1. Clippers Looking For More Than A Banner Day
LOS ANGELES -- Historically, it represented the most significant victory since the Los Angeles Clippers have been the Clippers. The downside is that beating the Los Angeles Lakers immediately rendered it an irrelevant measure of the Clippers' 2012-13 season.
At the moment the buzzer sounded, with the scoreboard reading Clippers 109, Lakers 95, it meant the Lakers were on the outside of the Western Conference playoffs, holding an identical record to the 40-37 Utah Jazz but losing on the head-to-head tiebreaker for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Jazz later moved a half-game ahead by beating the Warriors. The true test of postseason worthiness comes in games against possible playoff opponents, and in their past six games against Western Conference teams that have clinched playoff berths the Clippers are 0-6.
There's one more chance to address that: an April 13 road game against the Memphis Grizzlies, their likely first-round opponent. Then, of course, there are the playoffs themselves. That's what will determine the tone of this season's summary.
But when the shelves are as barren of hardware and arena walls devoid of red-white-and-blue fabric as the Clippers, they should take a moment to reflect on their accomplishments this season. Their 51st victory, the most in franchise history, brought them their first Pacific Division championship.
"I'm just happy for the guys, happy for the fans, happy for the organization," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It's been a long time. You have to earn it, and I think we did."
"It means a lot," said Chris Paul, who had 24 points and 12 assists. "It means that we're headed in the right direction, but there was no cake, no champagne popping or anything like that in the locker room."
You know what there wasn't much of in the Laker locker room? Lakers. That place cleared out quickly, and there was a paucity of optimism among those who remained. Dwight Howard gave brief, terse answers to those who sought explanations, Kobe Bryant offered sarcastic smirks to those who tried to elicit bravado along the lines of his previous playoff guarantees from him.
They're shorthanded -- starters Steve Nash and Metta World Peace were out again with injuries -- and now they're short on time. There are four home games and one road game left for them. It might not be enough time to get everyone healthy, probably not enough time to develop consistency in a season whose lone constant has been disruption, possibly not enough time to procure more victories than the Jazz.
"You adjust to the situation and you adjust to reality," Pau Gasol said. "And that's what we're dealing with right now."
Their primary flaw was on display again Sunday. They can't get repeated stops on defense, which is how this game and so many others have escaped them. Even though Bryant set a ball-movement tone with six early assists, and the Lakers established Dwight Howard inside early (Howard finished with 25 points), they still trailed, 30-25 after one quarter. The Clippers shot 54 percent in the first half, 50 percent for the game, and found themselves after a wobbly week.
It looked like the template for success that they established earlier in the season. Blake Griffin had 24 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Crawford scored 20 points off the bench. They were dispensing credit instead of subtly implying blame, which started happening in their recent three-game losing streak. The effort was even more impressive than the execution, reflected by their 50-36 rebounding advantage.
"We just talked about our intensity on defense," Griffin said. "Once we do get the ball, if somebody scores, if they score or if we have a breakdown, to not sit and dwell on it. Just to get it out and play with pace. I thought we did a tremendous job, especially to start the second half, with getting stops."
This game was the season in summary; while the Lakers have the glorious past and the attention of the city and the country, the Clippers have the better record. We almost need to be reminded that the Clippers are 11 games ahead of the Lakers in the standings, because the amount of time and energy devoted to each doesn't reflect it.
The Clippers looked more like the team that opposing coaches labeled a championship contender earlier this season. It was tough to tell for sure though, because the Lakers looked like what they've been most of the year: a team that doesn't merit discussion among the league's elite.
2. Around the Association
MVP: Carmelo Anthony's streak of consecutive 40-point, 60 percent shooting games came to an end, but 36 points, 9 offensive rebounds (12 total) and a brutish imposition of his will on the interior was more than enough to lead the Knicks.
That was 12 straight: Are the Knicks contenders? A 12th win in a row, this time on the road in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder have lost just six times this season, may start the wise wags placing New York in contention again.
Defining moment: With a double-digit lead down to four with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith nailed a deep 3-pointer with the shot clock near zero off an incredible volleyball feed from a stumbling Raymond Felton.
MVP: Mo Williams played like the All-Star he used to be, scoring 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field and hitting several big fourth-quarter buckets. Most important was a dagger 3-pointer with 14 seconds left that put the Warriors away.
X factor: Golden State had trouble holding on to the ball from the opening tip. The Warriors committed 16 turnovers and allowed 13 offensive rebounds, factors emblematic of Utah's constantly active hands on both ends.
That was a huge win for Utah: The Jazz came into Sunday trailing the Lakers by half a game for the West's final playoff spot. With this victory and an earlier Los Angeles loss, the tables have turned completely; Utah now holds an edge in the standings and owns the tiebreaker, too.
MVP: With Kobe Bryant and the Lakers within striking distance most of the game, Chris Paul kept the Clippers in control with 24 points and 12 assists in another sparkling performance against the Purple and Gold.
