Posts Tagged ‘Ronny Turiaf’

Batum speaks Blazers’ winning language

By Fran Blinebury,

VIDEO: Portland’s Nic Batum breaks down what went right for him and his team in Game 4

PORTLAND, Ore.Pourquoi pas?

Why not?

That was the question that Nicolas Batum floated in the locker room as the rising water reached the Blazers’ chins in the last few days. It didn’t take a French-English translator to read the numbers. No team in NBA playoff history has ever climbed out of an 0-3 hole to advance. It’s just never been done.

Doesn’t mean it can’t.

Pourquoi pas?

“Like we said, ‘Why not us?’ ” Batum said. “We know it’s going to be tough. It won’t be easy. Especially against this team, the San Antonio Spurs. Like we always say, just take one game at a time.”

For a night, the Blazers were not overcome by the Spurs machine on Monday. For a night, the Blazers were themselves again, streaking from end to end up and down the court, attacking the basket, jumping and scrambling for every ball that was on the floor or up for grabs.

When it was over, 103-92 might have meant nothing more than the Blazers avoiding the indignity of suffering a sweep. Or it could have been the type of effort that starts something special.

This was the kind of game and the kind of situation that Batum has been working toward for six NBA seasons. It is, ironically, the kind of game for which the Spurs’ Tony Parker has been helping him prepare.

Parker first saw Batum back in 2007 when he starred at the Nike Hoop Summit for young prospects. He reached out and a relationship began, one that has grown. Like Batum, Parker was a 19-year-old when he entered the NBA and he wanted to pass on his knowledge to his French countryman.

They talked and become close friends. Parker taught. Batum watched and listened.

The knock on the door came late at night on the eve of the EuroBasket finals last summer. Parker came to tell Batum that he needed him to step up for Team France in the championship game against Lithuania. The next day Batum delivered with 18 points, six rebounds and two steals as France won its first title.

The next knock came Monday night with the Blazers at the doorstep of elimination. Parker had dominated the first three games of this series with his shooting, his scoring, his leading of the Spurs. The long and angular Batum drew the assignment of guarding Parker from the opening tip.

Parker didn’t own the first quarter and set the pace, as he did in the first three games. He wasn’t able to turn every corner easily and get to every spot that he wanted. With Batum all over him, Parker finished with a series low 14 points and one assist on 6-for-12 shooting.

“I tried to slow him down,” Batum said. “I was just doing my job.”

Meanwhile Batum scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, the first playoff double-double of his career. He also dealt out eight assists.

“I’m happy for him. He’s playing great,” Parker said. “He’s trying to do everything he can out there. I have to great him credit for a great game.

“He did a good job. I had the shots that I wanted. But he was great tonight. He was everywhere.”

The plan is for Batum to take over the mantle of leadership on the French national team, a seamless handoff from Parker, who will turn 32 in four days.

“I think he has all the skill-set to become the leader of that team,” Parker told The Oregonian. “He’s been winning everything with the young generation, the junior national team, under-20, they won everything, same thing we did with Boris (Diaw). The main goal for him has been to do the same thing as our generation, me and Boris and Ronny Turiaf. I think when I retire, he’ll be 28, 29, his best years to try to keep winning with the national team. I know he’s looking forward to it and I think the next step is to try to be an All-Star in this league and try to be a leader.”

Parker knocked one night and told Batum he was needed. Now, Batum is answering again.

No team ever has come back from 0-3.

Pourquoi pas?

VIDEO: Spurs-Blazers Game 4 recap, May 12, 2014

Clips’ Hopes Of Contending Depends On Defense Of Jordan, Griffin


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that won 17 straight games and finished with the league’s fifth-best record last season, made some upgrades this summer in an effort to turn themselves into true title contenders.

On the bench, Vinny Del Negro was replaced by Doc Rivers. And in the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler were replaced by J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

But if the Clippers are to compete for a championship this season, they will need improvement from within, specifically with starting big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who will need to make up for some lost defense on the bench.

L.A.’s bench delivered

One thing that gets overlooked in the Clippers’ rehaul is that they had an excellent second unit last season. Their starters were terrific, but they suffered little drop-off when they went to their bench.

