Whicker: Ivica Zubac holds the fort until Clippers start firing against Miami

LOS ANGELES — All those 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, from the hand of Landry Shamet, were the sauce.

The meat of the Clippers’ victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday came on the defensive end, tenderized by center Ivica Zubac.

The Heat led at halftime, 58-55, running the offense through center Bam Adebayo, a first-time All-Star, and getting three 3-pointers from UCSB alum Gabe Vincent (he would miss his eight other shots).

Zubac didn’t really have a low-post guy to play against. “I had to go out on the floor and watch the back cuts,” he said.

But eventually, the game comes into the deep paint, and Zubac was waiting.

He blocked two shots by Kendrick Nunn in the first two minutes of the second half. Miami’s Jimmy Butler left with an injury. Miami was already holding out James Johnson and Justise Winslow, pending a trade with Memphis for Andre Igoudala. The batteries were low.

The Clippers banged home seven 3-pointers in the first 7:10 of the quarter. Behind 87-78, Adebayo got into the lane against Zubac, tried a ball fake, looked outside, looked in again, and Zubac never abandoned his sense of verticality.

So Adebayo was called for a 3-second violation. When Zubac got to the bench he got a rousing high-five from assistant coach Sam Cassell.

“Sam’s always on me,” Zubac said, smiling, “telling me to improve. Tonight I did everything he told me to do, and I did it right.”

And the Clippers went on to stroke 24 3-pointers in 54 tries and run away from Miami 128-111.

“I had to guard a big who handles the ball a lot,” Zubac said. “It’s a different role than usual, not being in the paint. We made a couple of mistakes, but we did a better job in the second half.”

The Heat shot 9 for 25 in that quarter and got blitzed 37-22. Miami played a more insistent fourth quarter and got to within seven with 2:23 left, but the Clippers found Shamet twice in the corner, and those buckets boosted the Clippers to 36-15, second-best in the Western Conference.

“I’ve gotten better at calling out coverages, communication, and being vertical when they’re attacking me in the paint,” Zubac said. “I do a better job of standing in front of the guards than I used to. I can take it to a higher level as far as reading the offenses, reading where all of our guys are, so I can get into the right position.”

Shamet’s 23 points led a 70-point volley from the Clippers’ bench, but Zubac hit all six of his shots and had three blocks and eight rebounds. He is only being asked to play 18 minutes per game and got to 21 in this one.

A year ago Friday, the Lakers shipped Zubac and Michael Beasley to the Clippers for Mike Muscala. It was a crosstown present that the Clippers used to win their way into the playoffs and take two road games from Golden State in their first-round series. As we later saw, the Lakers had to clear space for more established 7-footers, and you can’t keep and pay everybody. But the change has been outstanding for Zubac, who does not turn 23 until March.

The trade deadline is Thursday (noon PT), and teams like the Heat had to go through the motions of a basketball game while pursuing the serpentine logistics of an NBA trade (or two – Miami is reportedly in pursuit of former Clipper Danilo Gallinari, now with Oklahoma City).

For the first time in a long time, the Clippers weren’t really involved in the deadline shuffle, although that can change, of course.

“It doesn’t really feel like the deadline is happening in this locker room,” Zubac said. “Nobody’s really talking or thinking about it. You can’t do anything about it.

“With social media, you see everything that is going on. It’s our job to play against those guys. But I never really thought about it when I was younger. I just wanted to play and that’s all I worried about. If someone wanted to trade for me, I always thought it was a good sign.”

Which, of course, is the way every player in every sport should look at trades, unless you’re being dealt because you have one of those (dramatic whisper) “expiring contracts,” and your value is dependent on how quickly you can be expunged. Otherwise, players should only start worrying when they quit hearing the rumors.

According to Coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers improved with each pass. In one third-quarter possession, all five players on the floor touched the ball, and Kawhi Leonard capitalized with a jumper.

“It was all ball movement,” Rivers said, “because our spacing was so bad in the first half. Guys were saying they could drive the ball and I was saying, no, let’s shoot it. Miami was playing zone and we couldn’t see what we should be doing. In the second half, we did that.”

Generally, other NBA teams should want to trade with the Clippers. It’s preferable to trading baskets.

.@ivicazubac, who grabbed career rebound number 1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ tonight, talks with @Kristina_Pink about his strong night & the victory.#ClipperNation@LAClippers pic.twitter.com/OotTut2fsV

— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) February 6, 2020

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Clippers overcome Lakers after halftime self-assessment

LOS ANGELES — With his team trailing 63-51 at halftime, Clippers coach Doc Rivers went around the Staples Center locker room like a patient school teacher and asked his players what they thought they needed to do better if they were going to turn things around.

“I asked them to talk,” said Rivers, whose faith in his players’ problem-solving abilities paid off in Wednesday’s 111-106 victory in their Christmas showdown over the Lakers.

