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Reggie Evans, also caught red-handed

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Last week, as Rick Carlisle discussed the very real dangers of “dirty” play, I pointed out a more subtle kind of “dirtiness” — the wily kind of rule-breaking veteran big men engage in all the time on the perimeter. The perpetrator spotlighted in that post was Kendrick Perkins, guilty of blatantly shoving Dallas’ Ian Mahinmi with two hands, moving Mahinmi out of position to defend a pick-and-roll and opening a driving lane for Russell Westbrook.

It was an obvious foul, a piece of illegal basketball activity that altered the game in one small way. Some two-handed contact is inevitable — and in some cases, allowed — under the rim, especially when big guys jostle for rebounding position. In a crowded scrum, it’s often difficult for referees to see who is doing what, and whether an arm that appears to be attached to one flailing set of body parts is in fact doing something against the rules. But out in the wide open spaces of the perimeter? Call the foul.

In the interest of fairness, here is Reggie Evans late in Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Clippers doing the defensive version of what Perkins did on offense last week (see the 18-second mark of this video, kindly uploaded by MrTrpleDouble10 of the Celtics-themed blog Red’s Army):

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  • Published On 3:59pm, May 07, 2012
  • Anatomy of a comeback — and collapse

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    What made the Clippers’ massive comeback Sunday night in Memphis even more amazing was how slowly it came at first, how impossible it seemed with about four minutes to go, and then how fast it actually happened. The Clippers were still down by 24 with eight minutes remaining, and they turned the ball over three straight times between the 4:20 mark and the 3:16 mark of the fourth quarter, seemingly blowing whatever chance they had of completing the rally against the Grizzlies in Game 1.

    To pull off a comeback while playing such imperfect ball requires just about everything else to go exactly right, pretty darn quickly. A dozen little things added up to one historic rally. The Grizzlies’ offense collapsed, in part because coach Lionel Hollins sat Zach Randolph for nearly four minutes down the stretch, an understandable move (Randolph is still trying to get back into game condition and he looked shaky for much of the night) that nonetheless allowed Blake Griffin to guard Marreese Speights while Reggie Evans battled Marc Gasol for every inch of territory. Speights, never a “plus” defender, couldn’t handle Griffin down low on the other end. Tony Allen missed a put-back and was improbably exposed on defense when finally given the go-ahead to take Chris Paul. Other horrible things happened for Memphis.

    But if you had to pick one factor that made the game winnable, it was this: The Clippers made a bunch of three-pointers in a really small span of time. Two-point buckets simply wouldn’t do; they needed threes, and they got them, thanks to a complicated mix of factors. Let’s take a look at the Clippers’ last four three-pointers, starting with Eric Bledsoe’s seventh three of the entire season:

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  • Published On 2:37pm, Apr 30, 2012
  • Takeaways from Lakers-Clippers show

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    Blake Griffin posterized Pau Gasol (twice) in the Lakers' win over the Clippers. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

    A night that had the potential to be the craziest of the regular season certainly lived up to the hype, with games in Minnesota, New Orleans, Utah, Los Angeles, Boston and Miami — all but one with major playoff implications — coming down to crunch time. The Jazz-Suns showdown was probably the most exciting of the night, with Paul Millsap and Steve Nash trading ridiculous clutch plays around a Channing Frye banked-in prayer that gave the Suns three crucial points during a dry spell.

    But Lakers-Clippers might have been the most spell-binding game. The Staples Center tenants have been barking at each other and trading shoves since the preseason, Blake Griffin mauled Pau Gasol twice Thursday night and Chris Paul worked his brand of magic again in the fourth quarter. The win 113-108 Lakers win gave them the inside track to both the Pacific Division title and the No. 3 seed. They are now two games up in the loss column over the No. 4 Clippers, with the season series tie-breaker in hand. If the standings hold, the two teams could not meet in what would be a hugely entertaining playoff series unless they both advanced to the conference finals. That would seem unlikely.

    Some bullet point thoughts on the game:

    • About those Griffin dunks over Gasol: The second one was clearly an offensive foul, and as I watched it, I once again thought that if I were a coach, I’d create some sort of cash bonus system for players who give good, honest challenges against big-time dunkers. The system would also carry small cash fines for players who duck out of the way.

    Alas, I checked with the league, and such a system would violate league rules that ban teams from changing a player’s compensation in any way.