Clippers efficiency, 2012-13

Lineups MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
*Starting lineups 982 91.9 112.8 103.4 +9.5 +181
Other lineups 2,960 94.2 106.0 100.2 +5.8 +348
Total 3,942 93.7 107.7 101.0 +6.7 +529

* Paul, Butler, Griffin, Jordan and either Billups or Green
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Clippers’ starting unit was ridiculously good offensively, but slightly below average defensively. And though their bench struggled to score (it basically depended on Jamal Crawford‘s one-on-one ability), it still built on leads because it was so good on D.

In general, bench units are going to be better defensively than starting units because they’re going against other reserves. But the Clippers’ second most used lineup in the regular season, comprised of all reserves, was the third-best defensive unit in the league (minimum of 200 minutes played).

Three members of that unit are gone. Eric Bledsoe is in Phoenix, Ronny Turiaf is in Minnesota, and Lamar Odom is in NBA limbo as he deals with whatever off-court issues he has.

The importance of Odom

Here’s the thing about Odom last season. He was a disaster offensively (and was the season before that), but was a big part of the Clippers’ defensive improvement. L.A. went from 20th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to ninth last season. Their bench — particularly the big men — provided the strongest D.

In 821 minutes with Odom on the floor with either Turiaf or Ryan Hollins, the Clips allowed less than 91 points per 100 possessions. That’s elite defense no matter who the opponent is. No two-man combination in the league that played at least 450 minutes together had a lower on-court DefRtg than Odom and Turiaf.

On-court efficiency, Clippers big man combinations (min. 100 minutes)

Combination GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Griffin + Jordan 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Griffin + Odom 66 502 105.7 97.9 +7.8 +114
Odom + Turiaf 53 479 100.0 91.0 +9.0 +56
Odom + Hollins 41 343 111.4 90.8 +20.6 +118
Odom + Jordan 34 166 99.3 104.6 -5.3 -16
Turiaf + Hollins 32 148 85.6 104.7 -19.1 -45
Griffin + Hollins 26 133 106.1 111.5 -5.4 -13

Why Jordan, Griffin must improve

The Clippers’ starting lineup — with Willie Green at the two — was one of the best offensive lineups in the league. Although Jordan can’t shoot at all and Griffin’s mid-range jumper still needs work, that unit scored at a rate better than the Heat’s No. 1 offense. No lineup that was on the floor for nearly as much time scored as efficiently, and great offense can make up for mediocre defense, especially in the regular season.

But there are reasons why Griffin and Jordan need to get better defensively …

1. In the postseason, it’s better to be a great defensive team than a great offensive team. Over the last 12 seasons, 23 of the 24 teams that have reached The Finals have ranked in the top 10 defensively and 15 of the 24 have ranked in the top five defensively. Only 17 of the 24 have ranked in the top 10 offensively and only eight of the 24 have ranked in the top five offensively.

2. Odom and Turiaf have been replaced by Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, two defensive liabilities (to put it lightly). The Clips’ bench won’t be nearly as good defensively as it was last season. If L.A. wants to remain in the top 10 on that end of the floor, the starters must make up for the drop-off.

3. The Clippers were just awful defensively in the playoffs, allowing the Grizzlies — who ranked 18th offensively in the regular season — to score almost 110 points per 100 possessions over six games. The only team that was worse defensively last postseason was the short-handed Lakers, who got trounced by San Antonio.

How Memphis exposed L.A.’s bigs

The problems in that series started with the Clippers’ inability to force turnovers and continued with their inability to keep the Grizzlies off the foul line.

Clippers defense, 2012-13

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Reg. sea. 46.8% 6 37.3% 26 73.5% 15 17.2% 1 .306 29
Playoffs 48.5% 9 32.5% 5 73.3% 12 11.3% 15 .451 16

DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Though it was a slow-paced series, the Grizzlies — a team not known for getting to the line — attempted over 34 free throws per game, 13 more than they averaged in the regular season. They shot better than 50 percent from the field in two of their wins, but 38 trips to the line in allowed them to be nearly as efficient in Game 3, when they shot just 39 percent.

All five L.A. bigs averaged at least six fouls per 48 minutes in the series, with Hollins and Turiaf totaling an incredible 24 fouls in just 96 minutes. Griffin fouled out of Game 1 and committed five fouls in Game 3. Jordan had three fouls in just 17 minutes in that same Game 3.