“We came in here and we said it at halftime, man,” said Montrezl Harrell, who scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, when the Clippers outscored the Lakers 60-43. “Doc basically asked everybody on the team, ‘What do you see?’

“Guys gave their answers and the last answer that was given, by one of our teammates, was that they’re just playing harder. And it was that point that Doc was looking for.”

Confirmed Rivers: “I said, ‘So that’s the easiest adjustment we can make all year if that’s true.’”

Whoever said it was speaking the basketball god’s honest truth: The Clippers were getting beaten measurably in the hustle department. In the first 24 minutes, they had only two blocks and two steals to the Lakers’ eight blocks and six steals.

“I mean, they were playing extremely harder than us,” is how Harrell put it. “They were taking it downhill, it was a team that was attacking us the full 24 minutes in the first half. What was we gonna do? Were we gonna keep complaining about it or go out and change it?”

They chose door No. 2.

After taking a good look in the mirror during intermission, it took the Clippers almost the entire third quarter to erase a Lakers lead that had grown to as many as 15 points, but when Landry Shamet stepped into a 3-point shot, it knotted the game at 86.

They kept the momentum going into the fourth quarter, a taut 12 minutes that eventually went the way of Patrick Beverley’s will.

“I gotta get my guys going. I gotta make sure we’re locked in from the beginning to the end,” said the 6-foot-1 guard, who skied for a clutch offensive board with 5:44 to go before coming up with the game-sealing block on LeBron James with 3.6 seconds left.

“(At halftime) we were just saying we gotta start worrying about the game,” said Kawhi Leonard, whose unwavering production Wednesday carried the team throughout the game, when he logged 35 points on 11-for-19 shooting.

“Like, ‘We’re not gonna blow teams out, it’s not gonna be easy. Every night it’s gonna be a battle. Stop worrying about the score. Just play every possession, play hard, if we’re losing, don’t look up, just keep doing what we have to do to win.’

“And I think we did that in the second half.”

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Whicker: Clippers survive off night, get ready to brandish their not-so-secret weapon

LOS ANGELES — Paul George, come on down.

The Clippers who launched a thousand magazine covers last month turn their weary eyes to you, maybe as early as Wednesday night in Houston. The second biggest reason anyone thought the Clippers would be That Team is ready to launch.

They held the fort without George on Monday night, as his shoulder nears full rehabilitation. They seized a 98-88 win over the leg-weary Toronto Raptors, who could manage only 10 fourth-quarter points as Fred Van Vleet had to play 45½ minutes, Pascal Siakam 43½ and Norman Powell 37.

They did even though they missed more than three-quarters of their 3-point shots and Kawhi Leonard struggled through 12 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and nine turnovers. “Almost a triple-double,” said Doc Rivers, his coach.

Four Clippers had 10 or more rebounds, including JaMychal Green’s 12 in 24 minutes and 12 in 23 minutes from 6-foot-1 guard Patrick Beverley. It was one of those substance-not-style wins that the Clippers like to put on their billboards, although the pre-eminent substance was iron.

“There are going to be a lot of those nights,” Lou Williams said. “You can’t get really caught up in whether he plays well or not. There will be some nights when he just doesn’t have it, and the other guys are going to have to pick up the slack.”

The Raptors, of course, rode Leonard to last year’s NBA championship, but everybody who played for Toronto on Monday had practiced with Leonard at least 100 times.

“We’ll have to come up with something,” Coach Nick Nurse said beforehand. “The main thing is not to give him the easy stuff, make him work for everything.”

The double-teams came early, often and with different cast members. Leonard didn’t have a field goal until the halfway point of the third quarter, when he took a rebound and motored coast-to-coast for a left-handed finish.

“We didn’t anticipate they would double team like that but you have to adjust,” Williams said. “We did a lot better job of that in the second half.”

Meanwhile, the lactic acid got inside the Raptors’ shooting legs. Van Vleet was 6 for 20 and Siakam 6 for 17. If not for another remarkable contribution from backup big man Chris Boucher (14 points, six rebounds, two blocked shots, 22 minutes), Toronto would have absorbed the blowout that a lineup without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka might deserve. Then you add an injury to OG Anunoby that removed him after two minutes.

“We ran out of gas a little bit,” Van Vleet said. “We kind of ran ourselves into the mud. It’s one hell of a team to play back-to-back and shorthanded.”

The Raptors jolted the Lakers here Sunday night.

“They were trying to get me into some pick-and-rolls and I thought we responded to that,” Williams said. “We were sniffing it out and we sent other guys to deal with it. We did a better job boxing, stopping some second-chance opportunities.”

Toronto had only five offensive rebounds and took a 66-38 beating on the boards, 24-8 in a fourth quarter in which the world champs missed 20 of 24 shots.