Well that was historic: A few firsts: The Clippers clinched their first Pacific Division crown, earned their first banner to hang in the rafters, and swept the season series against the Lakers for the first time since both teams have been in Los Angeles.
Defining moment: The result was basically decided already, but Blake Griffin's enormous putback jam and 3-pointer put an exclamation point on a win as important mentally as it was in the standings.
MVP: Chris Kaman. The Mavs' center sat out much of the fouth as the Blazers stormed back to make it a game, but he had it rolling early, and his 26 points and 11 boards were a huge part of the Mavs' just-large-enough lead.
X factor: The fourth quarter saw the shocking eruption of Blazers rookie Will Barton, who finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. All are career highs for the second rounder.
That was ... exciting. The Mavs built a huge lead early, playing like a team guarding their extremely slim postseason hopes. The Blazers stormed back to make it a one-possession game in the final seconds before the Mavs finally put it away.
MVP: In a game that featured some horrendous shooting, Mike Conley stood out for the winning team. The Grizzlies point guard scored an effective 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field in close to 37 minutes of action.
X factor: Field goal percentage. Memphis may have shot a so-so percentage from the field (44 percent to be exact). However, the Grizzlies managed to hold the Kings to 36 percent for the game. From the jump, the Kings were never really able to get into a rhythm offensively.
That was ugly: The Grizzlies usually muck up the game for their opposition and today was no different. Both teams couldn't buy a bucket, with both shooting below 45 percent for the game. Not a pretty sight for fans in attendance, but it wasn't a surprise considering Memphis' grind-it-out style of play.
MVP: In perhaps his best game of the season, Brandon Bass couldn't miss. He finished with 20 points (on 9-of-12 shooting) and six rebounds. Eight of his points came in the third quarter, when Boston extended its lead to 16 and effectively put the game away.
X Factor: Avery Bradley canceled out Washington's best player, John Wall, with a tremendous defensive effort. After scoring 10 points in the first quarter, Wall was held scoreless through the next two frames. He finished with 16 points on 8-of-20 shooting.
That was payback? Jordan Crawford wasted no time getting back at his former team, knocking down a turnaround jumper in the lane before swishing a transition jumper in his opening moments. But apart from free throws later on, those were the only points he'd score on the night.
2. Around the Association
Most valuable player: Pau Gasol had a vintage night with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Kobe Bryant took a while to get going, and the big Spaniard kept the Lakers in the game while Bean struggled and Dwight Howard was in foul trouble.
X factor: Kobe exploded in the fourth quarter. Pau kept the Lakers in the game for three quarters and Kobe closed it out with 23 fourth-quarter points, including a 7-0 run to start the final period.
That was strange: Only 12 days after having surgery to repair a surgically torn meniscus, Metta World Peace was able to come off the bench and log 15 minutes. His presence was able to give Kobe a breather earlier than the last few minutes of the game.
MVP: Kevin Durant (21 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists). Has there ever been a dominant star so able to quietly and brilliantly fill in the gaps while his teammates put on a show?
Defining moment: With the Jazz down six and desperate to make a play, Russell Westbrook (25 points, five rebounds, three steals) jumped in front of the pass and finished a showcase dunk for the dagger.
That was disappointing. Fans were clearly hoping for a better showing from the home team, considering the stakes. Rather than a playoff push, the Jazz and Lakers are playing hot potato for the final spot in the West.
MVP: The Knicks' records just keep falling. Carmelo Anthony tied newly minted Hall of Famer Bernard King's streak of consecutive 35-point games. He shredded the Wizards in the third quarter, scoring 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting and adding eight rebounds and six dimes to boot.
Defining moment: Speaking of records, the Knicks also tied a franchise mark with 20 treys. Nine of them came in the first quarter, when they notched 27 of their 36 points from downtown versus a Wizards squad that was fifth best at defending the three coming into the game.
That was No. 13: The lucky 13th triumph in a row gave New York 51 wins -- its highest total in 16 seasons -- and its first Atlantic Division Crown since 1994, when Kurt Thomas was a junior at TCU. Needless to say, it's been a while.
MVP: While none of his teammates could hit an open three-pointer if their life depended on it, LeBron James scored nine points in the third quarter, stretching Miami's one-point halftime lead to double digits. He finished with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting, with seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block.
Defining moment: Early in the first quarter, LeBron James found himself running a two-on-one fast break. After leaving his feet to feed Mike Miller for an easy layup, Monta Ellis leapt into James' passing lane. No worries. Without skipping a beat, the three-time MVP simply tossed the ball off the backboard, caught it, then threw down a ferocious dunk.
That was unfair: The Heat did not have Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, missed 15 straight 3-pointers, yet still waltzed to a double-digit victory against a possible first-round opponent.
