to keep him out “a matter of weeks as opposed to days.”

Sources close to the situation said late Monday that the Clippers are still evaluating the severity of the new injury but are expected to provide an update Tuesday.

The Clippers are 11-3 in Griffin’s absence and are set to play in Indiana on Tuesday and Atlanta on Wednesday.

Data curated by PointAfter

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 224) Green or Griffin?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Draymond Green or Blake Griffin?

Who would you take between these two elite power forwards, each with their own unique set of skills, to start your team?

Do you ride with the perennial All-Star, the four-time All-NBA pick and sure thing that is Griffin? Or do you rock with the NBA champion, the walking triple-double/human jack-knife that is Green?

It’s a great debate and one that we delve into on Episode 224 of The Hang Time Podcast. There really is no wrong answer, when you think about it. Both Griffin and Green are on the short list of players at their position who are universally considered game changers.

They do it in different ways, of course. But their value to their respective teams cannot be disputed.

Would the Golden Warriors have risen to a championship level without the contributions of Green? Even with All-Stars like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson doing their thing, the easy answer is no, absolutely not.

Would the Los Angeles Clippers have scratched and clawed their way out of the abyss the past few years without the rise and shine of Griffin? Nope. Chris Paul is the man that stirs the drink, but even he admits that the Clippers go as Griffin goes.

We talk Green and Griffin, recap the Warriors’ smashing of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day showcase, discuss our picks for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Star rosters and much more on Episode 224 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Mike Fratello and Grant Hill analyze the unique skill set of Warriors’ forward Draymond Green

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
No panic in Warriors after another loss| Kevin Durant loves the media | Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space | The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up

No. 1:  No panic in Warriors after another loss — It’s happened so rarely this season that the shock of it all could be a little much to take for the Golden State Warriors. They’ve walked off the court after a loss just four times all season, but lost their second straight road game Saturday night in Detroit. But there is no panic now that the Warriors have come back to earth, a bit, from their unbelievable start to the season. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The Warriors’ post-practice session Sunday started with Draymond Green playfully mocking Luke Walton’s work ethic and ended with Stephen Curry proudly wearing a Carolina Panthers cap while singing the team’s theme song.

If the Warriors are panicking about their declining play during the past 11 games, including an 18-point spanking by Detroit on Saturday, they sure weren’t conveying it before flying to Cleveland for an NBA Finals rematch.

“There’s no need to panic, turn on each other or point a finger. We all sucked,” Green said. “… You want to keep the environment loose. You don’t want to tense up and feel like it’s the end of the world and play like that. Yeah, we have to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we have to play with that fire and intensity, but you don’t want to play like you’re in a panic.”

The Warriors (37-4) will have a good barometer for their keep-it-loose approach during the next five games. They play road games at Cleveland and Chicago before hosting Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas — teams that went into Sunday’s games a combined 131-68 (.775).

To have success during the challenging stretch, the Warriors know they’re going to have to play better than they have in the past 11 games.

“It matters to us, every game that we don’t play well. We’re trying to figure it out,” Curry said. “At 37-4, I’m happy that it bothers us. … It shows that it’s a long season, but we’re on a mission to do something big this year. The game (Saturday) night was not in line with our identity and who we are as a team.”

The Warriors went 28-2 in their first 30 games, beating opponents by an average of 13.4 points per game. They’ve gone 9-2 in their past 11 games, beating opponents by an average of 4.8 points per game.

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No. 2: Kevin Durant loves the media —  He has a strange way of showing it, but Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant does not hate the media. In fact, Durant said he has nothing but love for the folks covering him and his team on a regular basis. Sure, he’s had some heated exchanges with reporters recently and has criticized the media for not holding his Thunder in the same regard as other elite teams around the league, for “nit-picking” the way he and Russell Westbrook operate, for disrespecting Kobe Bryant and various other perceived transgressions. But in the end it’s, all love. Erik Horne of the Oklahoman has more:

“I also have something else to say, if you guys don’t mind. I was talking to Matty earlier and I’ve seen over the last couple days – couple of years, actually – that I hate the media. I actually do love you guys. If I hated someone I wouldn’t talk to them. I wouldn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t laugh and joke with them. I wouldn’t talk with them about anything other than what you guys ask me. When I disagree, that doesn’t mean that I hate you guys, so … my whole deal is to spark a conversation and hopefully we can talk about the topic, or whatever it is at hand we can talk about, and we all can grow from it. That’s my whole deal.

