Posts Tagged ‘J.J. Redick’

Sixth Man Of the Year: Jamal Crawford

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford has made a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year

There came a point this season where Jamal Crawford was starting so many games as an injury fill-in that it seemed impossible he’d be eligible to make another run at the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award.

He won it in 2010 with Atlanta and he thought he should have won it last season with the Clippers. Instead J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks — remember him? — took the prize. This season, the Clippers wouldn’t be in control of the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed and in line to nab the No. 2 seed with a bit of help (an Oklahoma City loss) before tonight’s season finale at Portland (10:30 p.m., ET, ESPN).

Whether Crawford was coming off the bench, where he’s averaged 17.2 ppg and 3.1 apg, or putting up 20.6 ppg and 3.3 apg in 23 games as a starter in place with either J.J. Redick or Chris Paul or both out, Crawford’s playmaking and shot-making have been invaluable. The lone blemish on his resume is the left calf injury that kept him out of all but eight games since the end of February.

Two games before the calf injury occurred on Feb. 26, Crawford scored 36 points in 40 minutes as a starter to help the Clippers win at Oklahoma City. It was his 11th game of 25 points or more and fourth of 30 points or more. Since, he’s made it five with 31 points in 35 minutes off the bench on March 26 at New Orleans.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn,” Crawford told NBA.com after that Thunder game. “I think I’ve been a professional, honestly. Starting, coming off the bench, being ready at all times, I pride myself on that.”

Crawford certainly faces stiff competition. Candidates include San Antonio’s resurgent Manu Ginobili, Chicago’s rugged Taj Gibson, Phoenix’s Markieff Morris, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Nick Young, Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson and even Dallas’ Vince Carter.

Yet none electrify a game and their team with scoring outbursts quite the way Crawford can. Boasting one of the game’s great handles, the 14th-year guard can still live up to his nickname and Twitter handle, @JCrossover, defying foes with tremendous moves off the bounce to get to the rim. He splashes 3-pointers with a rainbow release from virtually any distance, connecting on the 3-ball at a 36.2 percent clip.

His 18.4 scoring average, significantly higher than any of the other candidates, would rank as the third-highest by a Sixth Man of the Year Award winner in the last 20 years behind only Jason Terry (19.6 in 2009 with Dallas) and Ginobili (19.5 in 2008). Crawford would become the oldest player to win the award and he’d join Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as two-time winners.

“Growing up, it wasn’t like I wanted to be a sixth man,” Crawford recently told Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN Los Angeles. “It only happened because I got to this point where I just wanted to win more than anything. When you bring one of your top scorers, your top players off the bench, it really gives your team balance.”

The contenders

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – A year ago it seemed the Argentine might have come to the end of his rope after a glorious NBA and international run. He looked slow and out of sorts, particularly in the NBA Finals. But he came back to the Spurs, 36 years of age, and put together an inspiring bounce-back season, averaging 12.4 ppg, 4.3 apg and 3.0 mpg in 22.8 mpg.

Taj Gibson, Bulls – There should be an award for the entire Bulls team, maybe the Perseverance Award or something. Gibson continues to get better and often pushed Carlos Boozer off the floor in the fourth quarter. His larger role pushed his minutes per game up by five and he responded with 13.1 ppg, a five-point increase from last season, and 6.8 rpg, up 1.5.

Markieff Morris, Suns – Also a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate, averaging career-highs by a wide margin with 13.8 ppg and 6.0 rpg. He’s transformed himself into a dangerous mid-range shooter, making 48.6 percent of his shots, up from 40.7 percent last season and 39.9 percent as a rookie. Morris was vital to the Suns’ 47 wins with one game to go.

Reggie Jackson, Thunder – He got his training on the fly during the 2013 postseason. Since then, he’s provided the Thunder with stability and scoring off the bench as well as in the starting lineup during Russell Westbrook‘s absences. Jackson is averaging 13.1 ppg, fourth on the Thunder, 4.2 apg and 3.9 rpg in 28.5 mpg. He averaged 5.3 ppg and 14.2 mpg last season.

Vince Carter, Mavericks – Carter has kept himself in tip-top physical condition and, at 39.5 percent, has transformed himself into a dangerous 3-pointer shooter. No player in the league has come off the bench and dropped more than Carter’s 145. He’s played in all but one game this season, averaging 12.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 2.7 apg in 24.3 mpg.

Nick Young, Lakers – Swaggy P had his swaggy moments, like celebrating a 3-pointer that didn’t drop, but the L.A.-born sixth man was mostly money for the injury-riddled Lakers. He led the team in scoring with a career-high 17.9 ppg while hitting 38.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, his highest percentage since 2010-11.

Did Pacers suffer from a post-Granger trade hangover?

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down the Pacers’ small forward depth chart

DALLAS — Did the Indiana Pacers suffer from a psychological hangover after trading Danny Granger? It’s not a question that Granger exactly dismissed without some consideration Thursday night.

“It may have,” Granger said after his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers’, rallied to beat the Dallas Mavericks last night. Granger left the game in the fourth quarter with Granger left in the fourth quarter with a strained hamstring.

“You mess up the … it’s not messing, you change the chemistry of the team. It can have different effects that are unforeseen. I think that may have had something to do with it. The fact they added two new players, it’s hard to come in in the middle of the season with a new team regardless of how good you are, that’s very difficult to do.”

Since the Pacers traded 6-foot-9 Granger, a shining light for the franchise through some dark years, beloved by his teammates, the Indy fans and team president Larry Bird all the same, a cold wind had been blowing leading into Wednesday’s critical win over the Miami Heat.