The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is a tough matchup for any frontline. But the Clipper bigs got worked over, especially in the post …

Where Jordan and Griffin can improve

Griffin and Jordan aren’t terrible defenders. They both rank as “very good” on pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And when it came to rotations and team defense, Butler was a bigger liability in that starting lineup. L.A. was better defensively with Barnes at small forward with the other starters.

But the bigs aren’t great and their defensive focus and energy comes and goes. When guarding a big who faces up in the post, they often fail to contest his jumper or bite on his pump fake. And though they might contain an initial pick-and-roll, they don’t necessarily bring the second and third efforts needed against an offense that knows how to execute …

Both Odom and Turiaf ranked higher on pick-and-roll D and on post defense, where Griffin and Jordan rated as just “good” by Synergy in the regular season … and “poor” in the playoffs. The Grizzlies scored 69 points on 61 post-ups against the pair over the six games.

Overall, the Griffin-Jordan combo just didn’t measure up defensively to the big man pairings on other Western Conference contenders …

On-court efficiency, starting bigs, West playoff teams

Combination (Team) GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Duncan + Splitter (SAS) 60 819 106.0 92.7 +13.3 +208
Randolph + Gasol (MEM) 74 1,923 102.6 95.5 +7.1 +322
Ibaka + Perkins (OKC) 76 1,721 109.8 98.0 +11.8 +349
Faried + Koufos (DEN) 79 1,235 106.7 101.9 +4.8 +126
Bogut + Lee (GSW) 31 720 106.7 103.0 +3.7 +50
Griffin + Jordan (LAC) 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Gasol + Howard (LAL) 46 994 103.5 104.2 -0.7 -19
Patterson + Asik (HOU) 46 797 108.3 104.8 +3.6 +78

The Clippers will again be competing with the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies, three teams with bigs they can count on defensively. The Rockets have (a healthier) Dwight Howard and the Warriors could have a healthy Andrew Bogut.

Rivers was the coach of the league’s best defensive team of the last six seasons, and this team will likely be the best offensive one he’s ever led. But he’s not bringing Kevin Garnett with him from Boston.

The tools are there for Griffin and Jordan to improve. They have as much athleticism and mobility as any frontline in the league. But it takes a lot more than that to be an elite defender.

Jordan spoke about being a better communicator earlier this summer, and that’s a step in the right direction. But discipline, focus and sustained effort must also be priorities.

The Clips don’t need either guy to turn into Garnett. But if they’re to be included as one of the West teams that could be in The Finals next June, their starting bigs need to go from good to great defensively … especially since they won’t have as much help from their back-ups.

Time For Parker To Settle For Some R&R?


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Nobody’s telling Tony Parker to knit berets from a rocking chair for three months. But in light of this week’s second international knee scare and a cross-your-fingers MRI, perhaps it is time for some summer R&R for the All-NBA point guard.

Parker has nobly led his countrymen as team captain of the French national team since 2003 and has represented his country on the senior level since 2002, and on the junior level since 1997 (when he was 16).

Parker, 31, has a career’s worth of bumps, bruises, twists, strains and sprains that rivals the number of countries he’s competed in. His latest scare came days ago in an exhibition game preparing for next week’s FIBA European Championships. The details from the French national team were vague, but for a second time during the run-up to the tournament, Parker did something to his right knee that didn’t feel good.

The MRI came back negative and Parker declared he will be 100 percent for France’s opener against Germany. Germany’s star, Dirk Nowitzki, is forsaking the tourney to have more time to manage his right knee that required surgery last October. That doesn’t mean the game will be a cakewalk for Parker’s club — which includes Portland’s Nicolas Batum and Spurs teammates Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo. Overall, this French team is one devoid of NBA veterans, including Joakim Noah, a wounded warrior much of last season, and key cogs Ian Mahinmi and Ronny Turiaf.

No one could have blamed Parker had he graciously bowed out of the FIBA tourney considering he missed 16 games last season, scared the bejesus out of coach Gregg Popovich two weeks before the playoffs and gutted through a Grade 1 hamstring strain in the final four games of The Finals.

But when it comes to the French National team, there is no stopping Tony. He delivered France its first medal in 50 years in the 2005 European Championship and got them to the finals for the first time in 2011, followed by a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics.

And speaking of the Olympics, in a recent overseas interview, Parker said he plans to play for France through the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. At that point, he’ll be 34 and coming off a 15th NBA season.