Still, Nurse was defiant: “We totally outplayed the Clippers tonight. We were playing harder and executing better. Then we took the ball to the basket about eight straight possessions and came away with nothing.”

But that head-down approach, by then, was fine with the Clippers. The hosts played a bigger lineup in the fourth quarter, particularly after Landry Shamet sprained his ankle. Shamet left Staples Center on crutches but appeared to be putting weight on his foot.

With Leonard, Green, Williams, Harrell and Maurice Harkless, the Clippers shrank Toronto’s court and fought through their own 19 turnovers.

“I don’t know if we’ve played that lineup before,” Rivers said.

When George returns, the possibilities blossom. Rivers savored the thought of another team trying to double-team Leonard again. The Clippers are already fourth in the league in defensive field goal percentage and third in the league against 3-point shooting without George’s NBA All-Defense services. Now that Rivers knows that Harkless, new to the Clippers, enjoys dealing with point guards, he might go through several spiral notebooks with defensive plans.

And the Clippers have played Utah twice in the first 10 games, along with the Lakers, Portland, Milwaukee and now Toronto.

“I don’t really know what we have,” Rivers said. “We’ve got a lot to figure out, still. But while we’re doing it, we’re still winning games.”

What he’s saying is that the Clippers are 7-3, and the reason it’s OK is that Paul George is 0-0.


The Clippers improved to 7-3 without Paul George, pictured, on Monday night, but the All-Star wing is close to making his Clippers debut, at which point, they will become even more potent on offense and defense. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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Lakers, Clippers take center stage as NBA season tips off

The dress rehearsals are over. Tuesday night, one of the most anticipated seasons in recent NBA history tips off, and the Lakers and Clippers, intracity rivals who underwent headline-grabbing offseason changes, find themselves on the short list of contenders for the 2019-20 championship going into their season opener at Staples Center.

Neither side will be at full strength on Tuesday, the Clippers without All-Star forward Paul George and the Lakers without rising young star Kyle Kuzma, but it’s still a game that should give each side an early indication of how they might measure up and how they might go about countering certain matchups.

Having landed two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and George in one stunning July night, the Clippers open the season as the prohibitive favorite to win their first league title, both according to oddsmakers in Las Vegas and the annual poll of NBA general managers. When George returns, they’ll become a team with frightening potential on defense, especially on the perimeter.

The Lakers got four-time league MVP LeBron James the elite running mate he wanted, shipping away a slew of players and draft picks to unite him with big man Anthony Davis amid the hope that their mutual desire to play together results in unbeatable chemistry on the court. Even if it takes them some time to gel, a refreshed James knows it’s all about positioning themselves to be at their best in April, May and June.

SCNG beat reporters Kyle Goon and Mirjam Swanson have been covering both teams since before those seismic roster changes, and they’ve spent the months since writing about a variety of topics, giving our readers a chance to get to know some of the personalities who will take center stage this season, and the challenges both sides might face along the way.

Before that first jump ball is tossed, here’s another chance to catch up on some of what you might have missed:

LAKERS

• United with the teammate they both publicly wished for, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are expected to have each other’s backs as Lakers teammates, sharing the workload while holding each other accountable.

• Father Time, as the saying goes, is undefeated. The question for LeBron James – and for a Lakers franchise hoping his championship window is still open – is how long can he stave off the inevitable?

• How Coach Frank Vogel’s “sabbatical” year spent visiting college and NBA coaches around the nation rejuvenated him for the Lakers job

• Entering his third season, ambitious young Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has switched agencies, signed a shoe deal and is looking out for additional business opportunities.

• With both teams in demand for national TV appearances, the NBA and Staples Center had a tougher time than ever mapping out the schedules for the Lakers and Clippers

Lakers play down rivalry angles going into opener against Clippers

• In his second stint with the Lakers, Dwight Howard promises more accountability

• Veteran guard Avery Bradley is eager to prove himself, ready to “show the world that I’m the best perimeter defender in the NBA.”

• LeBron James and the Lakers have been doing their best to make Anthony Davis feel comfortable and in control going into a critical season

• The Lakers have plenty of competition in their guard rotation

• Anthony Davis, Lakers believe having multiple shot-blockers will aid their identity

• A closer look at the Lakers’ projected roster, including two-way contract players

CLIPPERS

• In Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have added a self-made superstar who keeps getting better

• Can the Clippers seize their moment and challenge the Lakers for L.A.’s basketball soul?

• The Lakers and Clippers in contention at the same time has the eyes of the league on L.A.

• Against the Clippers’ defense this season, the drive to Staples Center might be the easy part

• Is there any reason to doubt, L.A.’s clearly a basketball town?

• Given their decades of futility and mismanagement, it’s hard for some to fathom … the Clippers favored to win a championship?

