Los Angeles' resolve on and off the court is being tested as Blake Griffin heals up following his off-the-court fight
POSTED: Mar 28, 2016 12:49 PM ET
Coach Doc Rivers has led the Clippers to a 15-3 mark in games played this season without Blake Griffin.
In This Week's Morning Tip
In the picture, sent out to the world by Blake Griffin on June 10, 2013, Matias Testi is standing, on what looks like the Clippers' team plane, shirtless, with something (a blanket? a tablecloth?) wrapped around his waist. He is grinning. A woman standing alongside him is grinning at him.
On Instagram, Griffin wrote, "Happy bday to my boy...and put some clothes on please."
Both the picture and caption were indicative of the close relationship between Griffin, the Clippers' superstar power forward, the world famous pitchman, the athlete with the dry and telling sense of humor, and Testi, the team's assistant equipment manager, known and liked throughout the organization but unfamiliar to almost everyone outside it. They have been fast friends for years, traveled the world together -- a daily and constant presence in each other's lives.
Yet today, Testi's face is still healing from the punches that Griffin threw with such force, he broke his hand, and will be out of action for another month.
He just feels awful about it and he's let everyone know that. That's all you can do, man. You have to forgive people at some point. I believe that. We built Richard Nixon a library. I mean, my goodness.
– Clippers coach Doc Rivers, on Blake Grififn
Just another day in the dramatic world of the Los Angeles Clippers, where normal threw up its own hands and gave up years ago.
The details of what happened between Griffin and Testi at a Toronto restaurant on Jan. 23 are still emerging, as the NBA continues its own investigation of what happened. But the basics are bad enough for the Clippers, who are good this season but must be great if they are to have any chance of beating Golden State or San Antonio in the playoffs.
And to be great, they need a healthy Griffin, who has already been out of the lineup since partially tearing his left quad muscle on Christmas Night against the Lakers.
Griffin, Testi, DeAndre Jordan and assistant athletic trainer Joe Resendez were eating at the restaurant, the night before the Clippers were to play the Toronto Raptors, in the middle of an Eastern Conference road swing.
It's (bleeped) up. It's a (bleeped) up situation. We're already like, 'man, when's he coming back?', and he's about to come back, and now this happens. It's not like we're even mad at him, it's more like, come on, what are you thinking, man -- not even just for us, but for yourself.
– Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers, on Blake Griffin
During the dinner, Griffin and Testi began arguing, with sources saying that Testi was taunting Griffin in one fashion or another -- either by calling him a derogatory name or saying the team, which had gone 11-2 since Griffin was injured, was better without him.
Whatever the reason, Griffin reportedly hit Testi in the face inside the restaurant, and proceeded to hit him several more times outside the restaurant. In the process, Griffin suffered a spiral fracture of the fourth metacarpal bone in his right hand, an injury that was repaired, but is expected to keep Griffin sidelined at least three to five more weeks.
For a team that was anticipating Griffin's return within the next week or so -- the Clippers essentially gave reserve forward Josh Smith away to the Houston Rockets the day before the fight because Griffin was that close to coming back, and frontcourt minutes for Smith were about to dwindle to nothing -- Griffin's actions were perplexing and maddening.
"It's (bleeped) up," Clippers guard Austin Rivers said Friday. "It's a (bleeped) up situation. We're already like, 'man, when's he coming back?', and he's about to come back, and now this happens. It's not like we're even mad at him, it's more like, come on, what are you thinking, man -- not even just for us, but for yourself. What are you doing?"
Griffin and Testi have been away from the team since the fight, and there's no indication either will be back on the bench or travel with them any time soon. Owner Steve Ballmer and head coach Doc Rivers issued a statement Tuesday saying Griffin's conduct "has no place in our organization and this incident does not represent who we are as a team."
Griffin apologized via Twitter last Tuesday, but otherwise, has not said anything publicly.
Jordan, while not being able to talk specifically about the incident during the league's investigation, is in regular contact both with Testi and Griffin, who is probably his best friend on the team.
"I talked to him, and he's super remorseful," Jordan said in a hallway outside the Clippers' locker room Friday. "That's not his character. It's tough. We're human. We make mistakes. The only thing he can do is accept it and face it. We're going to back him, 100 percent. At the end of the day, he's one of my best friends, a teammate that I've had my whole career. So we're going to hold down the fort until he comes back, and when he does come back we're going to be better than ever. It's tough, though. It's tough. But we have to deal with it."
Testi, who was officially hired by the Clippers in 2014, is no less liked. "I know Matias," said a player familiar with all the parties. "He's a good person."
Griffin thought so as well. One league source said that Griffin had purchased a car for Testi, and had helped set him up in a clothing apparel business.
Doc Rivers -- again placed in the position of team spokesman, just as he was during the worst disclosures of former owner Donald Sterling's racist comments to a girlfriend in 2014, which led to Sterling's ouster by the league and Ballmer's purchasing of the team for $2 billion -- has to again jerry rig a lineup together without his top scorer and, along with Chris Paul, one of his best facilitators. But this is different.
The Starters: Should Clippers Be Worried?
Blake Griffin has a broken hand, so the guys analyze what lies in the Clippers' near future.
Trust is not won easily in an NBA locker room. Careers, future contracts, legacies -- all can be made or broken depending on how much the players on a team believe in the man next to him. One slipup can be the difference between advancing to The Finals and losing in the first round. How many losses will the Clippers have between now and Griffin's return that would have been wins if he were on the floor? And will that mean the difference between having home-court advantage or not in a playoff series? (The Clippers are fourth in the Western Conference, four games ahead of fifth-place Memphis.)
How does Griffin walk back into that locker room, as if nothing has happened, while his teammates have to exert another month's worth of extra energy and fight to win games because of his terrible decision? (Despite some heated non-specific speculation on the Interwebs, there's no indication of any kind that the Clippers are looking to move Griffin, or even gauging his value.)