It leads to one question with no defined answer: With meaningful international tournaments staged around the globe each summer, when, if ever, does loyalty to one’s NBA team supersede loyalty to country? The Spurs have paid Parker $95 million over 12 seasons and will pay him $12.5 million more this season.

Parker is the irreplaceable driving force behind the Spurs as Tim Duncan, 37, and Manu Ginobili, 36, hit their twilight years. Ginobili, a fixture on the Argentinian national team, is not playing in the FIBA Americas Championship after dealing with frustrating injuries last season.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long been the loudest critic among NBA owners of international competition. He bemoans that NBA teams assume all the risk when their handsomely paid players suit up for their countries. Cuban saw once-promising guard Rodrigue Beaubois, a Parker protege, break his foot during a French national team practice several years ago. Requiring two surgeries, Beaubois never bounced back, is no longer with Dallas and remains unsigned.

Two months after winning the 2011 NBA championship, Nowitzki led an inexperienced German national team into the European Championships pushing for a second consecutive OIympic bid. Germany failed to advance and Nowitzki started the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a bothersome right knee he pinned on the additional physical toll of playing that summer: “Playing in the Euros, looking back now, was obviously not the right decision, but it was a decision I made for my country,” Nowitzki said in January 2012.

Interestingly, Mavs rookie guard Gal Mekel, a star for the Israeli national team, told his coach in late July that he would not play in the European Championship. Israeli coach Arik Shivek said the Mavs strong-armed Mekel to pull out.

Even if Parker breezes through the Euro championships without another nick, the additional wear-and-tear on his body after another long season has to be concerning to the Spurs and their fans (who have seen this play out with Ginobili). A number of NBA players, some of whom dealt with health issues last season, decided to sit this summer out, with the Lakers’ Pau Gasol (Spain) and the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter (Brazil) among them.

The Spurs have signed and drafted numerous international players. The current roster boasts nine foreign players from six countries, not including Duncan, who hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Six are currently playing internationally.

But there’s only one Parker. And with training camp opening in less than five weeks, all of San Antonio waits stateside with bated breath. Because nobody wants to watch Parker knitting berets from the Spurs’ bench.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:



Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.



Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.



Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.



Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Superb Sub Crawford Driving Clippers’ Game-Changing Reserves


LOS ANGELES — Jamal Crawford spent the first few minutes after Monday morning’s shootaround being as affable as ever while answering questions about the physical nature of the series, adjustments to be made and the importance of protecting home court.

Then came the one topic that visibly soured his mood. His smile disappeared, his shoulders slumped, his voice lowered.

While the Clippers were reviewing Monday night’s Game 2 strategy against the Memphis Grizzlies, the league was announcing New York Knicks gunner J.R. Smith as the Kia Sixth Man of the Year. An award Crawford owned for the first half of the season was swiped by Smith’s late hot streak that corresponded with the Knicks’ late-season 13-game win streak.

“Congrats to J.R.,” Crawford said softly. “You can’t worry about stuff you can’t control.”

It’s uncertain if Crawford was already aware of his fate or was just learning of it. Clearly, though, when it hit his ears, his mind reeled back to late January when the All-Star reserves were announced. Crawford, the 2010 Sixth Man of the Year with Atlanta, had hoped he’d be selected for his first All-Star team in his 13th NBA season. He was not.

“Going back to the All-Star team, I guess twice in a season,” Crawford said of getting the snub. “But congrats to J.R.”

So when Crawford came out on fire in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 93-91 Game 2 win over the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2-0 first-round series lead, it sure seemed like he had come out with a Big Apple-sized chip on his shoulder.

He canned his first six shots and put together an 11-point second quarter that changed the flow of the game and a 13-point first half as the Clippers’ bench again caused all kinds of problems for the Grizzlies.

Crawford led L.A.’s bench with 15 points, plus three steals and a single turnover in 33:30. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, as expected, backed his first-year sixth man who averaged 16.5 points in the regular season, his high mark since taking the Sixth Man award three seasons ago, while shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the arc.

“He’s [third] in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, he’s had 29 20-point-plus games off the bench,” Del Negro said. “He set the franchise record for free throws (58 in a row), set the franchise record for 3-pointers made (149 in the regular season). He’s been a huge catalyst for us all season from Day 1, the whole season, so it’s hard for me to look at it and say that Jamal didn’t deserve that. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving.”