• When three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams speaks, his words carry weight

• Clippers hope a “brotherhood” built through group texts, fishing trips and paintball outings will prepare them for whatever adversity comes their way

• Clippers rookie Terance Mann is soaking up his time around Kawhi Leonard, Paul George

• Patrick Beverley wants you to know: Kawhi Leonard is cool but he’s “not quiet”

• The Clippers plan to retain the gritty team persona that helped attract a pair of All-Stars

• Patrick Beverley is the face of a new Clippers ticket initiative that will give between 50 and 200 fans an opportunity to purchase $10 tickets for all 41 of the team’s home games this season.

• A closer look at the Clippers’ projected roster, including two-way contract players

AROUND THE LEAGUE

STACKED OUT WEST: Beyond the Lakers and Clippers, Houston reunited James Harden with Russell Westbrook. Denver and Utah bring back strong cores, Portland might have the league’s best backcourt, and Golden State doesn’t sound ready to go away, even if the Warriors will have to wait a while to get Klay Thompson back. Here’s a team-by-team preview of the Western Conference.

TWO-TEAM RACE IN EAST? Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks were a couple wins from beating Toronto. The Philadelphia 76ers were perhaps a couple bounces from doing it one round earlier. Neither team was good enough to finish the job last season, but both think this is their time after Leonard returned to the Western Conference. They look like the favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals – where they might have to deal with Leonard again. Here’s a team-by-team preview of the Eastern Conference.

CRACKING DOWN ON FAN BEHAVIOR: After high-profile incidents involving Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Lowry and others last season – including ones involving racist taunts – zero tolerance for abusive or hateful behavior is now to become the NBA’s policy going forward. The league is changing and toughening its code of conduct for fans, especially putting those in closest proximity to the players and the court on alert that anything over the line will lead to ejections and possibly more.

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Whicker: Clippers are setting a club record for possibilities

LOS ANGELES — Steve Ballmer promises a “wall of sound” in the Clippers’ new arena, and it takes one to know one.

Ballmer also said Thursday night that the Clippers would open those new doors five years from now.

“After we’ve won some championships,” he added.

The Clippers’ owner was on stage at the Wiltern Theater, and he basically was selling bacon to pit bulls. His audience was a group of Clippers’ season-ticket holders, who roared at nearly everything said by Ballmer, player personnel director Lawrence Frank and the self-explanatory Jerry West, during their annual state-of-the-team rundown.

The state of this team? The Arctic Circle, or points north. The Clippers traded for Paul George, signed Kawhi Leonard, retained the concept of a working roster, and yet stayed out of luxury-tax lockdown.

This is a franchise that has swaggered before, but now their owner brings digital wallpaper to life.

Some of us remember when their biggest offseason activity was Donald T. Sterling’s Lottery Party, a symbol of his decadence and their wretchedness. Then they got good. It took a guy like Ballmer to realize that good wasn’t enough. Neither was it enough to be the third tenant at Staples Center, to play 12:30 p.m. games on Saturday and then walk past all the hockey equipment bags as they hustled home, to beat the outgoing and incoming traffic.

“This will be our home,” Ballmer said. “Hockey?” He thrust his thumb to the sky, the international symbol for you’re-outta-here.

Ideally, the construction will begin in the summer of 2021. More ideally, Leonard and George will be entering their third Clippers season, although they are eligible to opt out. In between, the Clippers strongly believe in their 1-through-15 cast.

“We have two of the best five players in the NBA now,” West said. “They’re going to open up opportunities for everyone. You think about the ends of games. We’ll have those two show ponies plus Lou Williams? I really don’t know who’s going to stop them.”

West pointedly mentioned Terance Mann, the second of the Clippers’ draft choices. As a guard, Mann led the NBA Summer League in rebounding, but West said Mann’s passing will fill the Clippers’ largest need. “I really think he’s going to be playing a lot by the end of the season,” West said.

Such are the benefits of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll bargain. Williams is making $8 million this coming season, Montrezl Harrell $6 million. They become free agents next summer, but that’s how you can add Moe Harkless at $11 million and still give the Mad Max contracts to Leonard and George.

As has been reported, the Clippers knew they needed a running buddy to get Leonard. When Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler committed elsewhere, they were facing a two-strike count. But they found Oklahoma City, which had a throbbing salary-cap headache.

Frank said they explained their vision to Leonard, in an early meeting, and then put George’s name on their board. “That’s the guy,” Leonard replied. So that became the plan.

“They’re the two best two-way players in the league,” Frank said. “Defensively they check every single box. Can they guard their own position? Can they guard down (smaller players)? Can they guard up? Check. It makes us a lot more switchable. And then you add what Pat Beverley does on defense.