An 11th hour deadline deal on Feb. 20 sent Granger to Philadelphia for Evan Turner, and suddenly a significant piece of the Pacers’ fabric was ripped away. In these weeks since the trade, it’s almost as if the clocks has been striking midnight on a Pacers season with so much invested.

A team that didn’t lose it’s seventh game of the season until Jan. 8, is just 11-7 since dealing the former All-Star. They’ve ranked 26 in offensive efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency, allowing 100.3 points per 100 possessions, up from 93.9, No. 1 in the league, prior to the trade.

Granger also noted improving teams in the East making life a bit more difficult. Three of those seven losses came against scrappy Charlotte, New York (which was on a seven-game win streak)and the always-difficult Chicago Bulls. Four losses came against teams in the more rugged Western Conference.

“We took advantage of the fact that the East was awful in the first half of the season,” Granger said of the Pacers’ 17-2 start. “We were just blowing through everybody. But those teams got it going. Brooklyn started playing better, New York, Toronto started playing better, so the East is a little more competitive toward the end of the season.

“They’ve been struggling a little bit, but I think they’ll be fine.”

Granger also believes he’ll be fine after leaving Thursday’s game with a strained left hamstring.

“We did tests and it was strong and everything, just had pain in it,” Granger said, which convinced him it was better not to try to return to the game. “I was walking around on it. I feel optimistic about it. It is [frustrating], but it is what it is.”

Granger’s season with Indiana and Los Angeles as been up and down. The Sixers made the deal in order to dump Turner’s contract and had no intention of holding onto Granger. He was waived and after waivers, signed with the Clippers on Feb. 28. He quickly moved his wife and 20-month-old twins, Jaxson and Jade, from Indy to L.A.

His statistics are nearly identical in backup roles with both teams. In 12 games with the Clippers, he’s averaging 8.0 ppg and 2.3 rpg in just 16.2 mpg, about six fewer minutes than he was getting in Indiana. He’s shooting 42.9 percent overall and 35.3 percent from 3-point range. He’s scored just 11 points in his last three games after scoring in double figures in six of the previous eight.

“He’s been up and down, honestly,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s had some really good games and he’s struggled in a couple as well. I just think he’s getting used to playing every night, he’s trying to get used to our defensive system and the way we play. But overall he’s been good. He’s been a great teammate, that’s the first thing you really want, a guy that just wants to fit in and he’s done all those things, so it’s good.”

The Pacers know all about Granger as a good teammate. But he wasn’t brought him to L.A. to do that and fill its needs on the wing. J.J. Redick has been injured much of the season and his return is uncertain as he mends from a bulging disc in his lower back. Jared Dudley lost his starting job, and largely a rotation spot, with the always emotional Matt Barnes handling the starting duties.

Now the Clippers can only wait on Granger, 30, to get back on the floor after this latest injury issue with his hamstring. He doesn’t think it will be long and says he’s confident he can deliver when it counts, in the playoffs.

“I’m always confident,” Granger said. “I still know what I can do and what I can give as long as I have the opportunity to show it. I definitely feel comfortable.”

Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Nash to return tonight | Clips get Redick, Crawford back at practice | Kings’ White may make NBA debut tonight | Kerr: NBA teams like Hoiberg

No. 1: Report: Nash planning to play tonight vs. Wizards — We informed you in this space yesterday that what seemed like a foregone conclusion — Steve Nash‘s season being over — might soon be be completely reversed. That is no less true today as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that Nash should suit up and play tonight for the Lakers’ home game against the Washington Wizards:

After five weeks on the sidelines, Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash is planning a return to the lineup on Friday night, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers, left with only one healthy point guard, are planning to use Nash as a backup to Kendall Marshall against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center.

Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, participated in a full practice session with the Lakers on Thursday.

After recently ruling out Nash’s return, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni changed course on Wednesday and suggested Nash could return over the final 15 games of the regular season.

D’Antoni informed reporters that guard Nick Young and forward Jordan Hill would return from injuries on Friday, too. The Lakers lost point guard Jordan Farmar to an injury this week.

Nash, 40, has suffered from nerve damage in his back and hamstring injuries this season. Nash, who hasn’t played a game since Feb. 11, has averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 assists in 10 games.


VIDEO: Coach Mike D’Antoni addresses the state of the Lakers’ roster

***

No. 2: Redick, Crawford back at Clippers practice — You’re not that far off in thinking it seems like the Los Angeles Clippers have been dealing with injuries to their backcourt practically all season long. Point guard Chris Paul missed several weeks with a shoulder injury, J.J. Redick has been in and out of the lineup with various maladies and Jamal Crawford (calf) has been the most recent casualty of late. But things are looking up for the Clips, perhaps, at just the right time as Redick and Crawford practiced with the team yesterday, writes Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

Doc Rivers and his coaching staff had a plan for the Clippers’ practices on Thursday and Friday. They were coming off two days of rest, a rare gift from NBA schedule-makers.

Then, for the best possible reasons, Rivers tore up those plans.

J.J. Redick (back) and Jamal Crawford (calf) were cleared to practice, and with the team still trying incorporate new acquisitions Glen Davis and Danny Granger, Rivers thought better of trying to use the time to add new things.

“There are just too many guys coming back now,” Rivers said before Thursday’s practice. “As a staff, we basically scratched all the stuff that we were going to do. There are too many guys coming back, and we’ve just got to get them back playing basketball.”

Redick hasn’t played since Feb. 3 because of a bulging disk in his lower back. He ramped up his individual workouts in recent weeks in hopes of returning this season.

