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LA Clippers hail much-improved chemistry



LOS ANGELES — The LA Clippers have blown big leads, had key players in and out of the lineup and even suffered a 51-point loss earlier this season.

But unlike during last season’s postseason collapse, the Clippers say their chemistry and energy is vastly improved. Without Serge Ibaka and Lou Williams, the Clippers won a season-high fourth straight game Sunday, a 129-96 rout of the Indiana Pacers. And some veterans are crediting a new attitude.

“I feel like our energy is way better this season,” forward Marcus Morris Sr. said after scoring 20 points off the bench. “Think guys are buying in.”

“We kind of felt let down last year,” Morris later added. “And the first thing we did before we got together was we let that s— go. It’s a new season, it’s a new team.”

Last season, the Clippers had difficulty forming chemistry with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard easing their way into the season due to injuries, lack of practice time, new pieces added midseason, the pandemic halting play, and then players leaving and returning to the Orlando bubble due to personal reasons.

The Clippers’ second-round collapse — a blown 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets — and lack of chemistry led to owner Steve Ballmer replacing head coach Doc Rivers with Ty Lue, an assistant on last season’s squad. The Clippers also lost Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green in free agency but added Ibaka and traded for Luke Kennard.

Players have credited Lue’s ability to communicate with them and allowing them to have input with improving the chemistry. So despite the fact the Clippers have either blown or had big leads shrink several times this season, they have been able to put together their current winning streak.

On Sunday, Indiana cut an 18-point first-half deficit to two in the third quarter. But the Clippers responded with a 37-14 run despite not having Ibaka (non-COVID illness) and Williams (hip).

George said the current players are forming a bond that is evident at times — like that second-half run, and when he threw down a monster one-handed dunk early that caused the Clippers bench to erupt in celebration.

“The chemistry is amazing,” George said. “It’s a real bond. It’s fun, with this team, it’s locked in, we are together, it is one of the best locker rooms I have been around and been in.

“Hopefully you guys see it, just how well we are meshing,” George added. “We are going to continue to build off of that; we like where we are at and like where we are heading, and we want to see this thing play all the way through.”

George, who said Friday that he was “coming back with vengeance” this season after the postseason debacle in the Orlando bubble, echoed what Morris said about the Clippers letting go of last season.

“It’s a new year,” said George, who had 20 points and 7 rebounds Sunday in the Clippers’ second straight rout of 35 or more points. “We moved on. For some reason, a lot of people haven’t. But we moved on.”

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Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office was drawn to experience of new coach Chris Finch, feels it will help team ‘on both sides of the floor’



The “diverse experience” of newly hired Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch is what intrigued president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas to make the move.

During Monday’s introductory news conference, Rosas welcomed the former Toronto Raptors assistant to try to turn things around after firing Ryan Saunders following Sunday’s loss in New York.

“The things that he’s done coaching all around the world at different levels, those experiences, I think, are very relevant to our current game,” Rosas said. “We play a very international game in the NBA and the experience that Chris has, the perspective that he has, the time that he’s been a head coach outside of the NBA, an assistant in the NBA as well, I think those perspectives, those expertise are really important for our organization on both sides of the floor.”

In addition to Finch’s stops in Houston, Denver, New Orleans and Toronto as an assistant, he also served as a head coach of the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, who won the 2010 championship.

Internationally, he coached in England, Germany and Belgium.

“I would like to be judged by wins and losses. That’s what it’s about,” Finch said. “This is about winning and hopefully we can stack some wins on top of each other. Beyond that, we want to see the growth of our young players and we want to develop an identity. I think if we can accomplish all three, that’s a home run, if we get two out of three, I think that’s a great step forward.”

Although the timing of the hiring is not desirable, with Minnesota in the midst of a four-game losing skid while in last place in the league standings at 7-24, he’s trying to make the best of the situation.

“This is a less than ideal situation for a coach and we don’t have a summer, we don’t have a preseason,” Finch said. “We’ve got a back to back, but that’s life in some of the leagues that I’ve coached in and those challenges have really sharpened my resolve and my ability to be prepared and I’m taking that as a big challenge right now and we’ll figure out as we go forward. We’ll figure out slowly the tweaks we need to make.”

