Posts Tagged ‘Clippers’

Banged-Up Spurs Find Footing After (Another) Solid Rodeo Road Trip


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks about Kawhi Leonard’s expected return to the lineup

OK, so maybe Tim Duncan wasn’t just a frisky young colt the last time the Spurs played a game at the AT&T Center. It could be that Manu Ginobili didn’t have his long, flowing hair that flopped in the wind when he flopped on the court or that Tony Parker was still coach Gregg Popovich’s favorite teenaged whipping boy.

It just seems that long ago.

When Rudy Gay’s last ditch 3-pointer missed on Feb. 1, the Spurs were able to claw past the Kings to end a three-game losing streak, hoping to crawl out of town in search of recuperation and recovery.

That’s exactly what the Spurs found on their annual rodeo road trip that might once more have saved their season. The Spurs have been forced to vacate their arena for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo for an extended stretch each season since 2003 and have never brought home a losing record in their luggage.

This time, the Spurs traveled 8,989 miles through four time zones and left with a broken lineup that had been missing three starters — Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — and before the journey left the East Coast in Boston, Parker and Tiago Splitter had to take their turns on the shelf.

Yet they returned with an unlikely 6-3 mark that keeps them No. 2 in the Western Conference entering their first home game in 25 nights against the Pistons (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It was an experience that while testing their depth, resolve and supply of bandages in their medical kit could once again give the Spurs the faith in the full roster and the necessary belief in themselves again down the stretch toward the playoffs.

“We’ve been looking for some consistency, and I saw more of that on the trip,” Duncan told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “I saw the effort and execution. We’re still making a lot of mistakes, but that might just be me being around Pop too long and trying to be a perfectionist.

“We’ve improved, our confidence is there, and to see we’re operating with our 10th, 11th and 12th guys just like we are with the first guys will be huge for us and pay dividends down the stretch.”

Popovich for years has monitored and kept a lid on the minutes of his core players while maximizing virtually every man on his roster. But this Rodeo Trip might have been his best work yet. Green returned for the first game of the trip, but Leonard (nine), Ginobili (six), Splitter (four), Duncan (one) Boris Diaw (one) and Aron Baynes (one) each missed games during the trip. Parker missed the last three games because of assorted aches and pains and Popovich said he will continue to rest “for the foreseeable future.”

The Spurs even got a big win at Portland on a night when they played without the starting trio of Duncan, Parker and Leonard.

“Good trip for us,” Duncan said. “We would love to have played better (in Phoenix), but we’ve got a couple days to rest now, and hopefully we can continue to add people back to the squad and get ready for some home games finally.”

After a solid 35-6 record a year ago, the Spurs have already lost eight home games this season. They were staggering and lacked sharp execution, which made rediscovering their cohesiveness and how they play more important than where they play.

Returning home doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the lineup for Parker. After playing so deep into June in The Finals with the Spurs, Parker spent last summer playing for the French national team and led an unprecedented charge for a first-ever championship. Though the summer play kept him sharp for 2013-14, it also clearly sapped his energy and might have led to his nagging injuries. That’s why Popovich is sitting Parker now and remains determined not to put him back into the lineup until Parker is fully recovered, rested and playoff-ready.

It means Parker’s teammates will have to keep the rodeo trip attitude rolling, especially backup point guard Patty Mills.

“I think as long as the emotion, the passion, is always there, you can get it done,” Popovich said. “Look at (Russell) Westbrook, how long he was out. Look at Chris (Paul), what the Clippers did when he was out.

“When you’re on a team with a bunch of guys who care and want to be the last team standing, it’s not so much turning it on and off. It’s just the team rolls without you, just keeps going. Then you plug yourself back in. That’s what good teams do.”

Once again, the long road of the rodeo trip has brought the Spurs home with a deeper sense of who they can be.


VIDEO: Patty Mills discusses the Spurs’ big win over the L.A. Clippers

Season On The Brink For The Hawks?

.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Magic

The Atlanta Hawks have struggled to keep up their early-season success of late.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sooner or later, one way or another, you knew it was all going to catch up with the Atlanta Hawks.

The injuries.

The close losses.

The missed opportunities.

The injuries.

They weren’t going to stay above the fray in the Eastern Conference mix behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat forever. Not without Al Horford. Not with coach Mike Budenholzer pushing every button possible to make up for the loss of the team’s franchise player after his season-ending pectoral muscle tear the day after Christmas.

It’s amazing it took this long for the wheels to come off for the Hawks. They held on to their top-four status in the East for a good month after Horford went down. Jeff Teague played his guts out before injuries interrupted his season and he hasn’t been as consistent since. Elders like Elton Brand and Kyle Korver and pups like Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack rose up when they were needed. Paul Millsap even earned an All-Star nod, the first of his career, stepping into the void to replace what Horford gave the Hawks on a nightly basis.