"All you can do is handle it the way Doc has, with total transparency," one team source said Friday. "As we all know, despite how wrong it was for (Griffin) to do what he did, the team will accept him back because he can help us win."
I asked Doc Rivers on Friday what Griffin needed to say to him, to the team -- and, most importantly, to Testi. Rivers said he's spoken with Griffin since the fight.
"He feels awful," Rivers said. "I don't know what more he can do than that. We've all done some dumb things in our lives, and you know it when you do it, and you feel awful about it. You just hope that you can get past it and move on. He's not even looking at moving on right now, even though he will. He just feels awful about it and he's let everyone know that. That's all you can do, man. You have to forgive people at some point. I believe that. We built Richard Nixon a library. I mean, my goodness."
Woike on Griffin
Dan Woike joins Fan Duel Fantasy Insiders to discuss Blake Griffin's injury and its effect on the Clippers.
Doc Rivers' first test is figuring out how to win games without burning out his All-Star Paul, who has been outstanding in Griffin's absence. Paul will never ask out of a game or admit fatigue, so Rivers will have to gauge his point guard's physical state by feel.
Paul's averaging just more than 32 minutes a game this season, the lowest of his career. But "we don't want his minutes to be hard minutes," Doc Rivers said. Of late, he's playing Austin Rivers off the bench with Paul when J.J. Redick comes out, with his son taking the opposition backcourt's better scorer. That, hopefully, will give Paul a breather from time to time on the floor.
Austin Rivers says he's also trying to be more aggressive on the offensive end, at Paul's request.
"That's the way he wants it," Austin Rivers said. "When I'm not like that, Chris'll be mad, like, 'attack the basket. Be you.' That's how I was when I first got here -- I'd be real passive with him. And once he gets out, I'd go off. He said, 'with me, I need you to be the same way, or else, they're just going to load up on me.' With him there, in the game or not, I try to be aggressive, and then on defense, I tell him, get off the ball. Go get on the worst player. Take a break. Whoever the best player is playing point guard, I try to switch with him every time. Because he has so much on him."
I talked to him, and he's super remorseful. That's not his character. It's tough. We're human. We make mistakes. The only thing he can do is accept it and face it.
– Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan
Everybody has to do a little more with Griffin out. Paul Pierce is now the starter at the four; when he needs a day off, Wesley Johnson starts there. Against the Lakers Friday, Doc Rivers even brought Lance Stephenson -- buried deep on the Clippers' bench most of the season -- out of mothballs to play some four, with Stephenson winding up having to guard the Lakers' Julius Randle.
Stephenson played well, scoring 16 points -- and posterized Randle in the process. He said afterward he'll play "anywhere on the floor" to stay out of drydock.
"We've definitely got to step up," Stephenson said. "Blake plays a big role -- he averages 25 and 12. We've all got to step up our job and help the team win."
The Clippers had spent much of the first two months of the season looking for some kind of meaningful contributions from their bench, with very little success. But after Griffin's Christmas injury, they found something that worked -- a three-guard rotation of Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Pablo Prigioni, with Johnson and center Cole Aldrich playing very well together.
Bulls vs. Clippers
Jamal Crawford scores 26 points to help the Clippers defeat the Bulls at the Staples Center.
But if Austin Rivers is playing more with Paul, he may not be as fresh when he is on the floor with the others. That's one of the many potential ripple effects of Griffin's absence.
"With us, family, we're always going to work through anything," Crawford said. "As far as (Griffin) not playing, over the last couple of years, I've missed time, J.J.'s missed time, CP's missed time, Blake's missed time. We've all kind of figured out how we need to play, to pitch in for each other. There's no one person who can replace him, and we're going to welcome him back with open arms when he comes back. But until then we have to hold down the fort."
The Clippers lost to Toronto the night after the fight, but have won their last four, including a dismantling of the Bulls Sunday. They're now 15-3 without Griffin and if the Warriors have run away with first place in the division and conference, the Clippers can harbor thoughts of catching Oklahoma City for third place overall. Or, they can at least preserve homecourt in the first round by staying put at No. 4.
Clippers vs. Raptors
Kyle Lowry scores 21 points and Jonas Valanciunas adds 20 points as the Raptors beat the Clippers 112-94.
But how realistic that is, no one knows. Even when Griffin returns to action, he'll need a couple of weeks to scrape off the rust. Those who've had broken hands say it takes time to get your rhythm back handling the basketball. And by that time, the playoffs will be around the corner.
When Jordan was growing up, he recalled all manner of scrapes with his brothers, trying to hide his injuries from their mother -- "don't let her see my lip," he said Friday. We've all been mad with our best friends from time to time, maybe thrown hands in anger on occasion.
Of course, the difference is, Jordan was a kid then. Griffin was, and is, a grown man, the face of his team's franchise, in the midst of a $95 million max deal. He was the beginning of the Clippers' metamorphosis from league joke, the foundation of the team's renaissance. If he is the reason for its demise this season, with the team still trying to mentally get past blowing a 3-1 conference semifinals lead to the Rockets last season, the long-term effects could be very difficult to overcome.
Clippers vs. Hawks
Jamal Crawford scores 21 points, DeAndre Jordan adds 13 with 19 boards and the Clippers stave off the Hawks, 85-83.
"We've just been trying to keep basketball first on the floor, and make sure that we're not using this as an excuse to go out there and lose games," Jordan said. "We're still fighting. We're getting better learning how to play with different guys, and guys are stepping up off the bench. So whenever he does come back, we'll have a big, deep conversation, and then we'll get back to business."
As of Friday, Griffin had not yet talked to the team en masse, or to Austin Rivers at all. Everyone is healing. Only Testi's bruises are visible, though.
"I'm trying to give him his space," Austin Rivers said of Griffin. "He has a lot coming at him. It's like, what do you say? Hey, sorry about...? I try to give him space. Listen, he made a mistake. Blake's a great guy. Obviously, this is the first (bad) thing he's ever done. Sometimes, you have a bad night. He had one."
(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)
1) Golden State  (4-0): Any questions?