With an All-Star snub in the rearview mirror and now the Sixth Man hardware in Smith’s hands, Crawford still has the biggest prize of all in his sights.

He’s the leader of easily the deepest (and arguably the most dangerous) bench in the league. During the regular season it was just one of four benches to average better than 40 ppg.

In the first two games of the first-round series against the Grizzlies, the Clippers’ bench has been superior and has forced the hand of Memphis coach Lionel Hollins.

In L.A.’s breathtaking 93-91 victory Monday in Game 2, the Clippers’ bench outscored their opponents’ reserves 30-11. In Game 1, Memphis got 19 points from Jerryd Bayless, who played 30 minutes because the Grizz were constantly playing catch-up, and that limited defensive-minded Tony Allen to  just 17 minutes. In that game, L.A.’s Eric Bledsoe went off for 13 points, four assists and six rebounds in the decisive fourth quarter.

Del Negro has pushed all the right buttons so far. In Game 1, he went to little-used power forward Ronny Turiaf instead of Ryan Hollins and it paid off. In Game 2, Crawford accounted for half the scoring, but the Clippers got five assists and 15 rebounds from the bench.

“I have confidence in all of our guys,” Del Negro said. “I have no hesitation putting them in if I feel they can help us.”

And that’s included Lamar Odom throughout the season. Although Odom’s 3-point and free throw shooting has been abysmal, he’s rewarded Del Negro in other ways. He had seven rebounds in Game 1, more than burly big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined. There was his fourth-quarter sequence in Game 2 that included a defensive rebound and long outlet to Matt Barnes, a leaping swat of Randolph and a terrific bounce pass to the slashing Bledsoe for a dunk.

An all-reserve second unit changed the momentum of Game 2 in the second quarter and opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 to build a double-digit lead.

“With the depth of the Clippers’ bench, we have to match them offensively as well as do a decent job on them defensively,” Hollins said. “But we can’t go out there and not score and give up eight, 10 points in a row. Then they can’t be out there for long as a group.”

And they weren’t. Hollins got all five starters back out there early in the fourth quarter to battle, in a rare occurrence, the Clippers’ five subs.

It’s a predicament the Grizzlies must solve in a hurry.

Grizz Must Get Hands Dirty On Boards


 How poor was the Memphis Grizzlies’ rebounding in Saturday night’s Game 1?

So poor that Lamar Odom’s seven boards in 18 minutes were one more than Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to bring down in 66 total minutes.

“Very surprised,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said when asked about the Los Angeles Clippers’ 47-23 overall margin on the boards and 14-4 on the offensive glass. “But I’ve been saying when we played them before, they’ve gotten more boards than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds.”

Hollins then noted after his team’s 112-91 loss the seemingly impossible with what can only be described as stunned exasperation: Randolph managed four rebounds in 25 foul-plagued minutes and Gasol got just two rebounds — one defensive board in the first quarter and another in the third — in 41 minutes.

And just look at those offensive rebounds that Hollins is talking about for the Clippers. Of their 14, the starters had five — center DeAndre Jordan (three), Caron Butler (one) and Blake Griffin (one), who, like Randolph, was taken out of the flow of the game by fouls — some seemingly very ticky-tack both ways — and played less than 26 minutes.

The bench, led by Odom’s three offensive rebounds, accounted for nine, and remarkably equaled Memphis’ overall 23 rebounds. Even little-used Ronny Turiaf, getting nine minutes of in place of Ryan Hollins late in the third and early in the fourth, outrebounded Gasol, 3-2, including an offensive board and a put-back.

Nothing in Saturday’s Game 1 held to form for either club other than the Clippers’ bench playing outstanding basketball. The rebounding aspect went haywire. During the regular saeason, Memphis ranked third in allowing the fewest offensive rebounds per game (10.3), was tied for third in accumulating offensive rebounds (12.9). It was also third in rebounding differential (plus-3.6).

The Clippers are big up front and are a good rebounding team, having finished sixth in differential (plus-2.5). But to have a plus-24 advantage in Game 1 and to be outscored 25-5 on second-chance points, it was all about outhustling the burly Grizzlies.