But here they are now, with the smoke clearing and the mirrors smashed, facing their most grueling stretch of the calendar with their season on the brink as they cling to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Wednesday night’s game in Boston begins a season-defining road stretch that includes stops in Phoenix Sunday, Portland (March 5), Golden State (March 7), Los Angeles (the Clippers on March 8) and finishing up in Utah (March 10). Survive this stretch and there is still hope that the Hawks can get healthy enough in time to at least fend off late-season charges from issue-laden Detroit, Cleveland and even woeful New York.

If the Hawks get buried on this road trip, they’ll surely get caught (and be passed up) by one of those teams. Not that they are looking that far ahead.

“You never should look ahead that far,” forward DeMarre Carroll said. “We’re just trying to get better and trust the system and let our work do the talking.”


VIDEO:
Al Horford suffers a season-ending pectoral injury in Cleveland

The power of positive thinking might not save the Hawks this time around. They overachieved early this season and their above-.500 work through early February was fool’s gold. The Hawks are 2-9 this month and don’t exactly boast a road reputation that gives reason to think this big trip will end well.

They are 9-19 on the road with wins over the likes of Sacramento, Charlotte, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Of that group, only the Bobcats are in the playoff mix.

The only saving grace for the Hawks is that they are not alone. Every team in the Eastern Conference not named the Pacers or Heat have to operate like their season is on the line over the course of the next four to six weeks. That’s how fluid the playoff picture is. Whoever gets hot the fastest can chew up some real estate in the standings and push their way into that No. 4-5-6-7 mix in the pecking order.

“We talked about that Monday in our meeting after the [Sunday loss to Miami],” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, taking his cue from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Thibs said it best, we cannot exhale right now. We have to push through these next couple of games and weeks because this next stretch can alter your season and what you want to do if you let the fatigue of the season get to you. We look at the loss columns for everybody and we feel like we’re right there. You have to bounce back from tough losses and get back at it. Miami and Indiana have separated themselves from the pack, so everybody else has to be fighting for that next spot, that No. 3 seed. And we’re grinding for it right now.”

The Bulls are also grinding without the face of their franchise, Derrick Rose. They’ve surely dealt with their fair share of injuries and adversity this season. But some teams handle it better than others. They are 16-8 since trading Luol Deng to Central Division rival Cleveland. While the Hawks struggle to dig out from under their February avalanche, the Bulls surge along.

Thibodeau oozes confidence when talking about his wounded group, insisting that they have more than enough to get the job done each night. The Bulls’ experience operating under duress in recent seasons certainly aids that cause. Their familiarity with one another (and Thibodeau’s hard-charging style) are assets as well.

The Hawks, with a first-year coach in Budenholzer and a largely revamped roster, have no such benefits. General manager Danny Ferry had a chance to look for some temporary roster help at the trade deadline, but didn’t come away with anything that would make a significant impact.

The fact is, the Hawks are still finding out if they are cut from that same tough fabric the Bulls are. Time will tell. And time, particularly the next 13 days or so, will tell about these Hawks. They are 10-17 without Horford and their confidence seems to be fading.

“The interesting thing about the East,” Hawks veteran guard Lou Williams said, “and I’m trying to say the politically correct thing here … a couple of wins in a row here and you’ll be right back in the fold. We recognize and understand that. So our job is just go out, take it one game at a time and see if we can put a string of wins together and get there.”

That’s much easier said than done at this juncture for the Hawks, who can hear the clock ticking on their season.


VIDEO: The Hawks fight back, but can’t finish off the Bulls in Atlanta

Rockets Trading On Patience This Time


VIDEO: Brent Barry breaks down the Rockets’ recent success in this version of ‘Breaking Bones’

HOUSTON — Birds fly. Fish swim.

Daryl Morey trades.

Underneath all the talk of the Rockets adding a wing shooter and perimeter defender at the deadline — they landed Jordan Hamilton from the Nuggets – was a huge, hard-wired part of Morey’s DNA that said: Do something. Something big.

Surely, Morey would have leaped at the chance to, say, reel in Rajon Rondo from his old Boston stomping grounds, if Danny Ainge had been so inclined. But the truth was the Rockets never really had the chips to the put onto the table — a premium first round draft choice or two — to even get the Celtics thinking seriously.

Daryl Morey, James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Daryl Morey, James Harden
(Bill Baptist/NBAE)

There was the one rumor that Boston would have very much been interested in Chandler Parsons. But who wouldn’t be? Parsons is young, athletic, talented and still plays on a rookie, second-round pick contract. That’s the kind of real value that is very much at a premium in today’s NBA.

Morey’s jumping-the-checkers-all-over-the-board approach has been on display for more than a half-decade now. He landed the All-Star pair of James Harden and Dwight Howard with it. So, if he couldn’t wallop another another home run this time around, it surely wasn’t because he didn’t wear out his beloved Blackberry trying. You can’t hit the pitches you don’t swing at.

Yet for the first time since he began calling the shots in the front office in 2007, the Rockets’ general manager didn’t feel the same sense of urgency.

“We feel like as a team as we are coming together at the right time,” Morey said. “We had a lot of opportunities to mix things up. But we feel like we have a core with stars in Dwight and James and we have a good group around them that we feel good about, and we feel like when you have that core you want to keep the guys around them.”