There’s still no date targeted for when he’ll play in a game again.

Crawford first strained his left calf Feb. 26. He tried to return March 8, but he admitted that was too soon.

After working on strengthening the muscle, Crawford went through an individual workout Wednesday and came through it with confidence.

He said the plan is for him to play Saturday against the Pistons.

“Rhythm, wind and stamina will come back at some point. I just want to make sure I don’t hurt the calf and feel confident.” Crawford said. “I can get in shape fast and get my wind back, but the peace of mind that nothing will happen if I do a certain move or change a certain direction, that’s more important.”

Darren Collison, who missed the last two games with a stomach virus, also returned to practice.

Thursday was the first time this season Rivers was able to hold a full practice with the current roster.


VIDEO:
Jamal Crawford talks about his return to Clippers practice

***

No. 3: Kings’ White ready to make his NBA debut Royce White, the 16th pick of the 2012 Draft, has experienced a long and winding road in and out of the NBA since that night. White, who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, never played in an NBA game with the Houston Rockets (the team that drafted him). He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in the offseason and while he played in the preseason, he was cut before the opener of the 2013-14 season. The Sacramento Kings signed White to a 10-day contract on March 6 and to a second 10-day deal last week. He’s spent time with the Kings’ NBA D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, and was called up to the team and could play in an actual NBA game tonight against the San Antonio Spurs, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

Players signing 10-day contracts usually isn’t big news.

But most players who sign 10-day contracts aren’t fewer than two years removed from being a first-round draft pick and have never played in an NBA regular-season game.

White, 22, was selected by Houston with the 16th pick in the 2012 draft. White, however, never played a game for the Rockets. White and Houston never agreed on the best way to deal with his mental-health concerns. White has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, which leaves him susceptible to panic attacks and having a fear of flying.

White said those issues are not a problem with the Kings after his experience with Houston, which eventually traded White to Philadelphia. The 76ers waived him before the the start of this season.

“I think (the issues) kind of resolved themselves over time,” White said Thursday after his first practice with the Kings. “Just me being in the league for a year and a half and having things be on the table with the league and the union and discussing it put this organization in a better position to handle things. It’s been so good we haven’t even had a discussion about anything. That’s exciting.”

The Kings went into the first 10-day contract with a plan of how to bring White along, beginning with a four-game stint in the D-League. He spent last weekend working out in Sacramento before signing his second 10-day deal. White said the process of joining the Kings has gone well, and that it began with a workout in late February.

“It happened really quick, but we still did it in a way that was really thought out,” White said. “We took a number of things into account. (General manager Pete D’Alessandro) has been great and understanding with me, where I’m coming from, where I want to go and how that fits into the Kings’ organization and being real flexible with me, and I really appreciate that.”

After White’s first practice with the Kings, coach Michael Malone said he was impressed with his strength, passing and basketball IQ.

Malone said White would be treated like every other player on the roster. When asked if there were any concerns, the coach said, “Not at all.” Malone said if White doesn’t play tonight, he would against Milwaukee on Sunday.

“This whole process between Royce and the Sacramento Kings is about him as a basketball player,” Malone said. “He did everything that we asked him to do up in Reno. He’s been tremendous while he’s been in Sacramento. No problems at all. No worries from our standpoint as a coaching staff. We’re going to expect him to do what everybody else is expected to do. Show up on time, work hard, pay attention, be disciplined and buy in to what we’re trying to do. He appears to be ready, willing and able to do that.”

Regarding rumors and stories that have been written about White and the issues that have delayed his pro career, White said: “Read what you want. There’s nothing I can really say in a sentence. There’s a lot of things I want people to know.”


VIDEO: Royce White talks about potentially making his NBA debut tonight

***

No. 4: Kerr: NBA teams interested in Cyclones’ Hoiberg – Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has a pretty extensive NBA resume, boasting 10 seasons as a player in the league plus a season as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. At ISU, he’s led the Cyclones to three NCAA tournament appearances in his four seasons in Ames, Iowa, and, according to TNT analyst Steve Kerr, Hoiberg has a future as an NBA coach. Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register has more:

Fred Hoiberg’s future as an NBA coach rests with him — and him only — says a former NBA player and executive.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the NBA. The minute he says he’s interested, he’ll have some offers,” said Steve Kerr, part of the television crew calling this weekend’s NCAA Tournament for TNT.

Hoiberg has acknowledged that he had head coaching inquiries from NBA franchises that he would not identify. He said he hasn’t let it extend beyond the inquiry stage.

“Nothing got to the point where there was an offer,” Hoiberg, 41, said when his contract was re-worked last summer.

If Hoiberg accepts a head coaching or general manager position in the NBA before his contract expires, he owes Iowa State $500,000. His buyout increases to $2 million if he accepts another Division I head coaching position.

In other words, if he’s ever going to leave Ames, it’d make most sense to go to the NBA.

Hoiberg has an 88-46 record in his fourth season as the coach.

Hoiberg has ties to Minnesota, as a player and front-office administrator for the NBA’s Timberwolves. His family, however, is in Ames.