2) Oklahoma City  (3-0): Thunder isn't exactly locking opponents up -- 113 points allowed on average in the last five games -- but OKC's offense is performing at such a high level at present, it doesn't matter.
Rockets vs. Thunder
Kevin Durant scores 33 points and Russell Westbrook adds 26 as the Thunder defeat the Rockets 116-108.
3) San Antonio  (1-2): Per the NBA, the Spurs' recent 13-game win streak was the 10th such streak in franchise history, tied for the most in league history with Boston. Just incredible.
4) Toronto  (3-0): A great job by the Raptors' coaching staff -- in particular, coach Dwane Casey and assistant coach Rex Kalamian -- in helping DeMar DeRozan expand his game and become more lethal as a driver, drawing more fouls this season by going more north-south with the ball.
5) L.A. Clippers  (4-0): Just wondering: couldn't Carlos Boozer, say, be helpful for a couple of weeks?
6) Cleveland  (4-0): Cavs are such a different team when Kevin Love is fully engaged offensively, as he was against the Spurs Saturday. Like almost all players, when he sees the ball go in the basket early, the rest of his game follows.
Warriors vs. Cavaliers
Stephen Curry scores 35 and Draymond Green adds 16 points and 10 assists as the Warriors beat the Cavs 132-98.
7) Memphis  (3-0): Ryan Hollins, on another tour of duty with the Grizz, already helping out with his rim runs off pick and rolls.
8) Dallas  (3-1): Mavs have been one of the league's best surprises this season, but have to finish with tough pre-All-Star schedule: at Atlanta, Miami, San Antonio, at Memphis, Utah.
9) Atlanta  (1-3): Too much smoke re: Jeff Teague availability for there not to be at least a little char somewhere.
10) Chicago  (1-2): After a couple of days of practice with Santa Cruz in the NBA D-League, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., very close to returning.
12) Miami  (4-0): The cavalry -- Dwyane Wade, Josh McRoberts, Beno Udrih, and Amar'e Stoudemire on backup center and drums -- arrived just in time to stop the Heat's nosedive through the East. Eighth a week ago, the Heat now leads the Southeast Division and is fourth in the east.
Hawks vs. Heat
Dwyane Wade scores 17 points and dishes out eight assists as the Heat beat the Hawks at AmericanAirlines Arena.
13) Indiana  (2-1): Paul George continuing to struggle from the floor: just 40.6 percent (101 of 249) since New Year's Day.
14) Houston  (1-3): Whether or not refs are unfair to Dwight Howard has nothing to do with the Rockets' team defense of late, which has been atrocious.
15) Detroit  (2-2): How bad does Stan Van Gundy want Ryan Anderson, his former four in Orlando? 'Cause he needs him bad to space the floor and move the ball.
Toronto (3-0): They The North in the midst of the longest win streak (11 games) in franchise history, getting contributions across the board, from the Raptors' All-Star backcourt to veteran James Johnson, starting and contributing at small forward for the injured DeMarre Carroll.
Sacramento (0-4): T'was a Week to Weak proposition for the Kings, whose brief improvement at the defensive end collapsed in four Ls this week: 119 allowed per game, with opponents raining down the threes: 47 in four games, including 20 by Charlotte in double OT last Monday.
Seriously, what can we do about this Hack-a insanity?
We are now at the point where teams are fouling people that aren't even on the court in order to make them shoot free throws.
Last week, the Spurs' Danny Green -- taking the notion of putting poor free throw shooters on the line by any means necessary to a whole new level -- jumped out of bounds to foul Houston's Clint Capela, who was inbounding the ball. It wasn't crazy; it was the logical extension of the practice, which will soon include players being fouled in their locker rooms before tipoff.
Capela -- a 42.7 percent free throw shooter this season -- ended up missing both free throws. On Saturday, the Wizards fouled him on back-to-back possessions late in the fourth quarter, with Washington down four. Capela made just one of four free throws, and the Wizards were able to rally and win by one.
"Coach (Randy) Wittman doing that gave us an opportunity to win the game because they were scoring at will," Wizards forward Jared Dudley said. "It got them out of their flow offensively. They had to sub him out of the game. So great coaching move at the right time. Hack-a-Capela, Hack-a-whatever, he did it at the right time."
Capela is the latest player whose skills at doing other things to help his team win games are being overshadowed by his problems making free throws. His teammate, Dwight Howard (a career 57.2 percent free throw shooter), the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan (41.8) and the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond (38.3) were among the first players who were fouled repeatedly to put them on the line.
I'm not saying I like it. But I'm going to use it until someone tells me I can't. Hell, everyone uses it against us.
– Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers
But the argument that only two or three guys are impacted by Hack-a is no longer valid.
It became a staple during the playoffs last year, in particular during the outstanding first-round series between the Clippers and Spurs, and it didn't stop there. It's getting worse.
ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton, who -- like all right-minded people -- has called for the NBA to do something about the spread of Hack-a, has compiled a database of all Hack-a use in the game in the last two years. In 2014-15, per Pelton's data base, 23 players were hacked a total of 277 times.
This season, through Sunday, 28 players have been hacked a total of 260 times -- with almost half of the season remaining. If Hack-a continues at its current pace, we'll blow past last season's mark and likely have more than 400 instances by the end of the season. And that is insane.
The viral spread is understandable, to a degree. Coaches are understandably skittish in an era when Coach of the Year award winners have been dismissed the same year they won the award, and when someone (David Blatt) who led his team to The Finals a year ago and had his team leading the conference the following season is fired -- despite posting a .732 winning percentage. They're going to do what they have to in order to win games and stay employed.
But coaches aren't just using Hack-a in the fourth quarters of tight games anymore.
Two weeks ago, the Rockets were the ones hacking, with Houston's K.J. McDaniels fouling Drummond five times in the first nine seconds of the third quarter to put the Pistons in the penalty and to put Drummond on the line. Drummond wound up shooting 16 free throws in the first 2:33 of the quarter, and a teeth-numbing 36 free throws in the game, making 13.