“For the first time, Paul doesn’t always have to guard the other team’s best player. And when you have that culture, nobody wants to be the weak link defensively.”

Ballmer, Frank and West spent most of July 5 on various phone calls, two of which were disrupted by earthquakes. West was at the Summer League in Las Vegas.

“I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘I can’t believe you got both of them,’’’ West said.

“You can drive yourself nuts over things you can’t control,” Frank said. “We were pretty transparent that Kawhi was our No. 1 guy. After a while, you just do your best and just surrender and enjoy it. All three teams (Toronto, Lakers, Clippers) were right in there. You could make an argument for all of them. What could we control? Try to get an elite player like Paul George. That can’t hurt, no matter what happens. And in the end, a lot of things happened almost simultaneously.”

The fans only booed once. That was at the first mention of the Lakers. West playfully cupped his ear, asking for more.

“I’m not a betting man, except at gin,” West said. “But I’m pretty confident that on Christmas Day, the Clippers will be playing the Lakers.”

On a night when Staples sounded like a fixer-upper and Inglewood looked like Shangri-La, Christmas Day seemed hot and now.

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Whicker: Clippers ride a long way on effort, but next year will require something more

LOS ANGELES — Rarely has a team basked in such love because it did its job.

You wonder if it says more about the Clippers, who swam upstream to win 48 games and made Golden State break a furious sweat in the first round, or the NBA, where “effort” and “energy” are praised profusely because they’re not always seen.

The Clippers started strongly against Golden State and then wilted under the relentless raindrops of Kevin Durant and the human smorgasbord that is Draymond Green. The Warriors won Game 6, 129-110, and the series, 4-2, and they open Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against Houston on Sunday afternoon.

“I love their team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, not for the first time. “That’s just a beautiful basketball team. There were times when we thought we had them and we didn’t have them. They brought out our best.”

The past four Warriors teams have gotten to the NBA Finals and three of them won championships. Their first-round opponents had two wins in those four years. The Clippers duplicated that in this series. So, there’s that.

But Durant ended any miracle talk with 50 points on Friday, and all of them seemed to either extend a Warriors’ spree or stop whatever the Clippers were mustering.

“I promise we tried,” Clippers sixth man Lou Williams said. “Sometimes you just come across special people.”

The Warriors thus sent play-by-play man Ralph Lawler to his retirement home in Bend, Ore., by honoring the 100-point Lawler’s Law. The most irreplaceable member of the Clippers’ organization laughed at halftime when someone asked him if Durant was trying to validate the Law by himself.

All Durant was doing was demonstrating the Second Law. Talent wins.

Championships are won in June but arranged in July. The Clippers have a lot of money for free agents, for guys who can yawn, stretch their legs and get 50. A lot of teams have money, but if nothing else is in place, the money’s no good. At the very least, the Clippers have shown the Durants and Kawhi Leonards that they have an identifiable way of playing, a group of players more talented than anyone thinks, and none of the avoidable chaos that has consumed the Lakers. If you want to come to L.A., as many people who have full-time drivers want to do, this would seem to be the team.

That, more than finishing eighth and keeping Sacramento out of the playoffs, is what the Clippers accomplished.

Players came to the Clippers and got better, by the month in some cases. Take Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the 11th pick in last year’s draft.

He was the only “plus” player among the first eight Clippers, if you like that stat, and he got 22 points with six assists. As the Clippers seized a 10-point first quarter lead, Gilgeous-Alexander was the main driver, literally.  They needed another epicurean night from Lou Williams, but the Warriors trapped him immediately and watched him miss 18 of 21 shots. The growth plate of this team is Gilgeous-Alexander.

“There are so many things I learned this year I can’t even think of them all,” he said. “In a series like this, you learn about focus. Every possession means so much. You learn how to see the game. Doc (coach Rivers) told us before the season that we’d have to play hard every night to be successful, and we all bought into it.

“There are so many things this summer I want to focus on. I think I’m going to come back with a better shot. Right now I haven’t figured out exactly what I’ll be doing. I didn’t plan on going home this early.”

Nearby in the locker room, Landry Shamet was also dealing with the brick wall of elimination. He was finishing his rookie year, too, one that will always be identified with his winning shot in Game 2’s record-setting comeback. He and Gilgeous-Alexander will be the sophomore backcourt next season, depending on the supermax newcomers.

“I knew Shai was a good player,” Shamet said. “I’m excited that I get to grow with him. We weren’t even together for half the season (after Shamet was acquired in the trade that sent Tobias Harris to Philadelphia).

“He always was a well-rounded guy with a good feel. He’s a very balanced point guard. He’s not a pass-first or shoot-first point guard. He’s unselfish, yet he’s aggressive. He knows when to score, yet he knows how to get other guys involved. He’s just a solid player. His growth even the last couple of months has been incredible, fun to watch.”