“It’s been great for me to be home,” Hoiberg told reporters at last season’s NCAA Tournament. “I grew up five blocks from Hilton Coliseum, used to walk to games. I was a ball boy as a kid. I was a ball boy for the football team, and I’ve just always had such a great passion for Cyclone athletics.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sponsor logos on NBA jerseys are looking more and more like an inevitability … It seems a lot of folks are getting upset over Drew Gooden‘s recent in-game shoulder shrug … Surprising Bucks rookie Nate Wolters was injured in last night’s game vs. Golden State … Kings big man Carl Landry had successful arthroscopic surgery on his knee … Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has high praise for backup big man Robert Sacre … Remember Mickael Pietrus? He plans to make an NBA comeback next season

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Houston was without Dwight Howard last night, so fellow big men Omer Asik and Terrence Jones did their best impression of him in terms of guarding the paint …


VIDEO: Omer Asik gets up to deny Luc Mbah a Moute


VIDEO: Terrence Jones swats away Gorgui Dieng not once, but twice

Clippers’ Jamal Crawford On Quite A Run


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford runs wild in the Clippers’ win over the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jamal Crawford‘s had some big weeks, but he has yet to win the NBA’s Player of the Week award. Jordan Crawford has. So it goes.

Jamal Crawford, though, is having one helluva February and should be a leading candidate for the league’s monthly award in the Western Conference.

Ah heck, who are we kidding? He won’t win it. Just like when the West coaches didn’t put him on the All-Star team last season for what would have been the first time of his career. And like when a panel of genius writers and broadcasters later crossed him over for the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year award and handed it to the clown prince of New York, J.R. Smith.

And now, get this: Crawford’s played so well this season, been so steady, so reliable, so needed that he’d win Sixth Man hands down. But … he’s out of the mix because he’s been forced into the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup way too often — 22 times and counting — as an injury reinforcement.

So, as for the West Player of the Month? LeBron James having his mug being chiseled on the actual Mount Rushmore has better odds. Nah, the monthly honor will probably go to Kevin Love or Kevin Durant. Maybe James Harden or even Crawford’s rather deserving teammate, Blake Griffin. Those four, plus James and Carmelo Anthony over in the East, are the only guys averaging more points this month than Crawford’s 25.2. All-Stars, every last one of them. And not a single one of them’s even hit 30.

Hey, it’s cool. It’s just where would the Clippers be right now without their soon-to-be-34-year-old (March 20) shooting guard with the sick, launch-from-anywhere rainbow 3, and the insanely deft handle?

Not 39-20. Not holding down the No. 4 playoff spot.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn,” Crawford said Sunday night after dropping 36 points, including several timely 3-pointers and a late, backbreaking floater, on the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I think I’ve been a professional, honestly. Starting, coming off the bench, being ready at all times, I pride myself on that.”

Here’s Crawford’s stellar season-to-date statistics: 31.0 mpg, 19.1 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.3 rpg, 42.1 percent shooting overall, 37.2 percent from deep and 85.9 percent from the stripe.

And here’s his numbers through 10 games in February: 36.5 mpg, 25.2 ppg, 4.0 apg, 2.4 rpg, 48.8 percent shooting overall, 41.1 percent from deep and 90.4 percent from the stripe.

Even better: With Crawford on the floor in February, the Clippers’ offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) soars to 121.6 and when he sits it drops to 102.6 — a 19-point cliff dive.

Crawford’s explosion helps explain the Clippers’ rise as the No. 1 offense in the league this month, boasting an offensive rating of 115.1 and averaging 113.9 ppg, even with Chris Paul reintegrating himself into the lineup and playing only six of the 10 games. L.A.’s playing quicker, getting in transition more and the Thunder win was a shining example with 27 of its 34 fastbreak points coming in a 72-point first half. The Clippers’ pace (possessions per 48 minutes) is at a season-high clip in February, 99.35, compared to December’s previous high of 97.81.

Asked Sunday if he’s considered moving Crawford back to the bench to give some punch to a lacking second unit even with would-be starter J.J. Redick still hurt, coach Doc Rivers literally couldn’t have swatted the question back quicker.

“No,” Rivers said. “That’s not a consideration, I can tell you that. He helps the starters too much. If you’re going to help one group or the other, I’m going to pick the starting group.”

In just the last two games, huge back-to-back road wins at Oklahoma City and New Orleans to get to 16-15 away from Staples Center, Crawford, in his 14th season and somehow on his fifth team in the last six seasons (second in a row with the Clips) —  scored 60 points, buried a dozen 3s, shot 56.8 percent overall and dropped nine dimes.

Really, this run started in January, not February. During the 18 games Paul missed with a separated shoulder from early January to just before the All-Star break, Crawford posted 22.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 2.7 rpg and shot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Clippers held steady, going 12-6.

Crawford hasn’t missed a game this season. As a starter he averages about 10 more minutes a game, yet in Crawford’s perfect world, Redick would start Wednesday against the Rockets — he won’t, and is out for weeks yet — and Crawford would come firing off the bench.

“J.J.’s our best shooter,” Crawford said. “Whenever he comes back it makes us that much more lethal, it opens up the floor. I can’t wait till he comes back because I get a chance to go back to the bench.”

Is a Most Invaluable Player award something to look into?

Building Trust, Clippers Believe They’re Coming Together For Stretch Run


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford leads the Clippers past the Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s taken nearly three-quarters of the season, but it seems the Los Angeles Clippers, through injury and inconsistency and now with trade deadline rumors buried, are forging the most important bond a team can form: Trust.

“This is our team,” Chris Paul said. “If we’re going to win it all this is who we’re going to do it with, so if we can’t get on one another and understand that we have one common goal … that’s what winning teams do, they understand it’s nothing personal.

“Our team, we talk a lot more than we used to in the past, try not to leave anything unsaid. We’re a family and we play like that.”

Paul is strengthening his trust in coach Doc Rivers and in forward Blake Griffin. Griffin’s developing greater trust in Paul and, as in Sunday’s 125-117 road win at the Oklahoma City Thunder that required a push of crunch-time execution to complete the job, the Clippers (38-20) are learning to trust in the system.