A seemingly endless of string of nagging injuries since the start of the season had prevented the Rockets from developing any cohesion or consistency. Even with Howard back close to his pre-back surgery, pre-shoulder injury level of fitness, there was also the matter of trying to blend his low post game with Harden’s one-on-one skills.

While the two of them can sometimes look like would-be dancers with no sense of rhythm, there is a feeling that the pieces are growing together. And the Rockets’ record is showing it.

As they close out a five-game road trip with a back-to-back at the Kings and Clippers that starts Tuesday night, the Rockets are now an NBA-best 17-5 since Jan. 1. They have climbed solidly into the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference and now set their sights on the No. 2 Spurs, whom they have already whipped three times this season.

It is a wholly different attitude for Morey, to let the pot he’s filled come to a slow boil rather than just keep grabbing for new ingredients. Inside he believes his team still needs that third All-Star level player to stand toe-to-toe with Miami, Indiana and Oklahoma City. But with Howard and Harden contented in their roles on the team, their place in Houston and locked into max-level contracts, patience is probably the most prudent path.

The Rockets were able to trade veteran guard Aaron Brooks, a fan favorite, to Denver because they feel they have enough talent in the pipeline. Last year’s draft pick, Isaiah Canaan, plucked in the second round, has been simmering in the NBA D-League and earned his chance to contribute significant minutes with the Rockets. Hamilton is another below-the-radar talent that the Rockets believe can flourish if give the opportunity to play. And it is that cycling through of young players that has kept the Rockets both moving forward steadily in terms of overall progress and flexible enough with their payroll to remain open and available to make that next big deal. As sure as summer follows spring, they’ll be standing on the high dive looking to make another big splash in the talent pool in July.

The Rockets would likely be a tough out in any best-of-seven playoff series in the rugged Western Conference, the Thunder included. But with an offense that relies so heavily on the 3-point shot, the question is whether they can perform consistently enough over eight weeks of the playoffs — or even two rounds — to be taken seriously yet.

We’ll find out. Sometimes, the answers do come when you sit and wait.


VIDEO: Daryl Morey discusses the Rockets’ trade for Jordan Hamilton

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe on Collins and courage “domino” effect | Oden’s makes waves, first start for Heat | Clippers finally get what they need … win over the Thunder | Wizards turn to veterns for help down the stretch | A “shoe war” over Lillard?

No. 1: Kobe insists Collins courage will have domnio effect – Making history surely wasn’t on the mind of Jason Collins Sunday night, as he became the first openly gay athlete to suit up and play in one of the four major American sports. All Collins, of the Brooklyn Nets, was trying to do was earn his 10-day contract keep and help his team win. Whether he likes it or now, though, Collins is taking groundbreaking steps that will generate what Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called a courage domino effect across the landscape. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports explains:

“His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports before the game. “You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports.”

Collins, now in his 13th season, was a free agent at the time of his announcement and the Nets were the first team to sign him. Bryant said his initial reaction to Collins signing with Brooklyn was, “It’s great. Let’s hoop.”

Along with having an impact on the gay and sports communities, Bryant says the news teaches the youth “it’s OK to be yourself” and will motivate people from all walks of life.

“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent,” said Bryant, who is currently out of the Lakers’ lineup indefinitely with a knee injury. “I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.

“It’s dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they’re being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.”

On the impact of Collins’ first game, Bryant said: “There is a kid out there who … is going to say, ‘Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.’”

Collins, who was scoreless in 10-plus minutes of action, said in response to Bryant’s praise, “That’s along the same lines of what I would say to every other professional athlete. … Realize that there is support there waiting for you. That’s the only thing I can say about encouraging people to be their true self.”


VIDEO: Jason Collins waxes on his season debut with the Brooklyn Nets

***

No. 2: Greg Oden’s first start for Heat (sans LeBron) ends with a win – Greg Oden made some news of his own Sunday, earning his first start for the Miami Heat in their win over the Chicago Bulls. The former No. 1 overall pick reached yet another milestone in his long journey back from what once appeared to be career-ending knee injuries. His start came without LeBron James in uniform, the Heat superstar sat out with that broken nose suffered against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week. But this day was about Oden and his milestone, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Oden’s big-picture perspective is unwavering.

He’s just happy to be here.

“For me, each game getting better and walking off healthy — they’re all milestones to me,” said Oden, who is attempting to revive his career after a series of knee injuries. “It has been a long road, so every one is a good one for me.”

Sunday might have been the best of all. He started his first game since December 2009 and played nearly 13 minutes in Miami’s victory. During his brief time in the game, Oden matched up against Bulls center Joakim Noah and had five points and five rebounds.

“He’s an active player for someone that big,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He makes multiple efforts, he gives you extra possessions and he’s very intelligent, so he has a pretty good grasp of what we want and how we want to play already.”