MVP: James Harden leads the Rockets in scoring, and he did so again Tuesday night. When push came to shove, Harden came through for his team yet again with a massive 33 points on 21 shots and six assists, not to mention a game-winning (goaltended) shot.
X factor: Patrick Beverley took off in the second half, with steals, blocks, slams and assists galore. He almost single-handedly ended a pair of Suns runs.
Defining moment: That goaltending call to end the game was one of the most unexpected moments in an unexpected season for both teams. That's not what anyone saw coming, but it was the right call.
MVP: Klay Thompson had 30 points, but began the game 9-for-9, which single-handedly kept GSW in the game. However, he ended on a 1-for-10 streak. Luckily, during that cold stretch he ratcheted up his defensive intensity en route to five steals.
Defining moment: It probably wasn't a smart decision for Luke Ridnour to get in Thompson's face. Golden State ended the third on a 23-10 run after this incident, punctuated by a Harrison Barnes alley-oop and fueled by the fans seeing the playoffs in sight.
That was quirky: Recently, the Dubs have been trying to use Klay Thompson in the post. Forty percent of his post-ups have come in the Warriors past two games, per Synergy. On Tuesday, he bullied Minnesota's small shooting guard rotation down low.
MVP: George Hill. He was the lone Pacer who showed any urgency as the Cavaliers started to pull away. And after starting the fourth quarter down 20, it was his three-point play in transition that gave Indiana a one-point lead with 46 seconds to play.
X-Factor: Jeff Pendergraph. The seldom-used forward played eight minutes in the fourth, and his pick-and-roll defense stalled the Cavaliers' attack enough for the Pacers to come back. The charge he drew on a would-be three-point play by Kyrie Irving was the game's biggest moment.
That was ... strange. Cleveland trailed 20-8 then outscored the Pacers 76-44 before losing the fourth quarter 35-10. They say basketball is a game of runs, but this was ridiculous.
3. Sunday's Best
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks:
Melo recorded 36 points and 12 rebounds as the Knicks and edged Kevin Durant and OKC 125-120. The Knicks earned their 12th in a row, which put them at 50 wins for the first time in 13 years.
4. Sunday's Worst
Michael Beasley, Suns: On a day where the No. 3 pick from 2003 (Melo) played at a top level, the No. 2 pick from 2008 went 1-for-11 from the floor in a 95-92 home loss to the Hornets.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote of the Night
"It's one of those things we can let our fans decide. It's that simple. That's who we do it for. We do it for our fans and the people who have supported us all season long and have been here way before there was Chris Paul and Blake Griffin."
-- Chris Paul, on whether the Clippers should hoist a division banner where only Lakers NBA championship banners hang.
8. Advantage, Melo
9. Stat Check
Kobe Bryant eclipsed the 2,000-point mark for the season in the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Bryant became the fourth player in NBA history to score 2,000 points in a season at age 34 or older, joining Alex English, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone, each of whom did so twice. However, Bryant is the oldest NBA player ever to reach that milestone in a season in which he also handed out 400 or more assists.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Around the Association
MVP: Brandon Knight was playing with fire Sunday night, scoring 20 points while taking just 12 shots, including a 12-point third quarter that effectively nixed any of the Bulls' attempts to make a run.
Defining moment: The Bulls came out of the gates running with a 20-12 start. Detroit's response, a 23-10 run that carried itself well into the second quarter, proved to be stronger of the two, however.
That was uneventful: Charlie Villanueva's second quarter triple would mark the only lead change of the game, as the Bulls just couldn't manage to find a groove after the first 12 minutes. Even Knight's semi-explosion in the third quarter felt ordinary.
MVP: Eric Gordon put Friday's reported shouting match with coach Monty Williams in the past. He started against the Suns, the team he signed an offer sheet with this past offseason, and hit timely buckets for 17 points to go with six assists.
LVP: After Suns forward Michael Beasley put together what interim coach Lindsey Hunter deemed his best overall game this past week against the Clippers and followed it up with a 25-point outburst against the Warriors, he nearly laid an egg with a 1-for-11 shooting performance.
Defining moment: The Hornets used a 13-3 spurt bridging the third and fourth quarters to build a 16-point lead with nine minutes left in the game. Coupling that with a third quarter that saw New Orleans outscore the Suns 35-19 was enough cushion for the Hornets to survive a Phoenix rally.
MVP: Nikola Vucevic gets the Jerry West MVP for putting up 21 points, 21 rebounds and six assists. For 42 minutes, Vucevic crashed the boards and ate the Cavs' big men alive.
X factor: Alonzo Gee was the winners' best player. In addition to locking down Moe Harkless (who went 3-for-12 from the field), he scored 19 points and tracked down seven rebounds.
That was hideous: As is to be expected in a game between two basement dwellers, this one was full of ugly drives, ill-advised jumpers, and end-of-the-shot-clock heaves. The teams combined to shoot 36.8 percent.