The Starters: Redick Fouls Drummond
Smart move? Annoying move? Both? Will it change "Hack-A-Shaq" rules?
Teams are even getting around the rules that award a free throw plus possession for the intentionally fouled player and team with less than two minutes remaining in a game. Now, poor free throw shooters are being "unintentionally" intentionally fouled by having the opposition foul them as they box out for rebounds in the last two minutes, as the Clippers' J.J. Redick did last month to Drummond and Cleveland's Matthew Dellavedova did in the Cavs' Christmas Day game against the Warriors, hopping aboard Andre Iguodala.
Some coaches understand the double-edged nature of the tactic.
"I'm probably old school," Kings Coach George Karl said, "but it has a strategic effect -- and makes the game unwatchable."
Basketball, of all the major sports, is dependent on flow. The transition from offense to defense, and back again, is at the core of the game's appeal. Making adjustments on the fly, moving the ball from one side of the floor to the other, all five players getting involved -- it is beautiful to watch when the game's essence is displayed by the world's best athletes.
Hack-a is the antithesis of flow.
It is not a play, or defending a play. It reduces players to the things they can't do, rather than those that they can. It is not what families who spend hard-earned money to buy tickets to a handful of games a year, if they're lucky, come to see. It isn't fun. It isn't entertaining.
It isn't basketball.
Spurs' 3rd Quarter Clinic In Finals
The Spurs got hot in the third quarter and out scored the Heat 30 to 18 in the period.
People who support the strategy say that bad free throw shooters need to improve their skills. Well, what skill is there in fouling someone on purpose?
The league has changed dozens of rules in the last two decades to address unwanted physicality in the sport.
You can't hand check guards any more. Why? To increase flow and movement. You can't bump cutters coming through the lane any more. Why? To increase flow and movement. Technical fouls for defenders being in the lane and away from your man have been implemented. Why? To increase flow and movement, and to keep coaches from the horrific practice -- viewed as "part of the game" in the '80s and '90s -- of isolating two players on one side of the floor, while the other three players stood doing nothing on the other side.
If that rule hadn't been changed, we'd see Stephen Curry and Draymond Green running a screen and roll on the strong side, play after play, while Klay Thompson got three or four shots a game on the weak side, and Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes never touched the ball. Would you prefer that to what you see from the Warriors today -- five men touching the ball, continuous movement off the ball, exquisite passing and shooting from multiple players?
I'm probably old school, but it has a strategic effect -- and makes the game unwatchable.
– Sacramento Kings coach George Karl, on Hack-A strategies
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said in the past that while he's sympathetic to the poor aesthetic of watching a free throw shooting contest, he's reluctant to recommend changes because of the feedback he gets from coaches at all levels of basketball not to make a change that would, in essence, reward a player for not being able to consistently perform one of the game's more basic fundamentals.
But Silver said last week in Detroit that he knows lots of people aren't happy with this season's Hack-a spike.
"You know, we hear from our fans," Silver said. "We know it's not the most attractive basketball to have guys out there shooting free throws for long periods of time during the game, so it's something that we have to look at closely. I'm a bit on the fence, personally."
The Starters: Changing 'Hack-A-Shaq' Rules?
Adam Silver said the NBA will look at the current 'Hack-A-Shaq' rule — should it be changed?
Proponents of Hack-a argue that it's a single tactic in a game, no different than defenses in football that crowd the line of scrimmage to make a quarterback with a noodle arm throw, or pitchers that give batters with a hole in their swing a steady diet of offspeed pitches. It is the responsibility of the player who can't make free throws to either improve, or get replaced on the floor. Or, as Kevin Durant put it earlier this season, "if you don't want to get hacked, work on your (bleeping) free throws."
This remains the default position for most who don't want to make any changes to the existing rules -- and make no mistake, that's a wide cross-section of people involved in the game.
"Guys like Jordan and Drummond are in the game because they affect the game defensively and can rebound," one general manager said late last week. "Teams have to game plan to play against them. Why give them a break or their teams a break because they can't hit free throws? On the flip side, guys that are just flat out shooters are in the game because they affect the game offensively and teams have to game plan against them as well. Typically those guys can't guard at all and are a liability defensively. (But) we're not thinking about making any rule changes to help out those players who are so deficient at the defensive end. I like the rules as they are."
Another GM, echoing the sentiments of many fans, added: "make your free throws. Practice your craft. It's a 15-foot wide open shot."
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been steadfast in supporting the existing rule as well.
"I love that it is in the game," he said via e-mail. "It's the NBA version of 'Are You a Better Foul Shooter Than A Fifth Grader?' I think it adds to the game. It introduces drama: 'Will he make it?' Just as importantly every parent can now tell their young children who play basketball and make their free throws they now have a skill they are better at than some NBA players.
"That's a big plus for interest in our sport as well and a huge confidence builder for the kids."
Longtime executive Donnie Walsh also said he'd leave Hack-a in as a strategy.
Guys like Jordan and Drummond are in the game because they affect the game defensively and can rebound. Teams have to game plan to play against them. Why give them a break or their teams a break because they can't hit free throws?
– Anonymous NBA GM
"It is hard on guys who cannot make them," he said, "but we are at the pro level, and fouling playing players at the end of the game all the time, and they make them. Should we have a rule that favors the player who cannot make them? Or give a benefit to the team who has him out there because he can give them an advantage in other ways, but is not a good foul shooter? To me, those decisions are part of the game."
Vinny Del Negro, the former Bulls and Clippers coach, had Jordan at the beginning of his career, and said while he doesn't like Hack-a, he understands its purpose.
"Coaching DeAndre Jordan made it difficult because you don't want to waste a timeout to get a sub in and you need him for defense and rim protection," Del Negro said. "I don't like rewarding bad free throw shooters with a bunch of rule changes to protect them. I definitely think the intentional foul on free throws at the end of games is terrible for the game. Players at the free throw line jumping on the back of DeAndre, Howard, Drummond looks terrible for the game. It's a different topic. If the NBA felt its TNT and ESPN viewers were decreasing there would be changes. (But the) TV deal is done and unless viewers get frustrated with Hack-a strategy or length of games I can't see many changes except on free throw intentional fouls (when) jumping on a poor free throw shooter's back."