“I know I’m not necessarily talking to all you guys – all you guys with all these mics here. My whole thing is when I disagree that doesn’t mean I hate you, that just means … what you guys really wanted is someone who’s open and honest with you and who’s opinionated and that’s who I am. I haven’t changed, I’m the same person. I just grew as a man. Hopefully you just appreciate it and know that I don’t hate you. That’s a harsh word and my mom never brought me up to be a hater of anyone. I always believe that if I’m open and honest and opinionated that I can grow as a person and hopefully you can learn that’s what I’m about, and hopefully you all can get better. The main goal is to help the fans know the game a little bit more than they know today, so that’s my goal and hopefully that’s your goal instead of getting headlines and clicks. That’s my take on it, that’s the last time I’ll talk about it, but I had something I had to get off my chest. I appreciate it.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clarifies his recent comments about the media

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No. 3: Kyrie says Cavs are in a better space — It stands to reason that weeks after Christmas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are something of a different monster than the one we saw that day against the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving, who made his debut just a week before that game, is in a different place now. He says the Cavs are in a better space. And he’s ready for tonight’s rematch of the rematch between The Finals combatants (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has the details:

In the first meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, an NBA Finals rematch, point guard Kyrie Irving was playing in his third game, trying to get back in rhythm after a rehab-filled off-season.

Heading into Monday night, another crack at the league’s best team that celebrated inside Quicken Loans Arena about seven months ago, Irving feels different, inching closer to his old form.

“A lot better,” Irving said following Sunday’s practice, the first workout since returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. “Definitely trying to prove it out there every single time I go out there and play. Just trying to continue to be better every single game for my teammates.”

Since that Christmas Day showdown, an 89-83 loss, Irving has hypnotized defenses with his slick ball handling, made a pair of clutch three-pointers in the closing minutes and had a few scoring outbursts. He has given Cleveland an offensive boost, averaging 103.8 points in his 12 games.

“Coming back it was a tough adjustment at first, missing a few shots here and there, being on the minute restriction, just had some things to get used to,” Irving said. “And as I continue to progress and the more games I play, the better I am getting.

“I just didn’t want to come in and break anyone’s rhythm. We had a great thing going, and me just being an added piece, just wanted to come in and make it seem seamless and do whatever it takes to win. I mean, it was a tough transition coming back, I’m not going to lie, but I think it’s getting easier and easier every single game.”

Irving is averaging 17.0 points on 42 percent from the field, including 26 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

His numbers are down and his play has been dotted with inconsistency. But Cavs head coach David Blatt is focusing on the positives.

“Kyrie has been doing well,” Blatt said Sunday. “I said on a few occasions after some of his bigger games that still we had to understand and show patience. And he has gone more or less up and down a little bit and it’s totally understandable. He missed a long time, came off a serious injury. But he’s worked hard and he’s played well since he’s come back. Some games better than others. And it’s just part of the process and we understand it. And that will continue for a little while.”

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No. 4: The Clippers’ schedule is about to crank up — Winning feels great, and the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing it as well as anyone lately — even after their 10-game win streak was snapped Saturday — as they head into tonight’s matchup against Houston (10:30 p.m. on TNT). But the schedule is about get a lot tougher and Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows what’s coming. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times explains:

Starting with Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

“I don’t look ahead but to the next game, obviously,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. “[But] defensively we’re a better team. And that’s all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I’m never that concerned about us. I think most nights we’re going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that’s where we’re a better team.”

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it’s more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven’t faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

“No, we’re not trying to send any messages,” said Rivers, whose team didn’t practice Sunday. “We’re just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

“We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we’re going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you had plans Saturday night and missed out on the raucous celebration at The Palace of Auburn Hills, relive the moment the Detroit Pistons retired Ben Wallace‘s No. 3 … Washington Wizards swingman Jarrell Eddie has found his dream job … You won’t have to think long and hard about who has been voted the NBA’s dirtiest player (here’s a hint, it rhymes with sell him a nova) … Even after all of these years, Kobe Bryant is still reaching milestones in the Lakers’ record books