1. Entertaining The Idea Behind These Clippers
LOS ANGELES -- Two hours before tipoff, fans of the Los Angeles Clippers begin to flood the plaza in front of Staples Center and the restaurants across the street at the LA Live entertainment complex. They have an ambivalent relationship with the statue of longtime voice of the Los Angeles Lakers Chick Hearn, but a few snap photos alongside his bronzed likeness.
They showed up early in 2006, but the vibe was different. Back then, fans were coming to celebrate an underdog, but these days they're here to attend an event. They're way beyond the theme that the Clippers are a team defying history, curses or dysfunction. That notion simply doesn't resonate anymore.
"It's just crazy how the culture is changing," DeAndre Jordan, who at 23 is the Clipper with the longest continuous service to the team.
The novelty of redemption has worn off. Angelenos likes their plots to move at a decent clip. A storyline in this town needs to evolve to be interesting. If it's not, the city quickly turns its attention elsewhere.
"You go anywhere in a city like this one, and it loves its ... products," Odom said. "What we put out there? We're one of the best shows in town."
It took Odom a second to search for product, but it was a spot-on characterization of the dynamic at work in Los Angeles, a city where production value is king.
"How many [nationally] televised games do we have this year?" Odom asked
The answer: 30, among the most in the league.
There are several factors at play in the Clippers' new allure. It's not insignificant that the Lakers are in a downward spiral and losing games in particularly ugly fashion. But the city is responding to the Clippers not because they're cuddly underdogs, but because, as Odom said, they're a good show.
Wednesday night's attraction offered something not typically seen at Clippers games this season -- suspense. The Clippers eked out an 99-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks, after falling behind by 10 points late in the third quarter.
"It wasn't a productive game and I didn't think we played particularly well," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We got the win, but we need to play much better than we did tonight."
With the Clippers facing an uphill climb at the start of the fourth quarter, Del Negro opted to stay with Chris Paul, who normally takes a blow before the final stretch but played all 24 minutes of the second half on Wednesday night. As Paul took his seat behind the podium after the game to address the media, he immediately grabbed a copy of the final box score.
The first thing Paul looks at when he examines the numbers?
"Turnovers," Paul said. "We're better than we were tonight as far as taking care of the ball, and that gave them opportunities to score. During warm-ups, we didn't look like we had those fresh legs. We came out a little flat, but it's not going to be merry every night. This is a good win for us to grit it out and fight it out."
As usual, the Clippers looked their best in transition and when Paul was distributing the ball in the half court. He racked up 16 assists, shot the ball efficiently (8-for-13 from the field for 19 points) and drained a buzzer-beater to close the first half.
Matt Barnes continues to look like the best veteran minimum salary player in the league. He finished with 19 points of his own, including a 5-for-8 night from beyond the arc.
But, as Paul cited, a rash of uncharacteristic turnovers, 21 in all for the team, made life more difficult than it needed to be. Paul had routine half-court swing passes tipped and intercepted, and the Clippers erased several possessions with careless offensive fouls.
Credit the Mavericks' defense. Clean looks at the basket were tough to come by for the Clippers, who spent much of the night grinding out possessions in posts and in isolation at remote spots on the floor. In fact, the decisive plays of the game weren't Paul floaters, or jams by Blake Griffin, but a couple of offensive rebounds by Caron Butler during the slow grind of the game's final two minutes off two misses.
"It was huge," Mavericks forward Shawn Marion said. "The [two] offensive rebounds at the end killed us."
For the poor Mavericks, Wednesday night's loss was their 13th in 15 games. The return of Dirk Nowitzki to action just before Christmas was supposed to be the salve, but integrating him has been anything but seamless and he's still recovering from surgery on his right knee. Dallas did a nice job over the summer of assembling a roster of quality, reasonably-priced players on short contracts, but right now they look more like a set of mismatched parts than a collection of savvy vets.
The Clippers stocked up on similarly experienced players, and the formula is working.
"They've got the best leader to me right now in the league," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "Chris Paul can turn it up anytime he wants. He can take games over. They're physical. They've got shooters. ... They've got all the tools, all the weapons a good team needs to have."
With all those assets, the Clippers continue to captivate a city that once saw them as nothing more than a sideshow. Suddenly the narrative of the woebegone franchise making good has turned -- the Clippers are simply good, period.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Chris Paul. Darren Collison looked like the best point guard on the floor in the first half, but Paul wouldn't let that last long. A few big steals and scores and a whopping 16 assists steadied the Clips through a turbulent night offensively.