Former Suns, Knicks and Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, whose system of offense in Phoenix featuring MVP Steve Nash was the precursor for the Warriors' space-and-pace game, doesn't like the Hack-A strategy.
"But -- and, a big but -- I can't see changing the rules to cover a hole in someone's game," he said. "Doesn't seem fair. Example: I can't dribble, so I should be allowed an extra step."
It's the NBA version of 'Are You a Better Foul Shooter Than A Fifth Grader?' I think it adds to the game. It introduces drama: 'Will he make it?'
– Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson would even do away with the under two minutes rule.
"It should be no limits like under two minutes," Jackson said. "It's strategy. Don't let them off the hook. (But) I agree it's not pretty!"
There are those in basketball, though, who want to see some kind of change.
ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy has been pointed in his on-air criticism of the tactic, saying fans should be at the forefront of any decision about changing rules, saying basketball is the only sport that allows fouling to benefit a team. Others would like to see something done as well.
Like the Spurs' Gregg Popovich, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers insists that he hates Hack-a, even as he uses it regularly, as he did during the Clippers' first-round playoff series against the Spurs last year.
"I'm not saying I like it," Rivers said. "But I'm going to use it until someone tells me I can't. Hell, everyone uses it against us. I was on the other side of that, and one of the coaches said 'you know, the rule has been changed.' The purists say 'why change the rule?' What do you think the last two minutes of the game are? That rule has changed for that. So I think it should be changed -- and it's not because of my team. That's why I don't like discussing it, because it looks very self-serving for me. But I just think it looks terrible."
Former Timberwolves player and Knicks TV analyst Wally Szczerbiak says Hack-a "ruins the fan experience and (the) flow of game," and that he supports giving intentionally fouled players two free throws, with their team also getting the ball back.
"Maybe you have refs differentiate whether (a Hack-a) foul was part of a basketball play within the flow of the game, or just to send a bad foul shooter to line," he said. "Have them make intentional foul determination just like its up to them on clear path fouls and stuff like that." This idea is seconded by an Eastern Conference executive.
But -- and, a big but -- I can't see changing the rules to cover a hole in someone's game. Doesn't seem fair. Example: I can't dribble, so I should be allowed an extra step.
– Former NBA coach Mike D'Antoni, on changing Hack-A rules
But the problem with these solutions is putting what is already a controversial practice into an even grayer area by giving referees the discretion to determine what is or is not "intentional." It would be akin to what happens now when referees determine whether fouls are common, Flagrant 1s or Flagrant 2s. There would be apoplexy if an official made such a ruling in a close playoff game.
SBNation.com's Tom Ziller has proposed amending the current rule to give a team that's already shooting free throws in the bonus the option of shooting the two free throws if one of its players is hacked -- the current rule -- or to take the ball out on the side with the higher of 14 seconds or what was on the shot clock when the player was intentionally fouled. It's a good idea.
But, I'm not completely against the idea of using Hack-a as a tactic. I'm against Hack-a being used to the point of farce, to the point where it destroys the pace and flow of a game. A couple of changes would address most of everyone's concerns.
One: If a team wants to get into the bonus quickly via Hack-a, the way the Rockets did by fouling Drummond five times in nine seconds, it could do so. But each intentional foul off the ball up to and including the fifth one would be penalized with a technical free throw. The coach would have to decide: how bad do I need to get this bad free throw shooter on the line? Is it worth handing up to five points to the opposition? (Of course, the fouled team is not guaranteed those five points; they'd have to make the free throws.) It wouldn't eliminate Hack-a; it would just make using it more of a gamble.
Two: once the defensive team is in the bonus, it could still use Hack-a twice, on its sixth and seventh team fouls of the quarter, just as it can now, and put that bad free throw shooter on the line. But after that -- on the eighth and all subsequent team fouls in a quarter -- the current under two-minute rule would be used all game long: one free throw plus possession for the intentionally fouled team. Think of it as the pro version of college teams getting a double bonus after the 10th team foul instead of having to keep shooting one and one, as they do on the seventh through ninth non-shooting fouls.
There would still be a benefit to fouling on purpose -- but only to a point. After that point, the benefits would start to decrease.
The bad free throw shooters would still have to make a few clutch free throws. But after that, we'd get back to basketball.
If anyone has a better idea, or any idea, I'm all ears. But I don't want to see the equivalent of Mike Trout or Bryce Harper being intentionally walked, game after game, so that the other team can get to the .220 hitter batting behind them. I want to see the best athletes on earth play the game the way it was meant to be played -- with speed, with pace, with improvisation, with teamwork.
And, I want to see this sport's greatest defensive players do what they do. Kawhi Leonard doesn't need help guarding people on the wing. Hassan Whiteside doesn't need help blocking shots. Jordan doesn't need help inhaling rebounds. Let them and their teams get stops the old-fashioned way, not through this chicanery. The Pistons didn't need to hack Will Perdue in order to beat the Bulls, and the Bulls didn't hack Greg Ostertag to beat the Jazz. They manned up and stopped them.
It's still a game played and coached by men -- proud men. And this is beneath them. It's beneath all of us.
Like medicine, basketball players often don't work if you don't use them right. From James Wolford:
...Have followed Kevin Love since UCLA was recruiting him, as I grew up playing in Johnny Wooden's neighborhood, watching Wes Unseld & Bill Walton's outlet passes. On paper his joining LBJ & Irving was spectacular; so far of course the Warriors have shown them paper only goes so far. His relationship aside with LeBron aside, I thought Blatt was a complete idiot for taking a 25/14 player with only the 3rd great outlet pass & sticking him outside the 3pt line as a decoy.
