Shootaround (Nov. 12): Time to recognize the West-leading LA Clippers

Nov 12, 2016 9:30 AM ET

 

Overlooked Clippers off to best start in franchise history | Another milestone for LeBron | Embiid leads the way for Sixers | DeRozan continues his wicked start to the season

No. 1: Overlooked Clippers off to best start in franchise history -- What do the Los Angeles Clippers have to do to earn your respect? They sit atop the Western Conference standings this morning heading into tonight's game at Minnesota. And yet they're off to the best start in franchise history after avenging their only loss of the season with a narrow escape in Oklahoma City Friday night. But more important than earning some external respect, the Clippers are learning to trust each other, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

All evening, the Clippers had their faith tested as Coach Doc Rivers stressed to his players to stay the course against Oklahoma City despite some unsettling moments.

The Clippers believed in their coach’s philosophy and his plan, and that belief was their guide to escaping with a last-second 110-108 victory over the Thunder on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Not until Russell Westbrook missed an attempt for a game-winning three-pointer just before time expired could the Clippers breathe easily.

Rivers said he could sense some tension when he told his players to stick to letting poor-shooting Andre Roberson and rookie Domantas Sabonis shoot three-pointers for the Thunder. Rivers could sense some tension when he told his players they were going to build a defensive wall around Westbrook.

Even though Roberson wound up going three for six from three-point range for nine of his 13 points, and Sabonis made four of five attempts for all 12 of his points, and even though the Thunder shot 57.1% (16 for 28) from long range, the Clippers still agreed it was the right strategy in the end.

Westbrook had 29 points, but he missed 16 of his 25 shots, the final one being the biggest with the game on the line.

“This is one of those games that you can lose your trust in,” Rivers said. “Roberson was making threes, Sabonis was making threes and we’re telling our guys to stay and clog the paint. And they are looking at me, like, ‘Why?’ We did it and it worked out for us. This is one of those games that you could have lost trust easily in what we were doing and we didn’t.

“At the end of the day, we won the game, so I think it actually probably gives me more equity to try more stuff.”
 

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No. 2: Another milestone for LeBron -- From the moment he set foot on a NBA floor LeBron James has been tackling one challenge after another. More than 13 seasons later he is still climbing the charts in every statistical category. James and his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates avoided the White House visit hangover to beat the Wizards, a game that saw LeBron surpass Kobe Bryant as the youngest player to score 27,000 points. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com details how it all came together:

The Wizards were without Bradley Beal (hamstring) and built a 12-point lead early on behind a scorching start from John Wall, who scored 23 of his 28 points before halftime. The Cavs not only put a clamp on him, but survived 15 turnovers and, for once, held their own in the fourth quarter.

All of this after an emotional off day in which the Cavs were guests of President Barack Obama at the White House Thursday in celebration of their 2016 NBA championship. Perhaps a little re-adjustment was to be expected, given that the Cavs didn't practice at all Thursday and enjoyed such a visceral, impactful presidential visit.

"A lot of guys were humbled by the experience," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "When you get a chance to meet the President of the United States and he knows your first name and knows your stats and how you play and who you are as a person, it just means a lot. And guys can't take these moments and situations for granted. It means a lot."

James, at 31 years and 317 days, surpassed Kobe Bryant (32 years, 160 days) as the youngest to reach 27,000 points. He reached the milestone with the first seven of his 11 first-quarter points. The historic basket was a 3-pointer with 4:18 to go.

James contributed 10 rebounds and five assists, shooting 9-of-18 from the field. He also swapped places with Irving, anchoring the second unit at the start of the fourth quarter. The Cavs entered play having been outscored by six points in all fourth quarters for the season, and by 21 points in the 14:15 in which Irving was on the court without James in those periods.

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No. 3: Embiid leads the way for Sixers -- Joel Embiid continues to prove that the Philadelphia 76ers were right to "trust the process" where he is concerned. The rookie big man led the Sixers to their first win of the season, helping them avoid a dubious milestone along the way. The young giant is delivering on the promise so many saw in him, writes Keith Pompey of Philly.com:

The Sixers snapped their winless streak to the start of the season at seven games. They also sidestepped being the only team in NBA history to start 0-8 in three consecutive seasons. The Sixers opened last season with 18 straight losses. They began the 2004-05 campaign with 17 consecutive defeats.

The victory at the Wells Fargo Center also ended a 12-game skid dating back to last season. And it marked their first victory in the months of October and November since they beat the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 22, 2013. They had lost 44 straight games during those months before Friday night.

"That first win for the group is massive," coach Brett Brown said. "I know it's only one. But you can take a deep breath and go fight again."

The organization savored this victory. A group led by the team managing owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer accompanied Brown to his post-game press conference. At the conclusion of the conference, claps were heard coming from their party.

The win also avenged Wednesday's overtime setback to the Pacers (4-5), who remain winless on the road.

Embiid found his groove at the right time. The 7-foot-2, 276-pound center scored 16 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and overtime session.

"I've been following great players, and the fourth quarter is the time," he said. "That's when you see more [isolation plays] and guys trying to get a bucket. . . . It's paying off and I still got a long way to go."

The 22-year-old, however, didn't think he would play in the overtime session. That's because he was only scheduled to play 24 minutes, and played 23:48 at the end of regulation.

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No. 4: DeRozan continues his wicked start to the season -- DeMar DeRozan has elevated his game to another level this season, a development that is not lost on his coaches, teammates and the fans in Toronto. He became the first player since Michael Jordan (during the 1986--87 season) to start the season scoring 30 or more points in seven of his first eight games. The Raptors needed everything DeRozan had to give in order to survive the Charlotte Hornets, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, who points out that DeRozan's confidence is rubbing off on others:

The game is on the line, the ball is going to be in his hands, the attention is all on him, and DeMar DeRozan calms down because there’s only one thing to focus on.

“Win. Win. Just win,” he said after the Toronto Raptors rallied in the final four minutes to pull out a 113-111 victory over the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center here Friday night.

“As long as I know I’m out there trying whatever I need to do to win, I’m fine with that. That’s just my mentality. Understanding teammates look to you, coaches look to you, and this is what you work for, to be in that position. I try to make the most out of them every time.”

He certainly did again Friday, piling up 34 points — his seventh 30-plus game in eight starts this season — and dominating down the stretch.

After the Raptors had blown a 16-point lead and given up an astonishing 38 points in the third quarter, while playing defence as if they were allergic to it for most of the second half, their offensive leader came to the rescue. DeRozan re-entered the game with Toronto down by four and proceeded to score 10 points, get one steal, dish out an assist and grab a rebound.

A finishing flourish, indeed.

“I’ve been watching him for a long time, but it’s honestly crazy what he is doing,” teammate Norm Powell said of DeRozan. “We are witnessing history. It’s great to watch.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Buckle up as Spurs coach Gregg Popovic tells the world exactly how he feels about the results of the Presidential election ... Nine games into this season and the lingering questions about the Oklahoma Thunder's outside shooting remain ... Have things gotten personal for Carmelo Anthony and Tony Brothers? Mrs. Anthony says yes ... No matter what anyone else says, Zach Randolph insists he's a "finisher" ... The Detroit Pistons are improving but still looking for that breakthrough away from home ... Portland's Meyers Leonard always looks forward to matching up against DeMarcus Cousins ... Indiana coach Nate McMillan didn't mince his words after the enigmatic Pacers got outworked once again ...  Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley is on the path back to the active roster, perhaps as soon as next week ...


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