Perhaps most crucial to success is the bond between L.A.’s two All-Stars. And while no one wishes injury upon anyone, the separated shoulder that sidelined Paul for five weeks until right before the All-Star break may have served a greater purpose.

Griffin, the evolving, 24-year-old power forward, uncorked a phenomenal stretch, and while he remains well under the radar as an MVP candidate behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James, his all-around performances were central to the Clippers going 12-6 without Paul, the league’s assist leader and almost universally regarded as the top point guard in the game.

“The biggest thing is you see me and Blake’s relationship, we talk all game long,” said Paul, who said he didn’t expect to play against the Thunder because of a badly swollen right thumb, yet accumulated 18 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and one turnover in 39 minutes. “I think we both realize how much we need each other. When I was out I got a chance to really see his growth and how dominant he is. So me, I’m out there to facilitate and pick my spots, but we’re really starting to get that chemistry at the right time.”

Griffin was the youthful, hopeful face of a downtrodden franchise. Paul arrived as the savior. There have been whispers throughout their now three seasons together about whether they liked one another, whether they could play together and succeed together. Griffin said Paul’s absence helped him grasp his larger importance to the team and to emerge with a stronger voice.

“It’s been important for us as a team to learn to have to play without him because I think at times we relied a little bit too much on him,” Griffin said. “At the end of games you kind of think, ‘OK, we have the ball and it’s in our guy’s hands and we’re just going to kind of let him do his thing. I think we really had to rely on our system.

“And for me, really, taking a different approach as far as being a leader for our team and having a little bit more vocal approach with him out, I think it was good for me.”

The Clippers trusted in the system and stuck with it at both ends after blowing a 15-point lead, 95-80, with 2:14 left in the third quarter and taking only a 99-93 margin into the fourth quarter.

Kevin Durant’s 3-pointer gave him a game-high 42 points (with 10 assists) and put the Thunder ahead 115-112 with 2:43 left in the game.

From there, the Clippers closed it out with a 13-2 run in which Paul, Griffin — who didn’t have his best game, but fought through foul trouble for 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists — and Jamal Crawford (36 points and five 3-pointers) combined for the final flurry.

It was a significant win for a team that only evened its road record at 15-15 and hadn’t beaten a top tier team away from Staples Center since Houston way back in November. The Clippers had already stumbled twice out of the All-Star break while reintegrating Paul — much as the Thunder are doing now with Russell Westbrook — including losing at home to a San Antonio team without Tony Parker and then a couple nights later at nemesis Memphis.

On Sunday afternoon they beat OKC’s fourth-rated defense badly in the first half in transition and throughout the game with a 3-ball that was expected to be prolific for them this season, but hasn’t. Matt Barnes went 6-for-10 from deep, and the Clippers believe when J.J. Redick is ready to return (likely before the playoffs) that they’ll finally be the team they always thought they would be — playing with pace, spreading the floor, rolling to the bucket for dunks and launching 3s for quick, momentum-turning scoring bursts.

“It’s funny [we’ve been] trying to get Matt to run to the corners all year and now he’s doing it, and that’s a good shot for him, we can get it in transition,” Rivers said. “And when he does run there, that’s why D.J. [DeAndre Jordan] gets the dunks because the guards have to make a choice, take D.J. or leave the guy in the corner, and it’s really helped us.”

The question facing the Clippers: Can they build off this singular victory as they head into the final 24 games? Paul said they’ll find out Monday night when they play at New Orleans.

Because through 58 games even Rivers said he’s unsure of the kind of team he’s got on his hands.

“I think we know, but I don’t really know,” Rivers said. “We haven’t had a lot of games together. But nobody really cares about it except for us, so we just have to keep working, and if we do get our group together, the minutes that everyone had I have to think it will help our team overall.”


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford talks about the Clippers’ win in Oklahoma City

CP3 Injury Another Wrench Atop West


VIDEO: The crew discusses impact of Chris Paul’s right shoulder injury

DALLAS – Los Angeles Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a separated shoulder Friday night and now two of the Western Conference’s top four teams must make due without their stellar quarterbacks potentially all the way to the mid-February All-Star break.

Paul joins Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook on the sideline. The two injuries could shake up what has been a consistent top-four power structure along with Portland and San Antonio for these first two months of the season. After winning two straight without Westbrook, who last week needed a third surgery in eight months on his right knee, the Thunder dropped their last two and were wobbly down the stretch of both games, twice losing double-digit leads to Portland and struggling Brooklyn.

The Clippers led by two points at Dallas when Paul went down attempting to drive around Mavs guard Monta Ellis with 6:43 left in the third quarter. Ellis fouled Paul, who had 19 points (5-for-6 on 3s) and six assists, and he immediately dropped to the floor in obvious pain. He stayed down for a few minutes as he was checked out by the medical staff. Upon getting up he angrily headed to the locker room for X-rays, which revealed the separation. He left the American Airlines Center with his right arm in a sling.

“He’s down. He’s out at least three to five weeks and maybe more,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before backtracking a bit. “We don’t know that, [yet]. We know it’s a separated shoulder. We don’t know what grade it is, yet. We’ll probably send him home, and he’ll get evaluated in L.A., and just hope that’s he’s going to be O.K.”

The Clippers (23-12) were OK for at least this night. Behind Blake Griffin‘s 25 points (11-13 on free throws), 15 rebounds and five assists, DeAndre Jordan‘s 25 points (11-for-14 from the floor) and 18 rebounds and reserve guard Darren Collison, who in his revenge game against Dallas scored 20 points with four assists, L.A. managed to flip a 110-103 deficit with four minutes to go into a 119-112 victory.