I don't like the word "idiot," James. Blatt was and is a very bright guy, and a very good coach. But I do agree that one of Blatt's biggest issues was not consistently getting quality looks for Love. How much of that was on him and how much was on Kevin, I don't know. But it was odd to see Love basically consigned to 3-pointers and not on the block or elbows more, where his passing would have been a huge plus. It certainly seems that getting Love the ball in his sweet spots is a priority for new coach Tyronn Lue.
It's Always Sunny with Kristaps. From Kelly Slattery:
I believe the Knicks are one All-Star-level point guard away from being an elite Eastern Conference team. Apparently the Knicks are in preliminary trade talks with Atlanta for Jeff Teague, but in order to keep their core intact (as well as it being doubtful they can offer the best package for him outside of offering Porzingis. Heresy!), getting an elite PG via free agency seems the better choice. Now Mike Conley seems like the clear-cut No. 1 choice of what's available this offseason. Do you think that Conley would be a good fit for the Knicks, and better still do they (or have you heard if) have a chance at getting him? If not Conley, what do you think of the next best choices such as Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings or perhaps Jordan Clarkson?
Unless Atlanta's just trying to create more cap room for next summer and is going to give Teague away for nothing -- and I doubt that's the case -- I don't see the Knicks being able to pull it off. If a third team helps facilitate a deal by offering players and/or picks, it could work, but the Knicks would still have to give up something, and I don't know that they have anyone outside of their core (Carmelo, Porzingis, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Jerian Grant) that teams would want.
The Starters: Teague Trade Rumors
Do the Hawks make Dennis Schroder their starter?
Unusual weather we're having. From Darren Buck:
We heard (in D.C.) that Kevin Durant likes snow, so we got some. Do you think he noticed?
I'm sure his people provided him with detailed maps and summaries. But he also has a house in L.A., where it never snows. Can you conjure up 20-30 days in a row where it's 72 and sunny, with happening babes floating by on hoverboards?
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and ... well, I'm not sure what to make of this, so you take a run at it to email@example.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(last week's averages in parentheses)
1) Stephen Curry (21.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.4 apg, .448 FG, 1,000 FT): Finishes January with 81 3-pointers, breaking his own record for most threes made in a month, 77, set in November. (He also has the third-highest number, 75, set last March.)
Top 10 Moves of the Week
Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving headline the Top 10 Moves of the Week.
2) Kawhi Leonard (19.3 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.7 apg, .545 FG, .882 FT): Monday's loss to the Warriors marked a rare time this season -- in many seasons -- that "The Klaw" didn't tilt the court with his individual defensive brilliance. We'll call it an outlier.
3) LeBron James (23.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 8.3 apg, .585 FG, .880 FT): Pat Riley backs James' denial that he ever asked for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to be fired, as a minority owner of the Heat was quoted as saying on an Israeli sports radio show last week.
5) Kevin Durant (34.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 4.3 apg, .516 FG, .912 FT): There were people who wondered if Durant would ever fully recover from the foot injuries he suffered last season. He's put those worries to bed.
16 -- Players who had scored 26,000 career points in NBA history before LeBron James reached the mark last week, becoming the youngest player to get to that plateau (he turned 31 in December). James will almost certainly pass Minnesota's Kevin Garnett before the All-Star break on the all-time scoring list.
2 -- Players, since 2000, who have scored an NBA season high in points in an NBA game but whose teams still lost, according to the Boston Globe. The Kings' DeMarcus Cousins scored 56 in Sacramento's double overtime loss to Charlotte Monday. The only other time this century that a 50-point effort came in a loss was when Stephen Curry scored 54 in a 109-105 loss to the Knicks in February, 2013.
Nightly Notable: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins scores a new career-high 56 points and grabs 12 rebounds versus the Hornets.
12 -- Seasons since the Bucks had a representative on the All-Star team, the longest current drought among teams. Milwaukee's last All-Star was guard Michael Redd, in 2004. Milwaukee's Jabari Parker will participate in this year's BBVA Compass Rising Stars game, as have the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (2014 and '15), Brandon Jennings ('10 and '11), forward Yi Jianlian ('08) and center Andrew Bogut ('06 and '07). "The Greek Freak" was also in last year's Dunk Contest and the 2014 Skills Competition. Brandon Knight ('15) and Jennings ('10) have also been in the skills contest.
1) You wake up this morning, and you look at the standings, and you see, somehow, the Trail Blazers currently holding onto No. 8 in the West after losing four of their five starters from last year's team to free agency or trade. Coach Terry Stotts is doing one amazing job in Portland this season.
3) How can you not like this?
4) Don't agree with all of the rankings (that's not the point, I know), but this is a fun read, correctly taking some of the league's more egregious homers to task.
5) Now, this is carrying a grudge. I like people who carry grudges.
1) So, for those of you (I'm looking at you, Mr. Kornheiser) who insisted Gregg Popovich was playing mind games by not playing Tim Duncan against the Warriors ... seems he's really hurt, and they really, really miss him at the defensive end.
2) Hate the word "snub," as in "All-Star Snub." Snub implies a willful rejection of a person -- they deserve the accolade, but you made the conscious and vindictive decision not to give it to them for whatever reason. Damian Lillard and Dirk Nowitzki did not get "snubbed" for an All-Star spot by the coaches. They picked guys that they believed were having All-Star worthy seasons. That's all. You can only pick seven reserves. Someone is going to get left out, every year.
Inside The NBA: Who Got Snubbed
Shaq, Kenny and Chuck debate who got snubbed from the 2016 All-Star game.
3) Best wishes to Heat assistant Keith Smart, who has had to take a second leave of absence from the team to deal with skin cancer.
4) Condolences to Wizards Coach Randy Wittman and his family; Wittman's brother Rick died unexpectedly over the weekend in Indiana. Assistant coach Don Newman will coach the team tonight in Oklahoma City against the Thunder, and back in Washington on Wednesday night against the Warriors.