“We got beat at our game. We got to give them credit,” said Gasol, a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate. “Once we got a stop, they kept running and getting offensive rebounds and second-chance points. The way we played for 36-40 minutes, I think we played good basketball. Even though we weren’t fully feeling like ourselves, they were doing a good job of trying to get us away from what we’re trying to do.”

For Memphis fans who were screaming at Lionel Hollins through their television sets to see more of Ed Davis, who was first off the bench when Randolph got in foul trouble and started fast with six points and three rebounds in the first quarter (he finished with six and six in 12 minutes), the coach made it clear why he Davis saw just five minutes of action after the first quarter.

“We’ve got to stop people, too,” Hollins said. “That sounds good and I know that everyone’s chirping at that (playing Davis more), but there’s a lot more to this game than just one step.”

Like rebounding.

Del Negro Stays Clear Of Hot Seat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What the Los Angles Clippers are doing is just as impressive in person as it is from afar. Seriously, do you have any idea how difficult it is in the NBA to win every night with a schedule that is unrelenting and competition that, for the most part, is as tight as you could get on a given night?

The Clippers do and have managed their league-best 17-game win streak masterfully.

Does it mean they’ve arrived among the NBA’s truly elite? We won’t know that for sure until sometime in late April or early May, when this group fights off the pressure in the playoffs and advances without playing their very best. Does it mean they have officially replaced the Los Angeles Lakers as the top hoops draw in their own city? Of course, not. Lakers fans will simply remind you to look up in the rafters at Staples Center and start counting the banners.

But if this streak proves anything at all, it’s that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has figured out the best way to avoid the dreaded coaching hot seat he seemed to be on every other night when his team wasn’t winning all the time. In fact, he’s rarely been mentioned, good or bad, during the streak. And that’s probably the way he’d like to keep it.

The laws of NBA gravity suggest that this streak will have to end sometime soon. A grueling stretch of schedule that has the Clippers walking on hot coals — in Denver on Tuesday, the Nuggets are 9-1,  in Oakland to face Golden State the next night, and then back in Los Angeles for another round of the City Championship series against the Lakers on Friday, followed the next night by a visit from the Warriors — just to survive the next six days.

It’s certainly doable for a team that went 16-0 this month. But adding four more wins this week against that schedule would be grounds for an investigation into extra-terrestrial assistance for a franchise that has never experienced the kind of hoops high the Clippers are these days.

Which brings us right back to Del Negro, whose navigated this mercurial stretch seamlessly. He’s allowed the Clippers’ entire cast of characters to play their roles to perfection. All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead the way, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan do some of the heavier lifting when they need to, as Butler did in Sunday’s win over the Utah Jazz with 29 points, while the league’s best bench (Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe and the boys) continue to crash open close games with their wave on non-stop energy.

You don’t win 17 straight games without someone knowing when to and when not to push, as Crawford told the Orange County Register after No. 17:

“Everybody here has a decent body of work in some way shape or form,” Crawford said. “They’ve proven something somewhere in the NBA. With that is a confidence that a player has, and there are egos involved.”For him to be able to manage that and put people in the right positions and use people to their strengths, he deserves a lot of credit.”

Del Negro has juggled a rotation full of veterans without much drama, but he’s established roles for everyone from Paul to Ryan Hollins.

“Guys get frustrated sometimes not playing as much, but it’s about the team winning games,” Del Negro said.

One thing Del Negro has done is allow players to operate in their areas of strength.

“He just tells me to be me. It’s been awhile since I was told to just be me,” Ronny Turiaf said. “I think it goes back to the Laker days when Phil (Jackson) told me, ‘Ronny, just go out there and play. I trust your basketball I.Q. I trust your basketball knowledge to be able to make plays for us.'”

Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said managing a roster with so many guys who are capable could present challenges down the road.

“It’s difficult. It’s a good and a bad thing to be in,” Corbin said. “Guys want to play, especially good guys who have had great careers and still think they have something to offer. Things are going well so they all want to be a part of it. It’s easier to manage their minutes, when things are going well.”

Said Crawford of Del Negro: “For him to have the pulse of the team and feel the team and the stuff he draws up, he has us believing we can win every single day.”

Do it every single day this week and someone can toss Del Negro’s hot seat into the ocean sometime late Saturday night!

Do Clippers Pass Your Eyeball Test?