Gilgeous-Alexander also is 6-foot-6 and does not turn 21 until July 12.

There is also plenty in reserve. Rivers shelved Ivica Zubac in this series, for the most part, but this is a guy who went 9 for 10 at Golden State on Christmas Night, in his Lakers days.

“These six games honestly felt like two months in terms of all the adjustments and the emotional roller coaster,” said Warriors point guard Steph Curry, a two-time league MVP. “It tested us. They played amazing.”

No league pigeonholes its teams like the NBA, and its intelligentsia does. The Clippers’ gift to us this season was unpredictability.

Like most gifts, it shouldn’t be given in back-to-back years.

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Whicker: Warriors’ defense looks familiar, and strong, with Andrew Bogut

LOS ANGELES — Which two quarters don’t go with the other 10?

Take Game 1 and Game 3 and the first half of Game 2, and Golden State is outscoring the Clippers by 67 points.

Only the second half of Monday’s Game 2, a trick of light and shadows, has saved this first-round series from the brink of Cancun, and other NBA vacationlands.

The Warriors seized a 31-point lead in Game’2, embossing themselves in the embarrassment section of the playoff record books. They got to a 31-point lead in the third quarter in Game 3 here Thursday, and assistant coach Jarron Collins helpfully reminded head coach Steve Kerr.

The eclipse did not repeat. Golden State went on to nail down a 132-105 victory over two-and-a-half hours. About 90 minutes of that were pointless. The Warriors had flashed their championship ID in a 40-point second quarter.

And the Clippers basically faded into the scenery. Their starting lineup scored 46 points, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell weren’t allowed to put the game on fast-forward in the second quarter, and Danilo Gallinari was a nightmarish 2 for 13 from the field. The Warriors slapped big double-teams on Gallinari most times when he got the ball in the first quarter. Then they switched carefully on Williams and allowed him few of their lane drives, and he went 1 for 3 from the 3-point line.

“We didn’t really play for each other tonight,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We got behind and everybody was trying to win the game for himself, and that isn’t the way we play.”

For all the Clippers’ good works and righteous observance of the way the game needs to be played, they did not have good fortune with the No. 8 seed and a date with a Hall of Fame lineup.

“We got our ass kicked,” Williams said. “They willed themselves to play defense tonight, and then on the other end they can make crazy shots. That can be discouraging. They were cooking on all cylinders on both ends.”

Although Kevin Durant got physical and mental revenge on Patrick Beverley with a 38-point night, this was an old-time Warriors victory, from the days before Durant arrived. Part of that is Andrew Bogut, the criminally underrated center during Golden State’s first two title seasons.

Bogut spent most of this season back in Australia, with the Sydney Kings in the National Basketball League. He signed a two-year contract, and his coach, Andrew Gaze, called it the most important signing in league history. At the time, Bogut pledged that he would spend both years in Sydney, with “no NBA outs,” but then he blossomed into the league’s MVP. When Golden State came calling, the Kings did not stand in his way.

“I think he’s in a very good place right now,” Kerr said.

Bogut was in several good places in Game 2. He got 14 rebounds and put up a good argument whenever Harrell, Ivica Zubac and other “bigs” reached the lane. His passing and screen-setting were a prime ingredient in the Warriors’ success in 2015 and 2016. Granted, this team won an NBA championship with Zaza Pachulia starting 57 games in the post, and it will run into playoff nights when it wishes it still had DeMarcus Cousins, who injured a quad and is out for the year.

But the Warriors and Bogut have a mutual comfort society. Andre Iguodala also looked several years younger on this night, and it all served to remind us that Golden State is, at heart, a defensive team.

“I’m probably more appreciative of everything this time around,” Bogut said. “I know what my role is with this team, and the system really hasn’t changed that much. I’m supposed to be a presence in the lane, talk on defense, rebound and make good decisions.”

“He’s been a godsend,” Kerr said.

All of Golden State’s lineups were effective, and Steph Curry poured in 21 points in 20 foul-truncated minutes. But the Clippers had no idea how to get over or around the Warriors when they went jumbo: Bogut, Iguodala, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Alfonzo McKinnie.

“They were by far more physical than us,” Rivers said. “Their defense was a lot better than our offense. We got some shots, but not a lot of good ones.”

And Williams was irked that the Clippers let Durant go on his 14-for-23 spree even though Durant had basically promised he would respond to Beverley’s Game 2 provocations.

“He announced himself before we got here, and we either weren’t prepared or we didn’t get the job done,” Williams said. “On the other side of that coin, he’s Kevin Durant and he’s capable of making those shots.”

They do it again on Sunday afternoon.

“If we win that one, we’re tied in the series,” Rivers said. “Thank God it’s not college.”

He is also thankful that a playoff series isn’t conducted on the quarter system.