Rosas described Sunday as a “crazy day for everybody involved.” He called the choice to dismiss Saunders “tough” but said they came to the decision to make a change over the weekend.

The Timberwolves’ front office went through the process of who would be available midseason but still was unsure until Toronto granted permission to let Finch interview for the new role, which happened late in the afternoon Sunday then the decision to relieve Saunders happened after the Knicks loss.

The deal was finalized on Monday morning.

“The decision to dismiss Ryan wasn’t made until Sunday, and at that point, we were already in game preparation and to be fair to Ryan, these decisions take time,” Rosas said. “We spoke with ownership and as we met with our leadership group, it was a process and a decision that wasn’t easy and you have a team that’s going through the season in a pandemic where there’s no pause button.

“There’s no stop button, there’s shootarounds and games that have to be prepared for. And we did the best that we could under the environment of time that we were given.”

Rosas says they looked at internal options such as David Vanterpool and Pablo Prigioni on the staff, but were realistic in terms of their league standing. Rosas didn’t feel they could get the real change they needed without being “bold and direct with this opportunity.”

“With Chris, we have a guy here who we share a vision, we share a philosophy and feel very confident about his ability to impact this team,” Rosas said. “And unfortunately, with our struggles here over the last year and a half, the ability to change that narrative was going to be hard from an internal perspective.”

“I haven’t listened to too much of the outside comments, just because it’s been a real whirlwind for 24 hours for me,” Finch added. “I can say that I’m very excited and I enjoy every day that I have in the NBA. I live the dream.”

The Timberwolves will take on the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night.

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Short-handed San Antonio Spurs back on practice floor



The San Antonio Spurs are still dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, their state is reeling from the aftereffects of a deadly icy blast that has affected millions of Texans and one of their best players is mourning the death of a parent.

Given all that, basketball seems secondary to the Spurs right now.

But they were back to work Monday, holding a full-fledged practice for the first time since it was revealed last week that at least four players tested positive for COVID-19. They will be without at least six players when they return to the court Wednesday at Oklahoma City.

“We’ve always had the philosophy that there are all these people, or groups of people, who have it worse than you do,” coach Greg Popovich said, wearing a cap bearing the logo of the San Antonio Food Bank. “And considering our positions in this world, we are very, very well off.”

The Spurs said five players — Rudy Gay, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Derrick White — are away from the team because of health and safety protocols and will not travel with the club to Oklahoma City. Popovich indicated that not all of them have been able to return to San Antonio yet because of NBA rules; the outbreak hit with the Spurs on a road trip last week.

DeMar DeRozan is also out for Wednesday’s game for personal reasons; he revealed late last week that his father died.

“When you lose a parent, it’s a difficult situation,” Popovich said. “But I’ve been in touch with him and he’s a very mature, kind man and he’s doing what he needs to do with his family right now.”

When a player is listed as out because of the protocols, that typically means he has tested positive for COVID-19, has a suspected positive test or is out for reasons related to contact tracing. And before any player who has been positive is cleared to return, he first needs to clear several medical exams — which means it’s unclear when any of the five players out for virus-related reasons may return.

There may be one encouraging piece of roster news: LaMarcus Aldridge, who hasn’t played since Feb. 1 because of right hip flexor soreness, may be ready to return. The Spurs plan on making that final determination on Tuesday.

Popovich said Aldridge came through Monday’s practice fine.

“I’m sure he was probably a little winded,” Popovich said.

The NBA initially said last week that four Spurs players had tested positive for COVID-19, without identifying any by name. They last played Feb. 14, beating Charlotte for their fifth win in six games and improving to 16-11 — five games over the .500 mark for the first time since April 2019.

The news of the four positive tests hit the team not long afterward. Road games against Detroit, Cleveland, New York and Indiana were all postponed, as were a pair of Hornets games in an abundance of caution while contact tracing studies could be completed.

Those postponements lifted the number of games called off for virus-related reasons this season to 29, not including a handful of other games that were rearranged to fill some gaps in the schedule.

The Spurs are the fourth team to have an unplanned break of at least a week this season because of virus-related issues. Boston went seven days between games, Memphis went 12 days and Washington went 13 days.

Then came the storm, which crippled much of Texas for days.