"Explain this to me like I'm a two-year-old," attorney Joe Miller says in the great movie "Philadelphia," looking to break down the wordy or complex in a few simple sentences. Unfortunately, playing point guard in the NBA can't be deciphered so swiftly.
For a young player it is an almost impossible challenge: learning sets, and plays, and reproducing their actions on the court, in real time, on command. It's knowing exactly when and where your teammates want the ball, and being able to deliver it. It's keeping the ball away from lightning-quick defenders who know your plays and sets better than you; trying to lead grown men who are older and wiser than you and trying to get your own shine going, at both ends of the floor.
D'Angelo Russell is barely two years old in NBA years. At 19, the second pick overall in the 2015 Draft is barely coherent in his first pro season -- not off the court, where he is funny, introspective and confident, but on it, where he is currently timid and uncertain. The Lakers knew this would probably happen when they picked Russell after just one season at Ohio State, but thought his passing genius was too precocious and had too much potential to pass up.
So L.A. took Russell over the likes of Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis, both of whom are putting up much better numbers than Russell so far in their rookie seasons -- while Russell careens in and out of the starting lineup, the veins in Byron Scott's head at Defcon II as he tries to explain what he needs out of Russell, to Russell.
He's had some promising moments, including a big night last month in Sacramento to lead the Lakers back from a 27-point third-quarter deficit last month that almost resulted in a win, teaming with second-year guard Jordan Clarkson in what the Lakers hope is their backcourt of the near future.
Russell Shines In Sacramento
D'angelo Russell scores a career-high 27 points on 11-16 shooting with three triples, four assists and two steals versus Sacramento.
But he's stubbed his toe more, including jacking up some ill-advised shots during the Lakers' two-point loss to the Mavericks last week that led to a seat on the bench down the stretch. But Russell is trying to hang in there, even as his name is mentioned as possible trade bait, and as he tries to figure out how to maintain during Kobe Bryant's last ride, and the nightly juggling act that ensues from that circus.
Welcome to the NBA, rook.
Me: It's hard enough being a rookie in this league, and then you throw in Kobe's farewell tour and everything else, like trying to learn how to be an NBA point guard. How do you find your equilibrium?
D'Angelo Russell: First of all, everything's new. I didn't even know there was such thing as a farewell tour and all that, obviously. So getting the opportunity to witness it -- I didn't know it would be Kobe's last year -- a lot of attention and praise is going his way. And he's earned it. So we've just got to do a good job of supporting him and really trying to stay focused and prepared for the next game, win or lose. I just try to stay level-headed, don't try to get too high or too low on individual or team performance.
Me: Do you look at this season as anything that happens this year is a learning experience and I have to just roll with it, or I still have to try and develop myself as a player in this league?
I truly just want to finish out the games strong, finish out this year strong, and start to go in the right path of what kind of player I'm going to be.
– Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell
DR: You've got to earn your stripes. Nobody's going to give 'em to you. Nobody's going to feel bad for you if you don't. You get replaced in this league. So, try to find a way to stick. That's the biggest step for me coming in, being a rookie. Everybody looks at you as fresh meat. Like, we can go at this kid. Or, we got a night off when we've got the Lakers or whatnot. I really don't get too involved in it, 'cause I know it's not something I can control, as far as what other people think of me. I can just go out there and compete, and when the end of the night comes, they can look at it as we can respect him, or they don't. And it's as simple as that.
Me: We did your game in Sacramento when you scored 27 points, and you and Julius Randle and Jordan brought the team back, and afterward, you said 'you all ain't seen nothing yet.' What was flowing that night?
Russell and Kobe
As National Mentoring Month comes to a close today, D'Angelo Russell of the LA Lakers talks about learning from veteran teammate Kobe Bryant.
DR: Really, it was my emotions. When you feel like you belong, your confidence starts to go up. I just feel like I know what I'm capable of as a person and as a player, and I know the work that I put in. Nobody's perfect; nobody's going to come out and perform their best every night. But looking for that consistency. I felt like I found some consistency that night. But I'm still going to have multiple turnovers. I'm still going to have multiple rookie lapses. I mean, it happens. I know what I've done to get here, and I know the work I've put in to get here, so when I have nights like that, I'm just confident in myself. I'm just like, I know I can do this.
Me: How are you and Jordan adjusting to one another?
DR: It's great. Looking at it from a standpoint of watching him, how he starts the game, and how teams are guarding him, it makes it easier for me, so when I come into the game, with the second unit, I know how they're guarding, how they're using their personnel on the floor and stuff like that. It kind of makes it easier for me. We talk a lot off the floor, and then when we're on the floor together, we kind of use other ways to connect, as far as backdoors, transitions, trying to get easy plays, stuff like that.
But he's always coaching on the floor, if he's not playing. On the plane, you can talk to him about anything, and he'll try to give you the best perspective about it -- positive or negative. ... He's one of those guys that, when you come to a situation and you're not sure, you can say 'what would Kobe do?'
– Russell, on Kobe Bryant
Me: What's the best lesson you've gotten on the floor so far -- just playing against someone who did something that made you go 'wow, that was good'?
DR: I would say there's always little defensive tactics that separate other guys from other guys. You can say athleticism, speed, thinking, experience, you can say all of that stuff, which will come. But as far as the tactics, I don't know. Like forcing a guy to make it look like he fouled you, or you fouled him. You can take that with you. I'm not going to use any specific names because I don't want everybody to know that, but it's something you can steal from a veteran guy.
Me: There are high expectations for you and Jordan and Julius going forward. What are one or two things you want to take from this year to build on?
DR: I would say keeping that fire. Going into this year, everybody always talked about us three, this and that, and we haven't, I wouldn't say necessary, lived up to the hype. But it started in Summer League, when we had Summer League together, and everybody was like, 'oh, my God, these three guys,' or whatever. It's all hype. Just keeping that fire, so when the hype goes down, next year is a new year, and they'll be talking about somebody else, and then, that's we can come out of nowhere if we keep that edge we had going into this season and use it to our advantage.