    Such a system is inherently silly, since it’s meant to heal wounds players may not even feel so deeply; players understand that being the victim of a highlight now and then is the price of doing business, and they keep the big picture in mind better than fans do. And Pau, of course, continued to play hard, highlighted by his crunch-time rejection of Griffin in the post. Still, when you catch Andrew Bynum desecrating the very idea of “transition defense” with his “elderly man jogging” routine several times per game, it’s discouraging to know lots of fans and highlight shows will miss that and focus on Gasol actually trying to play sound defense. Read More…

  • Published On 11:40am, Apr 05, 2012
  • Clippers not ready to contend just yet

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    Blake Griffin and the Clippers have hit the skids thanks largely to a poor defense that isn't getting any better. (EPA)

    Despite 11 losses in 18 games, the Clippers remain in good position to make the playoffs because of their relatively hot start, their favorable remaining schedule and the struggles of other postseason hopefuls.

    But a team that appeared to mark itself a contender when it thumped the Thunder on Jan. 30 now appears to be playoff roadkill. Its struggles, including a blowout loss at Oklahoma City on Wednesday and a home defeat last week to a Phoenix team resting Steve Nash and Grant Hill, have prompted two locker-room shouting sessions and rumblings that coach Vinny Del Negro’s job is in danger.

    Del Negro’s job, of course, was in danger the moment the Clippers traded for Chris Paul, transforming themselves into a team that needed a championship-level coach sooner rather than later. Del Negro is not a championship-level coach, unless they give out championships for coaches who scream and stomp their feet at opposing shooters. The knock on Del Negro, dating to his two seasons in Chicago, is that his offense is boring and predictable. It is. I have news for you, team playing the Clippers tonight: Caron Butler is going to set a back screen for Blake Griffin on the left wing, turn to the side, set a ball screen for Chris Paul and then pop to the left corner while Griffin sets up in the post. Repeat 25 times, sprinkle in some more traditional Paul high pick-and-rolls, add a dash of Mo Williams running around screens at the elbows and, presto, you have the Clippers’ offense. Everyone knows what’s coming.

    But most teams generally know what’s coming against every team they play, and the Clippers still rank sixth in offensive efficiency with 104.1 points per 100 possessions, according to The best coaches can catch opponents by surprise out of timeouts, by switching up what plays they emphasize night-to-night, and by constantly adding wrinkles and counters to their bread-and-butter stuff. Del Negro isn’t elite at making these adjustments. Nevertheless, the Clippers’ offense is just fine and has basically held steady during this poor stretch. Their scoring has dropped by less than a point per 100 possessions over the last 15 games, per

    Their defense, on the other hand, is a total disaster. And while a better defensive coach could mitigate the damage, I’m not sure this Clippers team was ever going to be ready to play championship-level defense in this lockout-compressed season. The Clippers rank 23rd in points allowed per possession, a mark that essentially disqualifies them (historically speaking) from title contention and makes them the worst defensive team among those competing for a playoff spot. In the last 15 games, the Clippers have regressed badly, allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions, which would about tie them with Washington as the league’s third-worst defense.

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  • Published On 3:24pm, Mar 22, 2012
  • Wizards, Nuggets pull deadline stunner

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    The Nuggets sent Nene to Washington for JaVale McGee, among other pieces. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

    What a bold move from the Denver Nuggets: One of the great NBA stories of the last calendar year, a team that thrived without Carmelo Anthony, has traded its centerpiece player to the Washington Wizards in a three-team deal that netted them an expiring contract and the league’s most enigmatic young center in JaVale McGee. The Wizards will now take on the remaining four-plus seasons of the $65 million deal Nene signed with Denver just a few short months ago, and in order to make the salary cap math work, the Wizards sent Nick Young to the Clippers.

    Let’s start in Los Angeles, because our stay will be brief: This is a very nice move for the Clippers. They get a true 6-foot-6 shooting guard who has often swung to small forward in smaller Washington lineups. Young is a catch-and-shoot gunner with shot-selection issues, but he’s also on a cheap expiring deal and thus presents little risk for the Clippers.

    The Clippers have gone just 9-10 since Chauncey Billups suffered a season-ending Achilles tear, and they are so thin on the wing that they acquired Bobby Simmons, who was out of the NBA, and immediately inserted him into their rotation. Caron Butler had no other backup, and teams were attacking Mo Williams in the post when the Clippers played Williams alongside Chris Paul. Young is bigger than Randy Foye, the Clips other alternative at shooting guard, and he’s a better shooter than Foye from two-point and three-point range. The Wizards need shooting, because none of their front-court players can shoot from the perimeter; add one so-so shooting guard, and the spacing gets tight.


    Young isn’t perfect, but he’ll get the ball only when Paul chooses to give it to him, and he’s not as bad a defender as his shoot-first, shoot-always reputation suggests. The move provides important depth for the Clippers at virtually no cost. The Clippers sent Brian Cook to the Wizards and used a trade exception acquired in the original Chris Paul deal to fit Young’s salary. Read More…

  • Published On 6:07pm, Mar 15, 2012
  • A few intriguing Dwight Howard trade scenarios

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    A Dwight Howard-Chris Bosh tandem in Miami is a longshot. (Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Before all of Wednesday’s craziness, with Dwight Howard reportedly willing to pick up his option for 2012-13 then not pick up his option for 2012-13, Chris Mannix, my colleague at, tweeted that some folks in the All-Star center’s camp indicated that he would have interest in signing long-term with the Heat or the Clippers.