It was a big one. L.A., in fourth place in the West and just one game ahead of both Houston and Golden State — and just three in front of eighth-place Dallas — plays at San Antonio on Saturday night. The Spurs are coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Knicks on Thursday night and will be ready to pounce.

By tip-off, Paul will have been back in Los Angeles and re-evaluated. That’s when an actual timetable will come into clearer focus.

Moving forward, the backcourt will belong to Collison and Jamal Crawford. Collison played the entire 18:43 after Paul left with six points and just two turnovers. Crawford, the Clippers’ trusty sixth man who recently assumed the starting role at shooting guard in place of the injured J.J. Redick, played all but 33 seconds of the third quarter and scored six points with no turnovers in the fourth.

“We leaned on each other,” Crawford said. “Obviously, Chris is one of the best players in the world. It’s always disheartening to see him in pain because he cares about the game so much. That’s even  more of a reason to rally around each other, use each other, lean on each other and we poured it out tonight.”

Collison will take over the starting duties at point guard with the crafty Crawford having to fill in as well, but there’s little depth from there and that was a clear concern for Rivers immediately after the game with little time to begin preparations for life without CP3.

“I haven’t given it enough time to think so I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Rivers said. “We may go small more, we may go bigger more. I just don’t know what we’re going to do yet.”

Or where the Clippers will be whenever Paul returns.

“Injuries are inevitable,” Griffin said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself, it’s happening to everybody. You look around the league, there’s key guys hurt everywhere. So we’ve just got to find a way to get through it.”

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 30


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Parker might listen to free-agent offers | Durant gets fired up vs. Rockets | More minutes on horizon for Bennett? | Redick nearing return?

No. 1: Parker not opposed to leaving Spurs one day — Much like teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, point guard Tony Parker seems destined to join that duo as a life-long Spur. But Parker, responding to an ESPN.com report that says the Knicks have interest in pursuing him once he becomes a free agent in 2015, isn’t so sure he’d stick with San Antonio no matter the cost. While Parker says staying with the Spurs is his top choice, he told the San Antonio Express-NewsJabari Young that he’s also open to testing the free-agent waters should things not work out as he hopes in San Antonio:

Tony Parker to the New York Knicks?

Unlikely, but Parker wouldn’t rule it out. In fact, he wouldn’t rule out going anywhere if certain circumstances aren’t in place.

A report last week by ESPN.com said the Knicks hope to target the All-Star point guard in 2015, when Parker is set to become a free agent. Told of the report, Parker smiled and said he hadn’t seen it, but is keeping all his options open.

Parker made it clear though, his first choice it to remain in San Antonio as long as he could.

“If I can yeah”, Parker told the San Antonio Express-News. “The history here, they always take care of the guys. They did it with [Tim Duncan] and Manu [Ginobili], so hopefully they take care of me. At the end of this year they have to guarantee my year after, so, technically, maybe, I’ll be a free agent this summer.”

The 31-year-old Parker, who is averaging 17.8 points and 6.0 assists this season, signed a four-year, $50 million extension in 2010. He is owed $25 million in the last two years of his contract, but the final year is partially guaranteed for $3.5 million if he is waived by June 30, 2014 and fully guaranteed for $12.5 million after that.

Said Parker: “I just don’t want a guarantee, I want an extension, too.”

Even if Parker remains in San Antonio for the final year, his decision to stay beyond 2014-15 will depend on his coach and teammates.

Who knows when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will hang it up, though it may not be too far away, and Duncan has a $10 million player option next season, which is the final year of his deal. Will he be around beyond that?

“I want to stay positive,” Parker said, “but if it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. My wish is to stay here and play my whole career here, but if there is no more Pop or Timmy or Manu, I’m not against going somewhere. I’m not against that.”

Parker being targeted is nothing new, though, and he always expresses his desire to remain in San Antonio for the remainder of his career. But what if the Spurs and Parker don’t reach an extension, would Parker seek a trade?

“I don’t even think like that because I think Pop and [Spurs General Manger R.C. Buford] they always take care of their guys,” Parker responded. “They did it with Timmy and Manu, so I don’t see no reason why they’re not gonna do it with me.”

***

No. 2: Durant shows fire in win over Rockets — In late October, Kevin Durant told The Oklahoman he wasn’t going to be as ‘obsessed’ about winning a championship as he was a season ago. The Houston Rockets would like to argue otherwise. Durant, in the Thunder’s first game against a contender since losing Russell Westbrook (again), simply dominated on Sunday night against Houston. OKC’s star was going full-tilt, as usual, on offense, but as longtime Thunder observer Darnell Mayberry notes, there was an added passion to Durant’s game:

Perry Jones III hadn’t been in the game 90 seconds.

But Kevin Durant didn’t like what he was seeing.

And so the Thunder star called over his second-year teammate, pulling him off the lane during a free-throw attempt despite OKC owning a 15-point lead.

“Wake your (blankety blank) up,” Durant barked at Jones near the scorer’s table.

No one needed to give Durant a wake-up call.

But it wasn’t just the numbers that defined Durant’s night.

It was the pep in his step, the look in his eyes and the fire and intensity with which he played. He took his game to a higher level Sunday in a showdown he knows could turn into a playoff rematch this spring.

From chewing out an up-and-coming teammate to a second-quarter stare down of old nemesis Francisco Garcia when things got too physical on the low block, Durant was dialed in the whole way.

He harassed an official when he drew a foul call and it was called on Terrence Jones instead of Dwight Howard.

