Kudos to the Clippers and Sixers after latest quality wins

Who deserves the props today? The Clippers? Or the Sixers?

It’s a toss-up.

Sort of like that lob pass Chris Paul threw to Blake Griffin for a dunk seven seconds into their latest quality win, 107-105 on the road against Utah, where they hadn’t won since Saddam Hussein was running Iraq.  

And sort of like that scoop pass Andre Iguodala tossed out to Jrue Holiday after going around his back, one of several highlight-reel plays Iguodala made before exiting to a standing ovation as Philadelphia defeated the Bulls by 16 (!) at home to send Chicago to just its sixth loss of the season– the same number the Sixers have.

You can gush all you at about the first quarter LeBron James had — 24 points — at Milwaukee, or the Oklahoma City Thunder’s latest impressive road win, defeating the Mavericks in Dallas behind monster games from Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge (10 blocks) Ibaka.

But James’ team ultimately lost to the Bucks, and the Thunder beat a team they should have beaten.

The Clips and the Sixers?

Those two teams are making some loud noises quite consistently, and for that they should be lauded a little extra.

Los Angeles was just 1-38 in its last 39 visits to Salt Lake City, winless in its past 16 (since 2003), going up against an opponent that sports one of the best home records (10-3 before Wednesday) in the NBA. But Chris Paul  scored 12 of his season-high 34 points in the fourth quarter and handed out 11 assists, and the Clippers went 9-for-9 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds — no small accomplishment for the NBA’s 29th-ranked free throw shooting team — to extend their winning streak to four games, the earlier three coming against Memphis, Denver and Oklahoma City. 

From Arash Markasi of ESPNLosAngeles: “Chris Paul had heard the questions and the numbers so many times heading into Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz that he decided to double-check them with long-time Los Angeles Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler. After the team’s shootaround before the game, he went up to Lawler and asked him if it was true that the Clippers hadn’t won in Utah since Jan. 22, 2003 and had only won once in Salt Lake City since April 18, 1989, which was one month after Blake Griffin was born. Lawler confirmed the numbers. He has been with the team for 33 years and has almost grown accustomed to losing in the Great Basin.  Paul then asked Lawler a favor. Paul asked Lawler to let him know of such streaks every time the Clippers play a game on the road or against an opponent that has had the Clippers’ number. … His play in the fourth quarter was not only a steadying, it was electrifying at times. He worked in a no-look reverse lay-up and a crossover straight out of an And1 Mix tape into 12 fourth quarter points to lead the Clippers to their comeback win. Paul saw firsthand how badly the Clippers have played in Utah when he and Mo Williams sat on the bench with injuries during the Jazz’s 108-79 win over the Clippers on Jan. 17. Before the game, he reminded his teammates the importance of breaking the Clippers’ losing streak in Utah after what they had done to them earlier in the season.”

The Clippers will be back home tonight going for five in a row in a nationally televised TNT game against the Nuggets.

The Sixers? 

Their test phase of their schedule gets no easier, with their next five coming against the Heat, Hawks, Lakers, Spurs and Clippers.

“Who’ve you beat?’ I heard that. ‘Inferior teams,’ I heard that,” coach Doug Collins said. 

The inferior team Wednesday was the Bulls.

From Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: “I’ve always been a big third-quarter guy from my TV days,” Collins said. “I’ve seen teams come out in third quarters and not warm up properly and all, and I just think that if you can get a big hit in that first 5 or 6 minutes, it can change the whole game, and so we talked about that. Let’s come out and let’s get off to a good start.” A five-point Sixers lead at the half, in which reigning MVP Derrick Rose had a hand in 28 of the Bulls’ 44 points, turned into a 20-point advantage after three as the Sixers held the Bulls to 3-for-16 shooting, turned them over six times and limited them to only 11 points. Collins seemed a bit uncomfortable on the sideline when the Bulls started creeping closer in the fourth, cutting the lead to 12 a couple of times, but Rose never got off the bench in the final quarter as coach Tom Thibodeau decided to rest four of his five starters for the final 12 minutes. … “We were out there sluggish,” said Rose, whose team fell to 18-6 and is mired in the middle of a nine-game road trip. “The energy wasn’t there. I really can’t explain it. We played a messed-up game. We rubbed off on everyone else. This is something we’re not going to forget. I know I’m not.”