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Whicker: With a 13-2 record in March, Clippers aren’t doing it on intangibles alone

  • Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas, right, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons, left, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers guard Garrett Temple defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell, center, is fouled while shooting by Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo, left, as forward Chandler Parsons defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Members of the Los Angeles Clippers celebrate from the bench after center Ivica Zubac dunked during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari, center, shoots as Memphis Grizzlies forward Justin Holiday, left, and forward Bruno Caboclo defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, right, passes as Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyler Dorsey defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyler Dorsey, left, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, left, shoots as Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell grimaces after drawing a foul during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo, right, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers forward JaMychal Green defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 113-96. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Memphis Grizzlies guard Delon Wright, right, grabs a rebound away from Los Angeles Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 113-96. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo, right, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 113-96. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, right, offers to help up Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas after Valanciunas was hurt during a play during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 113-96. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell, right, shoots as Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 113-96. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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LOS ANGELES — J.B. Bickerstaff, the Memphis coach, offered a novel analysis of the Clippers’ stormy surge.

He acknowledges the one-for-all nature of what they’re doing. But he also thinks talent has something to do with it.

“When you have the skill level and the talent level that they have, and then the willingness to be part of something bigger than themselves, you see the success you can have,” Bickerstaff said after his depleted Grizzlies were trounced Sunday night, 113-96, by a Clippers team that was a league-best 13-2 in March.

Someone mentioned the star-driven ways of the NBA and how an ensemble like the Clippers usually can’t expect to circumvent a great player or two.

“Yeah, but it’s a high-level ensemble,”  Bickerstaff said. “(Danilo) Gallinari is a heck of a player. Montrezl Harrell, the way he’s playing, Lou-Will (Williams), you can go on and on. They didn’t just throw a bunch of guys together in the locker room. They went out and got some talented players, but it still comes down to the way they’ve bought in. Nobody is uncomfortable in his role.”

The Clippers are 47-31 and are in a percentage-points tie with Utah for fifth in the West. If they win three of their four closing games, they’ll get to 50 wins for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.

This was not considered likely, particularly after the Clippers dealt Tobias Harris to Philadelphia Feb. 6. They are 17-6 since then.

“I think it’s a case of us having stars but maybe people not recognizing them as stars,” Tyrone Wallace said. ‘Gallo is a star, Lou is definitely a star. I think the reason we’ve come together as a team is that we don’t have hidden agendas, that there’s no ulterior motives when guys go out on the court. We’re all playing for each other. We’re happy when we see somebody doing good.”

Harrell (1.53) and Gallinari (1.52) are ranked fifth and sixth in the NBA in points per field goal attempt.

“Efficiency matters,” said coach Doc Rivers, whose team shoots 313 fewer 3-pointers than its opposition but makes 38.9 percent. “This is how we score. If we get 130 points I don’t care if we get there on ‘ones,’ let alone threes.”

The Clippers manage to get there. Against Memphis, Gallinari got 27 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, and got to the foul line 16 times. Harrell, Williams and JaMychal Green brought 52 points off the bench and shot 16 for 29.

About the only thing that irked Rivers was the failure of rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to get an assist in the first half. But SGA got three in the second half and had four steals for the game, which featured such temps as Dusty Hannahs, Yuha Watanabe and Julian Washburn logging significant minutes for the Grizzlies (31-45).

Rivers again voiced no preference for a playoff opponent.

“I don’t think the top four teams are looking at the bottom of the conference and saying, ‘I wish we could play this or that team,’’’ he said. “I think they’re all tough. Maybe Golden State is looking at 15 teams (counting the Eastern Conference) and saying that, but I don’t think any of those teams are scared to play them.”

“In the playoffs you have teams saying they want to take away this or that guy,” Wallace said. “I think they’ll be looking to take away Gal or Lou. But if they do, we have a lot of guys who can make up for that.”

The Clippers are scoring 117.3 points a game since the Harris trade, second only to Milwaukee, and they’re getting to the foul line 28.6 times a game, which leads the league.

They have Houston and the Lakers before they go to Golden State on Saturday, and then they end the regular season April 10 here against Utah. Instead of elbowing their way into their picture, they’re lining up for position.

“You go right into the playoffs now,” Rivers said. “You don’t wait a week. You need to go in hot.”

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Clippers fade against Hawks in their Las Vegas Summer League finale

LAS VEGAS — The Clippers gave their pair of lottery picks another night off as the team wrapped up Las Vegas Summer League play with a 97-81 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in a consolation game Friday night at the Thomas and Mack Center.

The Clippers led a tight game going into the fourth quarter, but Atlanta finished the game on a 21-6 run and outscored the Clippers 30-12 in the final period. There were five ties and six lead changes in the game, but poor shooting (39 percent), especially from 3-point range (3 for 21) again hurt the Clippers.