Me: How do you deal with the record? I bet you hadn't lost 20 games combined before.
GameTime: D'Angelo Russell
D'Angelo Russell talks about his rookie season with the Lakers and the kind of player that he wants to develop into.
DR: Nobody wants to get used to losing, so every night, you feel like you have an opportunity to win. So every night you've got to put yourself in a position where you're giving yourself a chance to win. Every night it's a different game plan, different player, different coach, different refs. Everything's different. So you can't really prepare for it like people from the outside think you can. You've just got to keep that positive mentality. Like I said, it's new to me. Playing against Derrick Rose for the first time this year, he might do some things that I'm not expecting. But when I play against him another time, it might be something that I expect. So I use that as an advantage.
Me: B-Scott sat you the last couple of minutes of the game the other night. How did you deal with that?
DR: It was a tough game for me personally. But as a team, we found a way to get it down to the wire. I mean, Dirk was Dirk that night, and he made tough shots. But I didn't really look at it as everybody else looked at it, as far as 'why am I not on the floor,' this and that. I respect the Coach's call any day of the week. But I wasn't sure why, so I just didn't question it, necessarily.
Me: Just generally with Byron -- not necessarily that one decision -- he's old school. I get it, 'cause I'm old myself. But are the lines of communication open between the two of you?
DR: At this day and age, you kind of have a feel for what you did wrong. It might sound weird, but you don't know what to ask. So like, I turned the ball over. I know I turned the ball over and I'm coming out of the game. I'm not sure if that's why you're pulling me out, but I'm not sure what to ask. 'Cause I know I turned it over. There's nothing that you can possibly say that's going to bring that turnover back, or anything that I can possibly do. But it's like, I don't know what to ask. It's like, he wouldn't, I don't know, tell me if I don't ask. So that's where it's kind of a blur.
Me: Is that just part of being a young guy -- not knowing? You don't know what you don't know?
DR: That's the best way to put it. I don't know what I don't know.
Kia Awards: D'Angelo Russell
Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month in December.
Me: How has Kobe been this year -- as a guy, as a teammate?
DR: First of all, you're going to always be starstruck, with a guy like that. Coming into this league, you can play with anybody, but when it's one of those older vets (that's) still around, I don't know, you just want to cope with them and get to know them and just be able to play on the court with them. That was great. But he's always coaching on the floor, if he's not playing. On the plane, you can talk to him about anything, and he'll try to give you the best perspective about it -- positive or negative. It's almost like he knows right. He's one of those guys that, when you come to a situation and you're not sure, you can say 'what would Kobe do?' That's a great guy to have around.
Me: Do you now have a sense about the standards of this franchise, and the history, and the expectations on a player who plays here, through him?
DR: I mean, growing up, my dad was a Celtics fan, and my brothers were Lakers fans. So the Celtics would always win, but the Lakers would always win. And you clearly, you couldn't really say who was the better team at that time, because they would win and then they would win. But you know that they were one of the top two teams that was always in the contender of winning. And that's what this whole franchise is all about -- no matter if it's a good win or an ugly win, everything's good.
Me: What do you hope to accomplish with the second half of the season?
You've got to earn your stripes. Nobody's going to give 'em to you. Nobody's going to feel bad for you if you don't. You get replaced in this league. So, try to find a way to stick.
– Russell, on being an NBA rookie
DR: I truly just want to finish out the games strong, finish out this year strong, and start to go in the right path of what kind of player I'm going to be. I know that's going to take multiple years, but just going down that right path. First impressions are almost everything, but in this league it's almost backwards. You can make a first impression and in four years be a player that nobody expected you to be. So I just kind of want to know, have that feeling. I don't want to go into the summer and not have a clue what type of player, who I am on the court. It really will influence what I have to work on.
Me: What do you think those things are now?
DR: Right now? Being patient, as far as on the floor. I try to make the home run play all the time, and in college, it got me in trouble, too. In college the gap (for making) errors, it was bigger. Here, it's way thinner. You try to thread the needle on passes, or gamble for a steal, and the team is almost automatically going to capitalize on it. So just being patient, not turning the ball over.
NBA Rooks: D'Angelo Russell
Here's a look at D'Angelo Russell, the number two overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, as he gets ready for the Lakers' season.
Me: What type of player do you think you'll be when everything does become second nature to you?
DR: I have no idea, but I've seen so many guys in this league go from, coming straight out of college, and then developing and getting some years under their belt, and you'd never expect it. John Wall, for example. He came into this league and he was lightning quick, and it got him into trouble a lot. But he developed an urgency of when to be quick and fast, and when not to be. So I just feel like it takes time. And I have no clue. I don't want to put a title on who I'm going to be.
"Look, we're not the San Antonio Spurs. We're not going to make 30 passes in a possession. We're not that. Of course people want us to be that. That's great basketball, don't get me wrong, but we're not that. We've got guys that can score. we've got two guys on this team that can get a bucket. There's going to be times we gotta iso. There's going to be times we gotta be aggressive to look for our shot or make a play."
-- Kevin Durant, to The Oklahoman, making the good and fair point that there is more than one way to skin an offensive cat than the way San Antonio spreads the wealth. The problem for Durant is that the Spurs have won five NBA titles since 1999 playing a number of different styles, and have only recently arrived at this one.
"My thought process the whole time was to play faster. I wanted to score 103 points a game. I think we're 101 or so. We're not far off, but I think he feels comfortable playing with two bigs, and that's fine. If he feels that's what he thinks will get us the most wins, that's what we should do."
-- Larry Bird, in a Q and A with Pacers.com, on the decision of Coach Frank Vogel to go back to a lineup with two bigs at power forward and center instead of playing C.J. Miles or Paul George predominately at the four, as the Pacers did earlier in the season. Bird had wanted to play George more at the four going into the season, but George said he preferred staying mostly at the small forward spot.
"He doesn't go for the regular shake. That's kind of cool. That's the swag we have in the NBA."
-- Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis, to The New York Times, on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's habit of dapping up players during handshakes.
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