Popovich preaches perspective, and tried Monday to put missing a few basketball games in its proper place.

“Complaining, or feeling sorry for oneself, that’s not in the picture,” Popovich said. “It’s inappropriate. Not deserved. Only thank yous for what we all have. So, you know, at this time, you just think about all the people that have gone through hell. And as we’ve seen from all the reports, it didn’t have to be that way.”

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Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green admits fault for late ejection in loss to Charlotte Hornets



Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green admitted that he was “wrong” for getting ejected late in Saturday’s 102-100 loss to the Charlotte Hornets and acknowledged that he felt worse about this episode than he did about getting suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 Finals.

“I can admit my faults and when I’m wrong,” Green said during a Monday video conference with reporters. “And I was wrong. And I have to do what I have to do to make that up to my teammates … and like I told the guys, I appreciate the support of me, but that action does not warrant support.

“With support from teammates comes responsibility, and I let that responsibility go. And so to think that just because they are my teammates and I do have their support, don’t necessarily mean I was deserving of it in that situation, because I wasn’t. So I’m very appreciative of them and I owe them.”

Speaking for the first time since picking up two technical fouls and being ejected in Saturday’s game, Green opened his post-practice news conference by taking a question about his perspective of the incident and speaking for almost four minutes straight about the situation and how disappointed he was in his actions.

Green was famously suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 Finals for kicking then Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James below the belt. But despite the fact that the Warriors went on to lose that series in seven games, Green said the incident Saturday bothered him more because it was something “I had complete control over.”

“And I let that control get away from me, and in turn I let the game get away from myself and my teammates,” Green said. “And I think the reason it bothered me more was because … winning an NBA game is not easy. And this young team has not had, the guys on this team has not had much experience with winning. And so to take the game away from my teammates, which they worked so hard for, was a bit frustrating for me because I let them down.”

The wild sequence that led to Green’s ejection Saturday started with 9.3 seconds left in regulation and the Warriors leading 100-98, when Warriors guard Brad Wanamaker was tied up for a jump ball by Hornets guard LaMelo Ball. After Hornets swingman Gordon Hayward corralled the ball off the tap and fell to the floor, Green appeared to quickly tie up Hayward for a jump ball.

However, the Hornets were awarded a timeout. Green began arguing with officials and was quickly assessed two technical fouls and ejected, giving the Hornets two free throws and the ball. Charlotte guard Terry Rozier went to the line and sank both free throws to tie the score at 100. Seconds later, Rozier drained a shot from the corner at the buzzer to give the Hornets the win.

After saying that Green “crossed the line” on Saturday, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that he felt it would be “easy” for his team to move past the incident heading into Tuesday’s game with the New York Knicks.

“It’s an easy move on,” Kerr said Monday. “Draymond has tremendous respect in this locker room. The guys adore him. And they should because he’s a great, great teammate who made a mistake. But I’ve said it many times, and I know the guys on the team feel the same way, if you want to win a game you need Draymond on your team. He’s loyal, he’s a competitor, he’s a winner. And if the price to pay on that is him spilling his emotions over the top sometimes, so be it.”

Kerr added that he has faith Green would keep a cooler head the next time a similar situation presented itself.

Warriors forward Eric Paschall said after Saturday’s game that Green told his teammates that the two technicals were “my fault,” but both Paschall and backup guard Damion Lee stood behind Green and vouched for his leadership. It was a gesture that Green clearly appreciated and is confident he will move forward from.

“I think any time you go through some things in life, you come out better on the other side,” Green said. “So I 100 percent think I’ll be better. As far as controlling my emotions, I know how to control my emotions. I let them get the best of me that day, but as someone who could get 15 techs every year and never cross that line, I think I know how to control my emotions pretty well.”

Green, who passionately defended Cavs big man Andre Drummond last week, calling out what he felt were double standards of how the NBA treats players, was disappointed in the fact that his latest actions overshadowed his strong words regarding how players are treated.

“Another reason it was a bit frustrating for me, when I think of the whole entire picture of all of this, if you type in Draymond Green before Saturday, the first clip you will see is me talking about the [Andre] Drummond situation,” Green said. “And so to go from that situation to like what the next thing would be of what you see of me is two completely, totally different ends of the spectrum. And that’s where the disappointment for me lies.”

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