With LeBron James out with a broken nose, Spoelstra went to Oden for his size inside against the Bulls and also to keep the Heat’s second unit somewhat intact. Chicago is one of the league’s most aggressive rebounding teams and it showed early. The Bulls held a 32-19 rebounding advantage after the first half.

“We knew the minutes would be short for Greg still — 10 to 12 minutes — so we figure that [it would] be best to get him in that starting lineup,” Spoelstra said. “We get to keep our rotations somewhat similar.”

Oden said he could have played more than 13 minutes, which is a positive sign for the Heat. He is expected to be an important piece in the playoffs, especially against teams such as the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, which feature big frontcourts.

On a contending team for the first time in his career, Oden is following the lead of his more experienced teammates and Oden’s health is returning just in time for the Heat’s playoff push.

“They’ve all been through this before,” Oden said. “This is one of my first times going through this. This is that push you’ve got to get for first place. That’s what we are aiming for right now the next push is going to be when the playoffs come.”

***

No. 3: Clippers finally get that much-needed win over The Thunder – The Los Angeles Clippers fancy themselves a championship team, as do the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers, though, needed a win over the Thunder, on the road, to legitimize their claim. And they finally got that Sunday, solving their Thunder issue on the big stage and sending a message that they are indeed going to be a part of the power mix in the Western Conference playoff chase. As Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports, it was long overdue:

The Clippers needed this.

A 125-117 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday carried restorative powers for a Clippers team had been unsuccessful against the NBA’s elite on the road.

The Thunder owned the league’s best record — until the Clippers’ victory took their opponent down a peg to 43-14, percentage points behind Indiana (42-13).

The Clippers won with all five starters scoring in double figures. Jamal Crawford led the way with 36 points, but Matt Barnes (24 points, seven rebounds), Blake Griffin (20 points, seven rebounds, six assists), DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (18 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds) all played significant roles.

“It’s definitely a good win for us,” said Paul, who played despite a sprained right thumb. “We were on the plane [Saturday] flying here and we were just talking about how we hadn’t beat any good teams on the road, and this would be the perfect time to start.”

The Clippers lost here earlier this season. They also have lost at San Antonio, Miami, Indiana and Portland, teams that rank among the best in the league.

The Clippers have won at Houston, but that was only one win against five road losses against the top teams.

Now the Clippers have a victory against a Thunder team that has lost only five games at home all season. They also have their first win since the All-Star game, after stumbling out of the break with losses to San Antonio and at Memphis.

“It was a very important win, especially having dropped our last two,” Griffin said. “This win was big for us. We haven’t really made a statement on the road. We’ve won some games, but we haven’t won big games. So it was terrific for us.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ big win in OKC

***

No. 4: Wizards turns to veterans for help down the stretch – Trades and injuries have a way of opening doors for NBA veterans this time of year and the Washington Wizards are not different. After their work on deadline day, the Wizards had a new point guard in Andre Miller and an opening for a few minutes for guys like Al Harrington and Kevin Seraphin. An injury to Nene created even more space for those two veterans and they answered the call for Randy Wittman‘s team. Michael Lee of The Washington Post with the details:

Kevin Seraphin couldn’t get overly concerned when he saw Nene crumple to the ground in pain, then hop off the court and through the tunnel toward the Wizards’ locker room on his good, right leg. Coach Randy Wittman called on Seraphin immediately after Nene went down with what the team is calling a sprained left knee in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Seraphin had to be ready.

“Yeah. I saw him leave, but when we’re in the game, we have to be focused on the game,” Seraphin said.

The Wizards (28-28) were only up by three points at the time of Nene’s departure and they have typically become flimsy when their most gifted big man is unable to finish a game. Washington squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead when Nene was ejected with roughly three minutes left in Oklahoma City, lost in overtime to Milwaukee when Nene strained his right Achilles’ tendon, and suffered a controversial defeat in Houston after Nene fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

After Luol Deng completed a three-point play to bring the Cavaliers within 73-72 with 93 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wizards were once again in danger of letting a winnable game get away from them. Then, Wittman put veteran Al Harrington on the floor and he made two huge shots – a driving layup and a three-pointer – to send the Wizards into the fourth period with a six-point lead.

“I was just looking for an opportunity. I was ready, obviously, the situation with Nene allowed me to do a little more,” Harrington said. “It’s tough. He’s been playing some great basketball, so that was tough to see. Hopefully we can get him back sooner than later, but guys got to step up. I think we got enough guys that can do that.”

Harrington didn’t score for the rest of the game. But Seraphin came through with two huge, 10-foot jump hooks to push the Wizards ahead 82-74 early in the fourth quarter.

“He’s capable of doing that,” Wittman said of Seraphin. “The more he simplifies his game the better. Sometimes he likes to trick people, and we got to get him just to be simple. That’s his move and he does it very well. Big couple of shots he hit.”

Harrington finished with two rebounds and an assist and tried to extend the lead but missed a three-pointer and Wittman replaced him with Marcin Gortat. “I thought Al gave us a big lift in the second half. He was panting like a dog out there but we got to continue to get him rounded into shape,” Wittman said of Harrington, who played just 31 seconds the night before against New Orleans as Nene matched his career high with 30 points.