    Howard is eligible for a starting salary of nearly $19 million next season on a new free-agent contract with a team other than the Magic, and neither the Clips nor the Heat will have anything like the kind of cap space necessary for that kind of deal. The Heat are totally capped out years into the future and will likely pay the luxury tax for at least the next four seasons. The Clippers can work their way to a middling bit of cap room if they use the amnesty provision on Mo Williams, but once you factor in charges for empty roster spots, you’re talking about $5 million to $6 million in cap room. Howard probably doesn’t want to go to the Clippers that badly.

    But in theory, it’s interesting to talk about whether the Clippers, Heat and a few other teams uninvolved in the Howard bidding should get themselves involved — assuming Howard’s flakiness and inability to commit on Wednesday didn’t deter teams from gambling on him. Howard is indisputably one of the league’s top-five players, its best big man and defender, and he just turned 26 a few months ago. He has already logged nearly 25,000 minutes between the playoffs and the regular-season, but there is not reason to expect any major drop-off in his level of play over the next half-dozen seasons. This is a transformational player, and transformational players are worth having out-of-the-box conversations about.

    To wit:


    It has been popular almost since “The Decision” to suggest that the Heat think about trading LeBron James to Orlando for Dwight Howard. James and Dwyane Wade have overlapping skill-sets, the theory goes, and the Heat would jump another level by trading one of them for a player that has no duplicate anywhere. The Heat don’t have a “true center,” and they compensate in part by over-rotating in order to protect the lane, a strategy that can leave perimeter shooters open — provided Miami’s opponent is smart, quick and savvy enough to thread swing passes through lanes the Heat close faster than anyone. LeBron has the salary necessary for an easy trade match, and the Magic could never do better than getting the very best basketball player in the world. Read More…

  • Published On 11:50pm, Mar 14, 2012
  • Making sense of playoff race in West

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    It’s time to give up trying to figure out the Western Conference and just enjoy the ride, as 11 teams battle for eight playoff spots, and two others — the Suns and Warriors — improbably lurk just one game behind the 11th-place Trail Blazers in the loss column. I can’t remember a season in which it has been so difficult to get a firm grip on a simple question: How good is Team X? This is especially so in a lockout-shortened season, when veteran teams may well be saving something for the playoffs.

    We’re nearly 40 games into this thing, and I feel comfortable saying two things about the Western Conference:

    The Thunder are clear favorites, but their D needs improvement. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images)

    1. The Thunder, as we all expected, are the clear favorites. They’re 31-8, rolling to home-court advantage, and even if their scoring margin (plus-6.0 points per game) paints them as a team that really should be something like 27-12 and not all that far ahead of their conference peers, that scoring margin is still nearly two full points ahead of the Spurs’ second-best mark.

    That said, the Thunder, as documented here and here, are riding a ridiculous wave of super crunch-time play that has pushed their record above where it probably should be. They remain a so-so defensive team, except in the final minutes of close games, when they turn into the 2008 Celtics. They struggle to find any scoring at all beyond their top three players; Oklahoma City piled up 115 points last night against the Suns, and only five of their players scored any points. Floor-spacing can be an issue, Russell Westbrook remains addicted to pull-up 20-footers in the first five seconds of the shot clock and the three core big men –Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison — are almost total non-threats on the pick-and-roll.

    If this team really has another gear on defense, as perhaps evidenced by its crunch-time play, they might be able to waltz through this conference. If they’ve been lucky, they could be had. Read More…

  • Published On 2:27pm, Mar 08, 2012
  • Vinny Del Negro commits coaching sins

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    I’ve pleaded before for coaches to stop stepping onto the court, which is supposed to result in a technical foul, at least by the letter of the NBA rulebook. This is one of many stickler rules the officials justifiably ignore, since for the most part, coaches intrude onto the court when there is no action nearby — usually to get one step closer to their point guard as he brings the ball up toward midcourt. No harm, no foul, no technical merited. Things are different when coaches intrude along the sideline when play is unfolding on their end of the court, as Scott Skiles did last season in bumping Miami’s Carlos Arroyo in one of the clips in the post linked above.

    Vinny Del Negro committed two ill-mannered coaching sins on Monday night when Golden State’s Brandon Rush hit a go-ahead three in the Warriors’ close win over the Clippers. Del Negro stepped onto the court, but that’s not what stood out to me, as you’ll see in the game’s highlights:

    He obviously tried to distract Rush during the shooting motion. He stamps his foot onto the court just behind Rush and clearly yells and/or yaps in Rush’s ear during the shot release.