LOS ANGELES — Lob City sells tickets. But defense wins championships.

That’s the way the basketball purists are approaching the Los Angeles Clippers, the hottest and “best” team in basketball as we speed toward the end of the year the Mayans said would be the end of for us all.

It seems fitting that the Clippers, of all franchises, would be in this position. They’ve never had the best record in the league this late in the season. And they’re fighting a legacy of futility that makes it tough for guys like TNT’s Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith to truly believe in what they’re seeing out of a team that has won a franchise-record 15 straight games.

But what would your reaction be to the news that the Clippers — even with all of the alley-oop action we’ve enjoyed from Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — are as much of a defensive powerhouse right now as they are entertaining and athletic?

The fact is, the Clippers are the second-best defensive team in the league behind Indiana and rank as the most improved defensive team in basketball, ahead of Golden State, Minnesota and Indiana.

Top five defenses, 2012-13
Team DefRtg
Indiana 95.7
L.A. Clippers 96.6
Memphis 96.8
Chicago 98.6
Atlanta 98.8

DefRtg = Points allowed per
100 possessions

If you’re not interested in the metrics, give them the eyeball test that Celtics coach Doc Rivers did before, during and after the Clippers put the smackdown on his team Thursday night on TNT. It’s hard to dismiss the Clippers when they are up in the grill of a team that built its foundation on defense, the bedrock that led to a championship during their spectacular run of the past five seasons.

“Last year, I think they showed up and they just thought their talent and their offense was [going to win for them],” Rivers said. “But this year their defense has been fantastic. I mean, we’re all talking about their offense, but they’re playing just terrific defense. And they have balance now. They’re fifth in the league in scoring, fifth in defense. That’s a balanced basketball team and that makes you really good.”

Still, the Clippers are fighting to dispel any notion that this is just a momentary run and that they are the Clippers of yore, when they were a team that quite frankly could not be counted on to do things the way they’re doing them now that Paul is a part of the organization.

“They have a terrific team,” Rivers said. “Every year is a new year, but they’re good. They’re talented and they play together. They all accept their roles. They’re actually a fun team to watch play, other than the dunks. They’re just a fun team to watch play the game.”

Barkley questioned whether the Clippers could keep this up — playing at their fevered and physical pitch and also playing every man in uniform and getting contributions from them all — when the games slow down in the playoffs. It’s a fair question that won’t be answered until April and May, depending on how deep the Clippers play into the postseason.

And it’s not realistic to believe that Matt Barnes will stretch his current streak of nine straight games of scoring double figures off the bench or that Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Eric Bledsoe will continue to provide the starters an opportunity to rest in the fourth quarter of every game.

But don’t tell that to Paul.

“I’ve probably sat out more fourth quarters this year than all my previous seven seasons,” he said. “People talk about how me and Blake’s numbers are down. Well, we don’t play many fourth quarters. And I think it just says a lot about our team and how everything is balanced.”

Balanced in every way. Their production from up and down the roster is at the heart of not only this 15-game streak but also their league-best 23-6 record (the Thunder are 22-6).

Most improved DefRtg

Team 2011-12 Rank 2012-13 Rank Diff.
L.A. Clippers 102.9 18 96.6 2 -6.3
Golden State 106.0 27 101.3 12 -4.7
Minnesota 103.6 21 98.9 7 -4.7
Indiana 100.4 10 95.7 1 -4.7
Brooklyn 106.9 29 104.0 21 -3.0

Just as impressive, though, is the focus the Clippers bring every night. And it’s opponent specific. They had to battle a team built similarly to theirs in the Denver Nuggets on Christmas and beat them into submission over the course of four quarters. The Celtics brought a different level of animosity to the Staples Center and the Clippers responded in kind.

“[The Celtics] played very intense, they played aggressive, they played physical,” Griffin said. “And I thought we did a good job of matching that.”

Perhaps best of all is that the Clippers don’t seem nearly as preoccupied with their current streak as others. Their focus is on the developing the chemistry and cohesion needed for finishing the marathon in style.

“I don’t really care about it,” Jordan said of the streak. “We’re just playing, we’re rolling. Everybody’s clicking and we’re starting to gel even more. We still have some guys out. Hopefully when they come back we’ll still be able to keep things going.”

Is Lamar Odom Turning The Corner?