***

No. 5: It’s gotta be the shoes for Portland’s Lillard – Portland All-Star point guard Damian Lillard made waves with his busy schedule during All-Star Weekend. There could be more waves on the horizon where he is concerned, courtesy of a budding tug of war over his shoe company. It’s been a while since a battle between shoe giants made noise in the NBA, but Lillard’s story is about to get interesting as Adidas and Nike get ready to tussle over the young star. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com provides the minutiae:

Lillard, 23, has a profitable rookie shoe endorsement deal with adidas, though that could change abruptly due to clever language in his contract.

Being that he took home the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year award, became an NBA All-Star and reached other unique incentive clauses in his first two seasons, Lillard will be able to opt out of his shoe contract at the end of the basketball season and either renegotiate a more lucrative deal with adidas, or open negotiations with Nike, Brand Jordan, Reebok or Under Armor, league sources informed CSNNW.com.

Another source that’s vastly briefed on Lillard’s situation added, “There’s no doubt about it, he’s opting out.”

Rival shoe companies have been well-versed on the matter for months and are expected to make competitive offers, but CSNNW.com is told that Nike stands the best chance of luring Lillard away from adidas.

Adidas is in no position to lose their accomplished young standout point guard.

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is currently viewed as the basketball face of adidas. However, his string of knee injuries in addition to the fact that he has only participated in 49 games in three seasons has adidas apprehensive he can remain the company’s headliner.

In 2012, Rose signed a multiyear deal in the upwards of $200 million.

Lillard hasn’t missed a game in his one and half years as a professional and the way in which he carries himself on and off the court is without glitch if a company seeks to market him as the face of a national corporation.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sunday proved to be a great day/night for quite a few players from around the league. that lists include Kevin DurantJamal CrawfordGoran DragicRudy GayDanny Granger is still MIA for the Sixers on the practice court. The buyout has to be negotiated if he plans on moving on without suiting up in Philly … The Commissioner speaks on openly gay pro athletes … Harvey Araton of The New York Times weighs in on Collins, too, and the impact he can have going forward

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Thomas Robinson showed up and showed out for the Trail Blazers in so many ways …


VIDEO: The Thomas Robinson affair folks

DeAndre Jordan Driven By Russell Comparison


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan gets busy on the boards against the Sixers

Before the leprechaun could land on his shoulder and deliver a dinky pipe to the cornea followed by a swift kick to the pot ‘o gold, Doc Rivers said it again.

“I genuinely see traits of Bill Russell,” the Clippers coach stated without hesitation or deep, deep regret.

In DeAndre Jordan. Rivers sees traits of Bill Russell in DeAndre Jordan.

Rivers – the former Celtics coach, the man who said Boston is the place that made him – has made the comparison before, only now Jordan is first in the league in rebounding and fourth in blocks, with first in shooting percentage tossed in for good measure, so who cares if it’s heresy.

Like the Clippers are sweating if Doc will be asked to turn in his Celtics card. All they know is that Jordan is motivated, by the presence of Rivers in general and specifically because of the statement, and playing at a much higher level than when he was getting routinely benched in the fourth quarter in 2012-13 by Rivers predecessor Vinny Del Negro.

Jordan was a longshot all along for the All-Star game this weekend, but could end up leading the league in three categories when anything close to that finish puts him in the preseason mix for the 2015 showcase and Defensive Player of the Year. He will have done it, but Rivers will have made it happen.

“Listen, it’s nice to be compared to Bill Russell,” Rivers said. “I don’t see a negative in that.”

Of course not. There are no negatives to be compared to the definition of winning and the epitome of a center who casts a defensive shadow that can blot out the sun.

It’s insane, though.

“I don’t know why,” Rivers said. “Why can’t you want to be the best? I don’t see why it’s insane.

“I genuinely see traits of Bill Russell. I didn’t say he was Bill Russell. I just think that’s a good thing. What do you see? You see block shots, he’s the (leading) rebounder in the league, he’s blocking everything that comes his way and he changes shots. That’s what Bill Russell does. So that’s been a good thing.”

But… but… but… Bill Russell!

“Again, I think it’s a good thing to say,” Rivers said. “The guys you talk to, they’ll say that and say, ‘Yeah.’ But there’s a lot of guys that have had the potential. There’s a lot of guys that have had the potential to be Kobe or Michael. And DJ’s following through. He’s really focused on that end and he really believes that that’s his impact. And it really has been. He’s been great.”

He’s been blown away.

“I can only laugh and wish I could kind of carry that guy’s jock strap,” Jordan said. “To be compared with somebody like that, even if Doc’s just joking, I take it to heart because I want to be the best defensive player and the best rebounder and the best chief out there on the floor I can be. I know that Doc instilled that in me.”

Rivers is not joking on this account. More importantly, Jordan knows it.