    Del Negro is not the only coach to commit this offense. You’ll  occasionally catch an assistant, seated along the bench someplace, screaming in the general direction of an opposing shooter. Players on the bench do it all the time.

    Players on the bench are also largely young men in their 20s and early 30s, taking an in-game break from combat both fun and ultra-competitive. Del Negro is a 45-year-old man who wears suits to work and instructs much younger players. Maybe I’m being an old fuddy-duddy, though I’m more than a decade younger than Del Negro, but I find this somewhere between lame and distasteful. I’m not calling for a technical on Del Negro here, though the rules explicitly do. I guess I just want a certain degree of professionalism from NBA head coaches, and the assistants, too. Read More…

  • Published On 3:46pm, Feb 22, 2012
  • Loss of Chauncey Billups leaves Clippers with no margin for error

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    Chauncey Billups will miss the rest of the season after tearing his Achilles in Monday's win over the Magic. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The crazy year for Chauncey Billups officially ended on Tuesday. Tests revealed a season-ending Achilles tear after Monday’s win over the Magic, robbing the Clippers of the best among their crew of hybrid guards playing alongside the great Chris Paul.

    It’s easy to dismiss the significance of this injury: Billups is shooting a career-worst 36 percent from the floor, and the Clippers have an armada of combo guards — Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe and Randy Foye — ready to step into the vacated minutes. Foye in particular is listed at 6-foot-4, an inch taller than Billups, meaning he should approximate Billups’ ability to defend shooting guards. And on nights when Foye is overmatched but the opponent has a weak small forward — think of the Clips’ Staples Center co-tenants — Butler can take the tougher assignment, as he has in some games already this season. The Clippers were always going to have trouble against teams with both a top-shelf shooting guard and small forward — I’m sure you can think of some high-profile ones, including the current top seed in the West — and Billups’ injury doesn’t really change that reality, right?

    But of course that is far too simple. Billups’ injury breaks up the single most effective five-man lineup that has logged at least 100 minutes so far this season, according to Basketball Value. In 255 minutes together — more time than all but five units league-wide — the Clippers’ starting lineup has outscored opponents by nearly 18 points per 100 possessions. It has provided consistently great defense for a team that has done poorly on that end. Substitute Williams for Billups, and that number drops to about 4.5 points per 100 possessions. As John Schuhmann pointed out at, the drop-off has come on defense, where Williams, at 6-1, just cannot defend shooting guards, even though he’s in the best shape of his career and generally working his tail off.

    A lineup featuring the starters with Foye in Billups’ place has only logged about 19.5 minutes together, not enough time to draw any conclusions. But Foye is historically an average three-point shooter, whereas Billups in his later years has morphed into a steady 40 percent shooter from deep. And Foye cannot draw free throws like Billups, who continues to fake and juke and contort his way to foul line six times per 36 minutes. Read More…

  • Published On 7:12pm, Feb 07, 2012
  • Kenyon Martin deal is risk-free for Clips

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    Kenyon Martin agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Clippers. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.)

    Every day in this crazy season, you will be reminded of how little you really know about certain teams. It takes only a few days for a team to morph from scary-looking contender into exposed also-ran, and then perhaps back into scary-looking contender. Few want to admit it, but there is much we don’t know, and some questions will persist all season.

    One such question: Are the Clippers title contenders? Their scoring margin — plus-0.85 points per game — marks them as mediocre, but their best player, Chris Paul, has missed five games, including a surprising home loss to the Timberwolves and a margin-skewing 29-point blowout loss in Utah. They have played only seven road games, tied for fewest in the league, but they have gone 13-7 against the league’s toughest schedule, in terms of opponent winning percentage.

    And on Friday they reached a deal with Kenyon Martin, a 34-year-old power forward who has been playing in China — at a disappointing level, according to most reports — as the nutty NBA season has unfolded. We don’t know what condition Martin is in, when exactly he’ll suit up for the Clippers (though’s Sam Amick reports that he’s expected to resume his NBA career immediately) and how much game he has left.

    But we do know this: He can’t hurt the Clippers, even if he can be sulky and unmotivated in bad situations. You need three capable big men to win an NBA title. Most teams need four, but you might be able to get away with three — and a fourth playing some token/emergency minutes — if your top two are young and capable of carrying a heavy load every night. The Clippers are blessed with two such players in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and five-man units featuring that pair of bigs have done splendidly. Of eight such units that have logged at least 15 minutes together, seven have positive scoring margins, and the two that have logged the most minutes have been among the league’s most productive line-ups, according to Basketball Value. Read More…

  • Published On 3:08pm, Feb 03, 2012