He squawked at the Rockets bench after hitting a jumper over former teammate James Harden, a play he orchestrated the entire way when he called for a screen that would force Harden to switch and be left isolated on the right wing.

“He feel like he got to come and set the tone, and he doing that,” said Kendrick Perkins. “I’m liking the mean KD; giving stare downs when he’s dunking on people. I’m rolling with that.”

Durant, meanwhile, is too politically correct to speak on it publicly, and so he downplayed the source of his efforts after the game. But all throughout the summer, when Houston commanded the league’s attention with its blockbuster acquisition of Howard and caused many to wonder whether the Rockets had surpassed the Thunder, Durant grew testy each time the topic was brought up. The focus, Durant always said, should be on the Thunder. That’s the way he wanted to keep it.

With Sunday’s performance, Durant did his part to make sure it stayed that way.


VIDEO: Highlights from Kevin Durant’s monster game vs. the Rockets

***

No. 3: Bynum’s suspension opens up minutes for Bennett — ICYMI somehow over the weekend, things aren’t going so great for the Cavaliers in their attempts to restart Andrew Bynum‘s career. On Saturday, the team suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team and by Sunday, rumors were swirling that the Clippers and Heat were interested in landing the one-time All-Star center. As Cleveland navigates its future with Bynum, one player who could benefit from the fallout is rookie Anthony Bennett, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Lloyd has info on that, plus some news on what is next for the Cavs and Bynum, too:

Andrew Bynum’s removal from the Cavaliers clears two spots in Mike Brown’s rotation. One will go to Tyler Zeller, the other to Anthony Bennett.

The top pick in the draft has played sparingly to this point, but no longer. The Cavs are committing significant minutes to Bennett moving forward, which is why Mike Brown acknowledged Sunday that he needs to give Bennett time to play through inevitable mistakes.

“I have to continue trying to have patience with him,” Brown said. “This is an opportunity for him to go out and play some minutes and show what he’s capable of doing.”

After saying that, he only played Bennett 11 minutes in the 108-104 overtime loss Sunday to the Golden State Warriors after playing him 19 minutes in the loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday.

“I’m still clueless about this whole thing,” Bennett said. “I’m still trying to learn a lot. I can still learn from my teammates, from the coaching staff, watching film. I just feel like this whole league is all about learning, just going out and playing.”

He has played a fraction of the minutes other top picks in last summer’s draft are receiving. The Cavs hope more consistent minutes will mean more production.

Brown has juggled Bennett’s role from power forward to small forward and now back to power forward, which seems to have further confused the rookie. When he switched Bennett back to power forward, Brown said there is still the possibility he could see minutes on the wing. For right now, Brown likes some of the things Bennett is doing away from the ball. He just wants the rookie to slow down and show some composure when he has the ball.

In terms of Bynum, it looks like the Cavs will have to move quickly on a trade if they want to spare themselves having to pay the majority of Bynum’s salary this season:

Bynum’s suspension was lifted Sunday, but he is still excused from all team activities. He was docked one game’s pay (roughly $110,000). The Cavs have until Jan. 7 to trade or release him or they will be responsible for the balance of his $12 million deal.

If they can’t find a deal by Jan. 7, a league source confirmed the team is considering holding onto him anyway. They would have until June 30 to trade or release him before his $12 million deal for next season becomes guaranteed.

Bynum’s locker hadn’t been cleaned out yet at Quicken Loans Arena. Among the items left behind was a pair of headphones. He is also still part of the pregame introduction video. The team did not hand out his Fathead on Sunday, as was previously scheduled. They also did not hand out game-day programs, called “Tipoff Tonight,” because he was featured on the cover.

To make up for the Fathead issue, kids 14 and under received a certificate to redeem for future Fathead packs.


VIDEO:
Coach Mike Brown talks after the Cavs’ OT loss to the Warriors on Sunday

***

No. 4: Redick nearing return for Clips? — As one of the marquee additions to the team in the offseason, the Clippers’ J.J. Redick got off to a solid start for Los Angeles before a torn ligament in his wrist sidelined him for 6-8 weeks in early December. He’s been rehabbing the injury ever since and Clippers coach Doc Rivers tells Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times that Redick could be on his way back to the lineup soon:

Clippers rookie swingman Reggie Bullock, who is out with a sprained right ankle, has been working out and is making progress.

Coach Doc Rivers said Bullock shot some during the team’s shoot-around before Saturday night’s game against Utah.

“Yeah, he’s getting closer,” Rivers said.

J.J. Redick, who is out with a broken right hand and torn ligaments on the right side of his wrist, now has a soft cast on his hand and not the hard cast anymore.

Redick, a right-handed shooter, has not been shooting the ball yet.

“He’s close too, would be my guess,” Rivers said. “I think it’s a couple of weeks, maybe.”

.***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum is getting closer and closer to his NBA debut … The Knicks might be closing in on a deal with big man Jeremy Tyler, a move that could result in the cutting of Chris Smith … The Wizards’ Bradley Beal is a much better shooter when Marcin Gortat is on the courtBlake Griffin has been playing some MVP-type basketball the last few games

ICYMI Of The Night: Maybe there are times now, what with Russell Westbrook being injured, that Kevin Durant misses his old teammate James Harden. But he made a point to see him up close again when he dunked on him last night


VIDEO: Kevin Durant drives in and dunks over ex-teammate James Harden

Clips Need Dudley’s 3-Ball To Heat Up


VIDEO: Jared Dudley steals and passes to Blake Griffin for the finish

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When the Los Angeles Clippers engaged in a three-team trade that netted J.J. Redick from Milwaukee and Jared Dudley from Phoenix, it seemed like a great idea. The Clippers needed floor-spacers and accurate 3-point shooters around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Then it became clear that Redick and Dudley, both mostly career backups, would be starters for a team with title aspirations. The 6-foot-4 Redick is essentially a one-trick pony, a sharpshooter, who was hitting just 35.9 percent of his long balls before fracturing his right hand. He played in 17 of the Clippers’ first 32 games and is expected to miss another two to four weeks.