Atlanta (3-3) shot 45.5 percent from the field and was 8 for 20 from beyond the arc, while its bench outscored the short-handed Clippers 49-27. In addition to resting rookies guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, the Clippers (2-4) also played without second-year guard Sindarius Thornwell.

Jordan Matthews had 18 points, four rebounds and two steals to pace the Clippers, while Jaylen Johnson added 16 points and six rebounds off the bench. Reggie Upshaw contributed 12 points and nine rebounds, and Jawun Evans had 10 points, three rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Robert Johnson led the Atlanta starters with 18 points, but the Hawks got some of their best contributions from their bench. Junior Robinson had 20 points, Alpha Kaba added 14 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals and four blocked shots and Brandon Sampson had 15 points and six rebounds.

📊Final
Jordan: 18p/4r/2s
Jaylen: 15p/6r/1s
Reggie: 12p/9r/2a/1s/1b
Jawun: 10p/3r/5a/2s/1b
Grant: 9p/2r/2a/2s/1b
Tyler: 6p/7r//1b
Desi: 5p/5r/3a/4s
David: 4p/2r
Tom: 2p/1r

🎥 https://t.co/7C5akXZau8
📸 https://t.co/j5OKXISlZ6#NBASummer pic.twitter.com/U8UPlQHsHm

— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 14, 2018

“I think overall what we came to accomplish we did, so it was beneficial!” – Summer League Head Coach Casey Hill on Summer League takeaways

🎥 https://t.co/bEQuJGODQh#NBASummer pic.twitter.com/5qkjeNqYeq

— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 14, 2018

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Clippers fall to De’Anthony Melton, Rockets in Las Vegas Summer League

  • The Clippers’ Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots around Houston Rockets’ Zhou Qi during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Houston Rockets’ Trevon Duval, right, attempts to shoot around Los Angeles Clippers’ Vincent Hunter during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Vincent Hunter, left, and Houston Rockets’ Trevon Duval scramble for the ball during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Houston Rockets’ De’Anthony Melton (0) shoots over Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyler Harris (28) during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Houston Rockets’ Zhou Qi, right, fouls Los Angeles Clippers’ Jerome Robinson (13) during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Houston Rockets’ Zhou Qi shoots around Los Angeles Clippers’ Reggie Upshaw during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • The Clippers’ Bogdan Bliznyuk, left, and David Michineau, right, battle the Rockets’ De’Anthony Melton for the ball during the second half of their NBA Summer League game late Monday night in Las Vegas. Melton, a rookie from USC, scored a game-high 26 points to lead the Rockets to a 104-90 victory. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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LAS VEGAS — Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a team-high 25 points, but former USC standout De’Anthony Melton had 26 as the Houston Rockets led wire to wire in a 104-90 NBA Summer League victory late Monday night at Cox Pavilion.

Gilgeous-Alexander, a first-round draft pick out of Kentucky, went 12 for 21 from the field and added five rebounds, four assists, and two steals in 28 minutes. Forward Vincent Hunter added 20 points and eight rebounds, going 7 for 8 from the field, but the Clippers shot just 39.1 percent as a team, including an abysmal 2 for 19 from 3-point range.

Jerome Robinson, the Clippers’ other first-round pick last month, had 14 points and five rebounds, going 6 for 13 from the field in 22 minutes. Second-year guard Sindarius Thornwell added 13 points, but shot 3 for 13 from the field in 30 minutes.

The Clippers (1-2) never led, as the Rockets (3-0) pulled ahead by as many as 14 points before the first quarter was over. Houston, which saw its lead grow to 24 in the second half, shot 46.6 percent from the field, going 12 for 29 from beyond the arc.

Melton, who sat out his sophomore season at USC because of his connection to the FBI’s probe into corruption in college basketball, added 10 rebounds and five assists. Known more for his outstanding defense, Melton was 9 for 16 from the field, including 5 for 10 on 3-point attempts. Vincent Edwards added 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting for the Rockets.

Both teams are off Tuesday and await the day, time and opponent for their next game when tournament play begins later this week.

Final 📊
Shai: 25p/5r/4a/2s/1b
Hunter: 20p/8r/2a/1b
Jerome: 14p/5r/1s/1b
Sin: 13p/3r/1a/2s
Reggie: 6p/6r/3a/1s
Desi: 6p/3r/2a/1s/1b
Angel: 2p/5r/1a/1s
Harris: 2p

🎥 https://t.co/qFSfcuBxGd
📸 https://t.co/rGrbQolg9H#NBASummer pic.twitter.com/Vm7uzL6zVm

— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 10, 2018

#TheStarters play a game of “Would You Rather” with @LAClippers rookie @shaiglalex 😂 #NBASummer pic.twitter.com/g0ypKMZyYJ

— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 10, 2018

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