He met Russell once. Sort of. It was in 2008 at rookie orientation, an annual seminar the NBA holds to help new players transition to the league, often with advice from former standouts. The 11-time champion, five-time MVP, 12-time All-Star was there. They got within conversation distance.

“It was kind of like ‘Aaaaahhhh, I don’t know what to say,’ ” Jordan recalled. “And I just kind of walked away.”

With what Rivers has quickly come to mean to Jordan and understanding what the Celtics mean to the coach, Jordan is humbled. That’s been one reaction. Another is that the comparison motivated him to watch Russell in action more intently than before, leading to another possible impact for the Clippers. Where he once tried to swat shots to the rafters in a statement for opponents, Jordan learned from the old movies that controlling the rejection or directing the ball to a teammate is the better play and more hurtful to the other team. He has specifically been working on that move while already totaling 16 more blocks in 1,937 minutes and 54 games than last season in 2,010 minutes and 82 games.

Clippers In Good Place Despite Problems


VIDEO:  NBA Action shines the spotlight on Doc Rivers

This was never going to be a simple journey under the most normal of circumstances, not after the Clippers traded for a coach, that coach immediately began looking into planning a championship parade – for the Clippers – and Doc Rivers took to saying he saw some Bill Russell in DeAndre Jordan. Talk about daring the heavens to come crashing down.

And now that there have been challenges, so what? Important reserve Matt Barnes missed 18 games with leg and eyes problems, starting shooting guard J.J. Redick was out 21 with a hand/wrist injury, superstar point guard Chris Paul is at 15 and counting because of a separated shoulder, there has been a transition to a new coach and system, rebounding is a problem … and yet they’re actually in a good place.

The Clippers are 34-17 as the All-Star break approaches, in fourth place in the Western Conference, three games out of second, on pace for 55 wins, and peeking through the wreckage to find that no one in the standings has run away from them. For all the problems, there aren’t any.

Quite the opposite. In that locker room, the first half of the season is being embraced and even welcomed as challenging times that will make them better in the second half of building momentum to the playoffs. A little spin control, sure, but also a lot of reality knowing that a good training room will solve what has been the biggest problem.

“I really don’t know what the negatives are,” Rivers said. “I look at our record and our team, I like our team. I love where we’re at. I love the adversity. I think it’s good for us. I think it’ll make us better. I think everything that we’ve gone through, there’s not a negative thing that’s happened. It’ll help team toughness and mental toughness and trusting everybody on the team as a player. I think all that’ll come into play. I think everything’s been good.

“If you’re going to be playing in March, April, May and June, tough things are going to happen. It’s not going to be an easy road; otherwise everyone would do it. Any kind of adversity is a good thing. I think that’s how you should look at it.”

Even with the injuries? Even with long stretches of missed opportunity for a team with several prominent new faces to find a rhythm?

“Yeah, even with that,” Rivers said. “Because other guys are playing. It’s forced our staff to do things differently. I think it’s all good. To me, this is a new group. I think just throwing us in there and trying to figure stuff out on the fly, trusting each other, it’s been a very good thing for us.”

The contenders for the West title at the start of the season still are. Now the Clippers need the stability of a preferred starting lineup, which could happen with Paul’s return in the next week or maybe just after the All-Star break, and also to ride out the current mean-spirited schedule. Seriously, a seven-game Eastern swing (5-2), coming home for one against the Wizards (win), going back out to Oakland (loss), returning to Staples Center for the Jazz (win), and turning around again to go to Denver (loss). They haven’t been in the same city twice in a row since a four-game homestand ended Jan. 15.

And yet, 34-17.

“We know the second half of the year we’re going to be better than we were the first half, with or without injuries,” said Jared Dudley, one of the key offseason acquisitions. “Just because of getting used to each other, getting used to Doc Rivers and how he coaches the schemes.”

They still have about three months before the playoffs. They still have a real chance, and not just to get to know each other.

Spurs Need To Get Healthy On Rodeo Trip


VIDEO: Tim Duncan has 23 points and 17 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Kings

In one way, the 2014 edition of the Spurs’ Rodeo Trip is like all the others. It’s a time for coming together.

Usually that means bonding as a team, forging a closeness in spirit, identity and execution on the court.

This time it simply means picking up the pieces and trying to glue them all together.

As they open the nine-game, 8,989 mile odyssey tonight in New Orleans, the Spurs would appear to be about as fragile as Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl legacy. They good news is they’ll face only four teams with records above .500 on the trip. They bad news is they’ll do it with a roster that has Manu Ginobili (hamstring), Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Danny Green (hand) all in various stages of injury rehabilitation and Tiago Splitter (shoulder) just getting back into the rotation after more than three weeks on the shelf.

“We’ve still got to go play all the games,” coach Gregg Popovich told reporters before Saturday’s home win over Sacramento. “When the game is over nobody cares. Nobody says, ‘Well, who was out for that team?’ You either won or you lost and you got better or you didn’t. So it’s all the same stuff. We want to concentrate on all the same things offensively and defensively, the things we want to get better at, and just go.”