Dudley has never averaged more than 12.7 ppg and his best statistical seasons from beyond the arc came as a 26-minute-or-less bench player with the Suns. So far as the Clippers’ starting small forward — he replaced the aging Caron Butler —  he’s slogging through the worst shooting of his career — 43.6 percent overall and 34.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s averaging 8.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg and 1.5 apg, numbers that rank near the bottom in every category for a starter at his position.

While the league’s general managers voted both Redick and Dudley as two of the most underrated moves during the offseason, Dudley also finished in a tie for third in the category: Which player makes the most of limited natural ability. If Dudley’s long ball isn’t falling, then his contribution to the team is going to be limited.

In the last five games, Dudley has logged more than 28 minutes once and is 4-for-19 from 3-point territory. The Clippers rank 26th in 3-point percentage (33.2) despite ranking seventh in the 3-point attempts per game (23.6).

“I don’t know why he’s not playing well, but we need him to play well,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “That [small forward] spot right now, it’s been hurting us a little bit. But Jared is still not healthy. He’s getting healthy. We’ve got to get him in better shape.”

Dudley is playing through tendinitis in his right knee, although it hasn’t caused him to miss any games. He told the Times that he’s playing at about 85 percent, but that he’s markedly better than the first 15 to 20 games.

He also knows he just hasn’t been playing well. A rough shooting stretch during the middle of the month, Dudley, a active and fan-friendly user on Twitter, actually apologized to Clippers fans:

During four consecutive wins from Dec. 16-22, Dudley knocked down 22 shots on 39 attempts and was 13-for-23 from downtown. In the last four games he’s just 9-for-26 from the floor. He has just eight points in the last three games, including being shut out at Portland.

The Clippers’ offensive efficiency is the same with Dudley off the floor as it is with him on the floor.

“When you’re a role guy, there are games when you’re not going to shoot that much,” Dudley told the Times. “One game I shot eight 3s. Some games you’re not going to shoot a 3, depending on the defense. You’ve got to be ready.”

As the starting small forward, and especially with Redick shelved for a few more weeks, Dudley’s point production from beyond the arc is critical for a team in a dead heat with Houston for the all-important fourth seed in the West.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s Fractured Hand ‘A Big Hit’ For Bobcats


VIDEO: Bobcats lose Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in loss to Mavs

DALLAS – Call it an epidemic.

Charlotte Bobcats second-year forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, emerging as a top defender in the league, became the fourth player in the last few days to sustain a broken hand.

Kidd-Gilchrist sat glumly in front of his locker, awkwardly attempting to get dressed with his fractured left hand secured by a metal brace and tightly wrapped, his ring and index fingers taped together. He didn’t know yet how long this freak injury would keep him out. Incredibly, he didn’t even know how or when the damage occurred, other than that something happened at some point before the 4:35 mark of the third quarter.

“I looked down at my finger and it was pointing the wrong way,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of his left ring finger. “I didn’t feel anything at the time.”

He exited the game, disappeared into the tunnel to have X-rays taken. Soon after, Kidd-Gilchrist was told his hand was fractured.

“I was really surprised,” he said.

The range of time Kidd-Gilchrist can expect to miss will likely range from two to eight weeks. How severe the injury is will obviously dictate his recovery time, but two to eight weeks is the range of time cited for the other three players who suffered broken hands within the past five days.

Two nights ago, Kidd-Gilchrist’s former teammate at Kentucky, New Orleans’ rising star and the league’s leading shot blocker, Anthony Davis, broke his left hand against the Knicks. A huge blow to the improving Pelicans, Davis is expected to miss four to six weeks. Nets forward Paul Pierce will miss two to four weeks with a broken right hand and Los Angeles Clippers sharpshooter J.J. Redick, who suffered a broken bone and tore a ligament in his right hand, is feared lost for six to eight weeks.

For the Bobcats, an offensively challenged club desperately trying to string together consistent performances and compete for a playoff spot in the downtrodden Eastern Conference, the loss of their 6-foot-7 wing is substantial.

“He’s our best defender,” dejected Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker said. “I don’t even know what happened yet. I hope we get him back soon.”

When Kidd-Gilchrist left the 89-82 loss against the Dallas Mavericks, the Bobcats were leading 60-51. They took a 67-60 lead into the fourth quarter only to be outscored 29-15 two nights after a heartbreaking one-point defeat at Miami.

“It’s a hit, it’s a big hit,” first-year Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “He’s been playing well. Foul trouble has limited his minutes lately, but he’s been playing really well, so he’s going to be a tough one to make up for what he does.”

Clifford said Anthony Tolliver and Jeff Taylor will have to pick up the slack. Kidd-Gilchrist was averaging 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, but the Bobcats, ranking third in defensive rating in the league (97.9 points per 100 possessions), and allowing fewer than 92 ppg, will have to drum up the defensive determination from elsewhere.

“He’s been great,” Clifford said. “If you watched him in Summer League, I think his progress from how he played in Vegas to now, he’s a much-improved player in every area. People talk about his shooting, he’s done a great job with his body, his conditioning, and he can be an elite defender in this league. He’s got toughness, his technique has gotten better and he’s very bright.”