Defining moment: Caron Butler's offensive rebounds late were huge, but the Mavs still had a chance down four with 23 seconds left. Unfortunately, Collison dribbled out about 15 seconds of the clock, and Vince Carter missed a contested two. Not ideal.
X factor: The Clippers nearly coughed up the game with 21 turnovers, but O.J. Mayo and the Mavericks couldn't capitalize on some wide-open looks towards the end of the game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Zach Randolph. The Warriors had little resistance to the Grizzlies' frontline as Z-Bo had 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting with 11 rebounds. Despite the Warriors using every usable big body, they still couldn't limit the All-Star duo of Randolph and Marc Gasol. This was a game that had Warriors fans asking themselves: "What if we had Andrew Bogut ..."
LVP: Jarrett Jack was invisible tonight despite playing 28 minutes off the bench: three points on just 1-for-3 shooting. Despite his five assists, a disappointing night from the usually dependable Jack.
X factor: The Grizzlies had seven more offensive rebounds than the Warriors tonight despite winning the total rebounding battle by a rather small margin (43-38). For an already undersized Warriors team, this proved vital in the Grizzlies' relentless offensive attack.
Recap | Box score
MVP: The "Manimal" was unleashed and there was not much the Magic could do to contain him. Kenneth Faried (19 points and 19 rebounds) was everywhere all over the court for the Nuggets, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Defining moment: Despite a lackluster performance, Andre Iguodala made his presence felt when it mattered most. With Denver clinging to a 104-102 lead, Iguodala's layup with 19.2 seconds left extended the advantage to four and effectively ended the game.
That was ... a model of efficiency: The three most efficient shots in basketball are the layup, free throw and 3-pointer. In related news, 102 of the Nuggets' 108 points were in the paint, at the free throw line, or beyond the arc. Not surprisingly, Denver won.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Manu Ginobili. Manu didn't shoot great (6-of-14 from the field), but he was able to score 19 points, posting eight rebounds and four assists. Ginobili led the offense down the stretch, creating ball movement and bringing an element of unpredictability Ginobili also grabbed six of his eight boards in the final 16 minutes of the game.
X factor: Kawhi Leonard. Despite the win, the Spurs' locker room was somber after the game. The only real bright spot was the play of Leonard. Leonard harassed Kobe Bryant all night, rarely going for the pump-fakes that so many lesser defenders fall for. Kobe finished with 27 points, but they weren't an easy bunch.
Defining moment: This game looked like it might turn into a blowout until Stephen Jackson blew his top. The Spurs had a 12-point lead with 4:15 left, but a missed jumper from Jackson, in which he thought he was fouled, led to a technical foul. Jackson later picked up his second technical and was ejected. Soon it was a five-point game and a race to the finish.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Brandon Jennings. After a relatively heinous first half, Jennings exploded for 20 points in the third quarter, including four 3-pointers. In total Jennings finished 12-24 from the field (5-10 from deep) and hit 6 of his 7 free throws for a game-high 35 points. In a word, he got his swag back in the second half.
X factor: Blocked shots and bench points. Milwaukee might have been undersized in the paint, but they managed 15 rejections (of which Larry Sanders had seven), and the Bucks' bench outscored the Bulls' bench 35-25 behind 16 points from Mike Dunleavy (4-5 from deep).
Defining moment: With a narrow lead, Mike Dunleavy hit back-to-back uncontested 3-pointers and pushed the Bucks' lead to five points with under two minutes left in the game to help secure the road win.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will have to share this one. Combined stats: 49 points on 17-of-31 shooting, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, four turnovers (not to mention Durant's three steals and four blocks). This was a commanding performance by two of the league's elite. And they both made it look so easy and effortless.
X factor: The Thunder's team defense. This wasn't a frenzy, it was a slow burn. OKC applied steady, relentless pressure, forcing Minnesota into one-on-one basketball and long, contested jumpers. They forced the Wolves into 19 turnovers and never allowed them to sustain a rhythm.
That was ... not a fair fight. The Wolves were on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, playing without their coach and their best player. The Thunder played with a cool, focussed intensity that never abated. Minny never had a chance.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Greivis Vasquez. The Hornets guard may well have had 20 assists if his team could find the net in the first half, but as it is he wound up with 11 to go with 17 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. His play in the pick-and-roll was key to the attack in their big fourth-quarter run (they outscored Houston 29-10) and help keep them afloat in their awful first half.