 It took Lamar Odom deep into his 17th game with the Los Angeles Clippers and some 230 minutes of floor time to finally can his first free throw of the season.

It was a big one, too, an and-one earned on a drive to the bucket in the fourth quarter of Monday’s come-from-behind, 105-104, win at the previously unbeaten-at-home Utah Jazz.

First made free throw of the season? On December 3rd? For a player of Odom’s caliber, some might call it pathetic. In L.A., they call it progress.

The strange life and times of the ever-cryptic Odom continue, only now the Clippers hope they’re seeing signs that the once-versatile forward who once thrived with that other L.A. outfit is coming around.

“He was active,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s starting to get his timing back. It’s going to take some time, but he’s a weapon out there for us and he’s only going to get better with time.”

That’s what the Dallas Mavericks kept thinking, too — that Odom would eventually snap out of his malaise. Yet as they patiently waited for a mostly lethargic and despondent Odom to respond to second, third and fourth chances, Mavs owner Mark Cuban finally reached his limit last April, demanded to know from Odom if he was “all in,” and soon after kicked him off the team.

The Clippers did Cuban a big favor by engaging the Jazz in trade talks just before the June 30 deadline, at which point the Mavs would have had to waive Odom to get rid of him and eat the $2.4 million guaranteed on his $8.2 million salary for this season.

Looking to ease a backcourt logjam, the Clippers sent Mo Williams (and his $8.5 million contract) to the 3-point-shooting-starved Jazz in exchange for a trade exception. The Clippers took in Odom at his full salary, believing a return to L.A. would psychologically land him in a comfort zone and physically invigorate him.

Through one month, the Clips weren’t getting much of a return. Odom has often appeared exhausted after short stints and incapable of aiding any unit Del Negro might include him.

Check out his averages and percentages: 2.2 points, 29.8 percent shooting, 12.5 percent from 3-point range (2-for-16), 33.3 percent from the free throw line (1-for-3), 3.3 rebounds and 13.8 minutes — less court time than only Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf (both of whom combine to make a quarter of Odom’s salary).

And then came Monday night and Odom’s fourth-quarter explosion — five consecutive points, four rebounds and a steal in 6:35. He finished with a season-high seven points and six rebounds, four coming on the offensive glass, where hustle and hard work typically win out.

He tied his season-high of three field goals, also accomplished in the previous game when he scored six points. Get this: Odom’s 13 points in the last two games equals his output over the previous 11 games.

“Slowly but surely, it’s coming,” Odom said after the game. “I’ve just got to keep taking my time. I’m getting better in practice. All I can do is keep plugging away game by game.”

The Mavs heard the same mantra from Odom for four months, and a time or two even believed he was turning a corner. The Clippers are thinking the same way the Mavs did: a 6-foot-10 forward with a ball-handling skills and 3-point range who can score inside would be a rare and valuable bench commodity.

Cuban and the Mavs are next to get an up-close look at Odom when they visit the Clippers on Wednesday night on ESPN.

So, just as we did at the conclusion of each episode of the now-postponed “Khloe & Lamar,”  we breathlessly what to see what will happen next.

Clippers Ready For Lakers, Season

Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has a decidedly different approach to preseason basketball than his Los Angeles Lakers’ counterpart.

While Mike Brown isn’t worried about his team’s 0-6 preseason record, Del Negro demands that his crew treat every dress rehearsal like the real thing.

“You get paid to play and you get paid to win, I don’t care if it’s exhibition or not, you have to compete,” Del Negro told reporters after Monday night’s win over the Golden State Warriors. “If you’re not willing to compete and put it out there, you’re not a competitive person and those are not the type of people I want around here. … I understand it’s an exhibition game but when you play your minutes, play the right way so we can get better. If you don’t want to, you can come sit with me.”

Both sides will have main players sitting with the coaches when the Clippers and Lakers square off tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Lakers star Kobe Bryant is set to rest his sore foot and Del Negro has talked about resting his starters for the preseason version of the Staples Center Classic.

That means tonight’s game could turn into a battle of the benches, and that’s one fight where the deeper Clippers’ appear to have an advantage over their city rivals. A roll call of the Clippers’ reserves — Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins and Chauncey Billups (who will return from a torn Achilles tendon sometime next month or in December) — highlights an explosive supporting cast of talented players all capable of playing multiple positions.