Despite their current position tied for the No. 2 seed in the West, the Spurs do have a need to get better quickly, having lost three of their last four games and five out of eight since the middle of January. After a stellar 35-6 home record a year ago, they have also lost eight games already this season at the AT&T Center. Perhaps most telling, the Spurs are just 1-11 against opponents with the top six records in the NBA this season — Pacers, Thunder, Blazers, Heat, Clippers and Rockets.

It would then hardly seem a good time for a team to embark on a lengthy All-Star break-straddling road trip that will take them from coast to coast and playing games in four time zones before their next home game on Feb. 26.

However, the Spurs have traditionally used the period they have to vacate their own stable for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo as time to solidify their standing in the conference and make a push for elite playoff seeding.

Since the beginning of the tradition in 2003, the Spurs have an overall mark of 65-26 on 11 rodeo trips and have posting a losing record. In the past three seasons, they are 21-6.

According to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, while the Spurs have the best winning percentage (70.5) in North American professional sports since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997, they are actually better on the rodeo trip (71.4).

A year ago the Spurs went 7-2 on their trek, even though they played the first five games without the injured Duncan and Ginobili.

But this might be a more difficult challenge. In their final home game before departing, a narrow 95-93 escape past the Kings, the Spurs started a deep backup point guard Cory Joseph at the shooting guard spot and started at small forward with Shannon Brown, a player who’d just been signed to a 10-day contract and never had time for a practice.

With Splitter getting back onto the floor briefly against Sacramento, Green is expected to be the next to return, maybe playing by the end of the week. Leonard is a possible addition by the time the Spurs hit the West Coast after the All-Star break, while Ginobili could miss the entire journey.

“They’re trickling in,” Duncan said. “It’s great to have bodies back out there, great to start getting everyone healthy. Now it’s about getting their rhythm back, their wind back and get into game shape.”

All-Star Game Could Become Rehab Assignment For Chris Paul


VIDEO: Chris Paul Top 10

NBA All-Star 2014

OAKLAND – Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Thursday he is open to injured point guard Chris Paul using the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans as the final step in his rehabilitation from a separated right shoulder.

The closest the Clippers have come to a public timeline is to say Paul, out since Jan. 3, could play around that All-Star weekend, possibly a game or two before the break or maybe a game or two after. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, citing sources, reported the superstar point guard is targeting Feb. 7 against the Raptors or Feb. 9 against the 76ers.

Rivers was asked how he would feel about CP3 participating in the All-Star Game before the Warriors beat the Clippers at Oracle Arena on Thursday night.

“I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about it, honestly. If he’s cleared to play, I actually wouldn’t mind him playing. I don’t think he wants to do that, but I don’t think it’ll be a bad thing,” Rivers said. “It’s not going to be the most physical of games, I’m pretty sure of that. But at least he gets to go up and down the floor. If the schedule stays where it’s at, he’ll be cleared to play after the All-Star Game, or before even. And if he is, I don’t see anything wrong with playing.

“Let’s say he’s cleared but we don’t play him the last game before the All-Star break, which I probably wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t mind him using that game to kind of go play.”

If Paul returns before the break, the point is moot – he plays in New Orleans as a seven-time All-Star. If he does not suit up before that weekend, though, and is close to re-joining the lineup, the team has an interesting decision.

“I don’t know,” Paul said of playing for the West. “I think my biggest concern right now is to get back for my team, not the All-Star Game. I’m trying to get back as soon as possible so I can get out there and help my teammates … I think for me, I just want to play. Whether it’s an All-Star Game, whether it’s pickup basketball, whether it’s playing with our trainers and our coaches, I’m just looking for a game. When the trainer clears me, I’ll be out there.”

Chris Paul (Glenn James/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Glenn James/NBAE)

Paul is scheduled to be in New Orleans no matter what, with his work as president of the National Basketball Players Association and his deep affection for the city. He spent six seasons with the Hornets (now the Pelicans), and was an All-Star for four of those years. He was dealt to the Clippers 2 1/2 years ago after an initial trade to the Lakers was squashed by commissioner David Stern, who was acting as the president of the Hornets. The team was under league ownership at the time.

While he awaits his return to the court, Paul has been shooting and working on dribbling to increase the range of motion in his right shoulder. He still can’t participate in contact drills.

If Paul does not play because of injury, new commissioner Adam Silver would choose the replacement, just as Silver will likely have to add someone for the injured Kobe Bryant, barring an unexpectedly fast recovery for Bryant. In the case of Bryant, voted a starter by fans, Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks, the West coach, will decide who takes the spot in the opening lineup.

If he can’t play, Paul was already lobbying for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, the league leader in rebounding and shooting at the start of the night and fourth in blocks, to take his place. Jordan would be among several worthy candidates as Silver decides if he wants to go for the most deserving or keep the shape of the roster and pick guards.

