Three things to know: Concerns about that other team in Los Angeles, too
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1) There are concerns about that other team in Los Angeles, too
The vibe around the Clippers early this season could best be described as “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
The Clippers see themselves as title contenders, and plenty of pundits agreed before the season, picking them as the biggest threat to the Warriors — a few even picked the Clippers to make the Finals. Those Finals are more than eight months away and Los Angeles was treating the start of the season like it was an obligation, a chore to be done on that road. The Clippers have rested players, been careless with the basketball, and generally treated the regular season like a team that already had won a ring or two and was waiting for the games that matter.
That attitude led them to drop a second straight game to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thursday night, and after that loss both teams are now 2-3.
“It’s still early, still 2-3 but we have to have a sense of urgency…" John Wall said after Thursday. “We should never be outcompeted. No matter who we put on the floor we should always have a chance to win and I believe that and I think we kind of didn’t do that.”
The Clippers’ biggest problem is clear — they have the league’s worst turnover rate by a mile. Through five games, 16.5% of Clippers’ possessions have ended in a turnover (for comparison, the Thunder have the lowest turnover rate at 9.5% of possessions).
The Clippers are searching for their identity. That’s hard to find with the team’s offensive roles and rotations not close to set — Kawhi Leonard missed both games against the Thunder resting his knee after missing all of last season following ACL surgery. Paul George sat out the first game against the Thunder and was 4-of-12 in this one (after a 4-of-11 game against the Suns last Sunday). Wall and other players have missed time as well.
Meanwhile, the Thunder are playing with purpose and grit, moving the ball and making plays.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 24, Lu Dort 21, and the Thunder got inside for 54 points in the paint. It was also a strong night for Twitter favorite Aleksej Pokusevski, who had 15 points and six rebounds, with a couple of clutch 3-pointers late to help seal the win.
The Clippers have had stretches where you see the potential this season — they went on a 34-14 run in the second quarter Thursday night. They got inside against the Thunder and scored 68 points in the paint.
The Clippers just can’t sustain that success, and the turnovers are the primary reason.
Wall is correct, it is early, and things are not nearly as desperate for them as some other teams (like their crypto.com Arena roommates). But the Clippers need to find a way to take care of the ball, steady the ship, start to find that identity and turn things around, or they could spend much of the season looking up in the standings at the teams they are supposed to challenge.
2) Nets fall to 1-4 after Luka Doncic carves them up with 41-point triple-double
In the preseason and even the opening couple of games of the regular season, Steve Nash had tried to deploy Ben Simmons as a point forward — not unlike the distribution role he had in Philadelphia.
Those days are gone — it didn’t work, and Simmons spent most of Thursday night working off the ball, often in the dunker’s spot in half-court sets. His offensive role is limited, he’s averaging 5.6 points per game, and playing like a guy constantly trying to avoid getting fouled (he’s a 40% free throw shooter this season). Kyrie Irving stuck up for Simmons, saying after all the time he’s missed it’s going to take time for him to find his rhythm again and he deserves the space to do that.
Simmons’ shifting role is one sign that the Nets — like the Clippers mentioned above — are still trying to figure out their identity. So far, that identity has not included good defense, Brooklyn remains dead last in defensive rating this young season (120.2).
Luka Doncic exploited that defense to the tune of 41 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, using his gravity to set up teammates for open 3-pointers in overtime, leading to a 129-125 victory over Brooklyn Thursday night.
Doncic also may have had the best assist of the young season.
At least one Nets fan — or bettor who had the Nets on the moneyline — was mad enough at Doncic to throw a cup of ice at him during the overtime, delaying the game. Hopefully said person at least finished the drink first.
Kyrie Irving (39 points) and Kevin Durant (37) kept the Nets in the game, and Simmons did his part — a Simmons steal and assist to Durant for a dunk to tie it with :08.8, this play forced overtime.
In overtime, Doncic exploited matchups and made shots, and that was the ballgame.
The Nets are 1-4 and in danger of digging a hole they could spend the rest of the season climbing out of if they don’t find enough of an identity — and a defense — to turn things around in the coming weeks.
3) Stephen Curry too much for Heat late, Warriors pick up win
Considering Miami played a hard-fought game the night before in Portland, flew to the Bay Area and were on a back-to-back against a rested Warriors team, they deserve credit — they didn’t just lay down on what was a clear schedule makers’ loss. Jimmy Butler stepped up with 27 points, Bam Adebayo had 26 and eight rebounds, and the Heat kept the game within five points into the fourth quarter.
But in the end there was too much Stephen Curry for Miami to handle: 33 points with seven 3-pointers, nine assists and seven boards.
The 3-2 Warriors are cruising through the season so far, not top 10 in offense or defense, and (like the Clippers above) are treating the regular season as just a testing ground to work out the kinks before the games matter. However, unlike the Clippers, the Warriors have earned the right to do that — we saw last June the heights this team can reach. The Warriors can start the season working out kinks, with Jonathan Kuminga getting benched (and Steve Kerr saying he has to earn his minutes) and Klay Thompson still finding his rhythm. The Warriors got a fantastic 16-point first half from Andrew Wiggins and quality bench play Thursday.
Plus, the Warriors have Stephen Curry to fall back on when they need a win.