X factor: Roger Mason Jr. and Jason Smith. On a night where Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Austin Rivers combined to shoot 2-for-24, two of the three oldest players on the second-youngest team in the league combined for 34 points on 20 shots in only 43 total minutes. Mason poured in 15 of his 17 in the fourth quarter, outscoring Houston by himself in the period.
That was ... some ugly basketball: The teams combined for 38 turnovers, 40.9 percent shooting, 30.4 percent 3-point shooting, 84 missed shots and 37 fouls in a brutally slow-paced (90 possessions) game.
Recap | Box score
Defining moment: The Suns had just put together a 17-0 run to take a three-point lead midway through the third when Boston held Phoenix to 21.4 percent shooting the rest of the way to cruise to victory.
MVP: Phoenix had no answers for Jared Sullinger's physicality inside, as he poured in 12 points and grabbed 16 boards while putting up a game-high plus-24 in 34 minutes.
That was ... exhausting: After another porous first-half outing by the Suns' bench, Alvin Gentry played his starters for all but 17:38 in the second half. They eventually ran out of gas as Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker played the entire half.
3. Wednesday's Best
Brandon Jennings, Bucks: Jennings scored 20 of his 35 points in the third quarter, keeping interim coach Jim Boylan perfect (2-0) with a 104-96 road win over the Bulls. In addition to posting the highest total against the defensive-minded Bulls this season, Jennings had six boards and six dimes.
4. Wednesday's Worst
The nose-diving Hawks: Taking a 16-point loss to the Cavs, the Hawks have now lost four straight. Plenty of blame to go around, so we're not going to pin it on the unproductive Hawks bench as long as the burly Ivan Johnson is on it.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
8. Hornets Revival
9. Stat Check
Jared Sullinger had 16 rebounds for Boston on Wednesday in the Celtics' win over Phoenix. That's the most rebounds for a Boston rookie since Ryan Gomes had 17 on Feb. 24, 2006, and it's the most for a Celtics rookie who did not start since Rick Robey had 17 on Mar. 7, 1979.See more from Elias
10. Dunk Of The Night
MVP: Al Jefferson. Big Al finished the game with 26 points and 8 rebounds, and he was the only Jazz player who could keep scoring in the third quarter as Charlotte kept battling back into the game.
Defining moment: After a Bobcats run brought the score to 34-33 with six minutes left in the second quarter, Utah scored on 12 of its final 13 possessions to finish the half on a 29-11 run.
X factor: Utah's experiment playing Alec Burks at point guard is still making encouraging progress, as the second-year guard finished with 12 points and 3 assists -- good news for the Jazz with an injured Mo Williams. The good news for the Bobcats is that Ben McLemore looked amazing for Kansas tonight.
MVP: In a game short on great individual performances, Jose Calderon did what he usually does: quietly, steadily nudge the outcome in his team's favor. On the strength of a 10-point third quarter, Calderon finished with 14 and 11 assists with nary a turnover.
LVP: Andrea Bargnani. Since the Italian went down with a torn ligament in his elbow on Dec. 10, the Raptors -- 4-18 after that loss in Portland -- have won nine of 13 and climbed within shouting distance of the East's 8-seed. Incredible how Toronto has overcome the loss of a center who shoots 40 percent from the floor and grabs less than 4.5 rebounds a game.
X factor: The third quarter. After watching Brooklyn shoot 14-of-19 and hang 35 on them in the third quarter of Tuesday's 109-89 loss, the Sixers stared into the abyss and vowed to never let it happen again. Twenty-four hours later, the Raptors shot 63 percent in the third and outscored them by eight.
MVP: Kyrie Irving. He was 11 of 15 from the field, which wound up translating to 33 points. Eighteen of those points came in the third quarter, which pushed the Cavs to a double-digit lead that Atlanta could not overcome.
X factor: The Cavs were 12 of 23 on 3-pointers, including seven in the first quarter alone. It could have been better for Cleveland, but they decided to let Omri Casspi shoot for some reason. The Hawks, by contrast, were 7 of 22 from behind the arc.
That was ... a letdown: The Hawks, after climbing to within a game of the top spot in the East, have now lost four straight games, and seemingly haven't responded to a team meeting that was held earlier in the week. Atlanta has fallen out of the third seed for the first time since mid-November.