“It’s tough,” Rivers said of Jordan missing out when the reserves were announced Thursday. “I told our coaches I really thought it was going to come down to Dirk (Nowitzki), (DeMarcus) Cousins, DJ, Anthony Davis. Every year, there’s a lot of guys that don’t make it. Maybe we should think about increasing the team to 15 since we have 15 guys that can dress every game and do it in both conferences. But every year there’s going to be guys. DJ’s deserving. Anthony Davis. You can just go down the list. That’s why it’s such an exclusive club.”

Griffin’s, Clips’ Rise (Sans Paul) Impresses




VIDEO: Join in on the high-flying fun that is Blake Griffin’s ridiculous highlights

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In just about any other field, a month like the one Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin has put together would result in one of those employee of the month plaques that hang on an office wall.

Griffin will have to settle for knowing that whatever corner that needed to be turned without Chris Paul in the lineup has been turned, because an insane month from Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, not to mention a monster first month of 2014 from Portland Trail Blazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, has cast a huge shadow over the work of all others.

Still, it’s hard to be anything but extremely impressed with what Griffin has done since Paul went down with a shoulder injury Jan. 3. His January numbers alone, heading into tonight’s showdown against the Golden State Warriors (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), should force his critics to take another look at the master of highlights and recognize the evolution of his game.

Griffin is playing as well as anyone in a crowded field of quality power forwards, a group headlined by Aldridge, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Golden State’s David Lee and Miami’s Chris Bosh (who is often left off the short list due to the diminished statistical impact he has on a team with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as the first two options).

And tonight’s matchup against the Warriors gives him a chance to take another shot at a team that has worked overtime to get under his skin and test the Clippers’ mental and intestinal fortitude every chance they get. Griffin and Warriors forward Draymond Green were both ejected from the Warriors’ 105-103 win in Oakland on Christmas.

Griffin has been on an absolute tear since then. He scored 75 points in the two games immediately after that Christmas Day debacle and has destroyed the competition the past month, averaging 25.6 points on 56 percent shooting to go along with 8.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 74 percent from the free throw line.

Perhaps even more startling (and impressive) is that the Clippers lead the league in offensive efficiency since Paul, widely regarded as the league’s most complete floor general, went down. And that was earned against a stiff level of competition that included more top 10 defensive teams (6) than bottom 10 defensive teams (5) during their current run.

All of that is a credit to Griffin as well, now that the offense runs through him more than any other player on the roster. There is no doubt Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick have all stepped up in Paul’s absence. Clippers coach Doc Rivers is touting DeAndre Jordan as an All-Star, and it’s not just hyperbole. Jordan has been spectacular and leads the league in both field goal shooting and rebounding as of today.

“We have a lot of really good players and sometimes guys like Jamal, J.J., DJ some of these guys don’t get the credit they deserve,” Griffin said after Wednesday night’s win over the Washington Wizards. “They are more than capable. I think that’s what we’ve learned about our team, guys will step up and accept challenges and rise to the occasion.”

There is no denying that Griffin’s rise has been the ultimate difference maker for this team, particularly with Paul out of the mix for as long as he has been missing from the lineup.


VIDEO: Blake Griffin talks CP3 and the Clippers after a win ove the Wizards

All-Star Starting Lineups Tonight on TNT


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the latest All-Star voting returns

Will the Eastern Conference again play small ball with a frontcourt lineup that does not include a traditional center?

Could a couple of high-profile wounded warriors limp into the top two places in the Western Conference backcourt?

NBA All-Star 2014Those are the two biggest questions left to answer when the results of fan balloting to choose the starting lineups for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game are announced tonight on TNT (7 p.m. ET).

If the pattern from the previous round of voting holds up, the East will take the floor for the opening tip with a prolific trio of forwards in LeBron James of the Heat, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks and first-time starter Paul George of the Pacers up front.

James (1,076,063) was the top vote-getter overall when the latest totals were announced on Jan. 9. George (899,671) was second up front for the East and Anthony (702,869) third. In that case, Indiana center Roy Hibbert would be the odd man out. He is the top center in the conference, but was a distant fourth (385,964) in the last front court voting.

The East backcourt appears set with Dwyane Wade of the Heat and Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers holding a commanding lead over Chicago’s injured Derrick Rose and Washington’s John Wall.

In the Western Conference, the race is between the star power of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and the Clippers’ Chris Paul, neither of whom will be able to play due to injury, and the Warriors’ rising star Stephen Curry, who has never made an All-Star team. Curry. Bryant (844,538) has led the way at every previous count of the ballots and Curry (677,372) was in second place, but with only a narrow lead over Paul (651,073).

The West frontcourt starters will likely be the same as last season with the Thunder’s Kevin Durant (1,054,209), the Rockets’ Dwight Howard (509,116) and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin (500,964) leading the way.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of the Emmy Award-winning pregame show “Inside the NBA”, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Lakers at the Heat (8 p.m. ET) and the Nuggets at the Blazers (10:30 p.m. ET).

From there it will be up to the the coaches in each conference to fill out their respective rosters with seven reserves each.

The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The All-Star Game, also broadcast live on ESPN Radio, will collectively reach fans in 215 countries and territories in more than 40 languages.