Few in Milwaukee will forget what they witnessed in the first quarter from James, who scored 24 of his 40 points as Miami opened a 17-point lead. But in the final three minutes, with the home crowd chanting “Over-rated,” James only had three touches and missed his lone field goal attempt in Heat’s final nine possessions. During that span, James did not score and committed a turnover.

From Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Brandon Jennings dropped in 7 three-pointers and finished with 31 points as the Bucks rallied for a 105-97 victory, halting Miami’s five-game winning streak and beating the Heat for the second time in 11 days. Milwaukee (10-11) was powerless to stop James as he scored 24 points in the first quarter, but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute helped slow the Heat star down in the final quarter, even though James finished with a season-high 40 points. “That’s what we talked about,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said after his team trailed, 60-47, at halftime. “We can’t have an ordinary energy game. We have to have an extraordinary energy game against them. And the guys came out in the second half and really took it to them.” Drew Gooden contributed 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Mbah a Moute had 13 points and eight rebounds while defending all three of the Heat’s power trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. “Actually, me and LeBron looked at each other,” Jennings said. “I said, ’40?’ He said, ‘You got 31, though.’ “In the first half it felt like LeBron was going to go for 60. We just played good defense as a team and stayed aggressive.”

In Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki was held to 2-for-15 shooting and eight points in his third game back from taking a week off to rest his sore knee, and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was ejected with 9:34 left in the game after picking up two technicals in a span of about two minutes. The second was assessed after Carlisle kicked the game ball into the stands in frustration during a stoppage in play after a no-call that went against his team. Carlisle apologized to owner Mark Cuban and the fans after the game, saying, “The incident where the ball got kicked into the stands, that can’t happen. My intent was not to kick it into the stands. I was trying to kick it to the referee, but I’m not a very good kicker. … That’s a regrettable situation.”

The kick will likely cost Carlisle $25,000. It is unclear if Cuban will make him fork over another $40 or so to replace the Spalding that someone took home as a souvenir.

Cuban’s fine from the league office will likely be substantially larger.

“Look, I haven’t said a whole lot about the officiating in a long, long time, but I haven’t seen it this bad in a long, long time,” Cuban told ESPNDallas.com in the Mavericks’ weight room after the loss. “Guys miss calls; that’s part of the game. You’re not always going to have a great crew. Officials have got to learn that’s part of the game. But these were officials (Ron Garretson, Mark Ayotte, Michael Smith) that have been part of the league for years, and it was just off-the-charts bad. And, if no one ever says anything, nothing ever happens.”

Notables from around the rest of the NBA:

  • Charlotte lost by 44 in Portland, the most lopsided defeat in their history.  Ex-Bobcat Gerald Wallace shed no tears for the team that traded him away last season. “Personally, I wanted to keep going. I didn’t even want to come out of the game,” he said. “It’s one of those things where, like I said last year around this time, I didn’t feel like I was traded, I felt like I was stabbed in the back.” Making matters worse for the ‘Cats, leading scorer Gerald Henderson left with a hamstring injury in the third quarter.
  • The Magic finally won a game after dropping four in a row. But the victory came against Washington, which is 2-18 against teams not named the Bobcats. Ryan Anderson scored 23 points, including six 3-pointers, and Dwight Howard and J.J. Redick added 21 points each in the Magic’s first 100-point game since a win at Indiana on Jan. 24.
  • The Celtics (11-10) crept above .500 for the second time this season with their sixth win in seven games, 100-64 over Toronto. Paul Pierce scored 17 points and is now 60 points behind Larry Bird for No. 2 on the Celtics’ all-time scoring list.
  • Tim Duncan scored 25 points and Tony Parker had 24 to help the Spurs rally from an 18-point third-quarter deficit to defeat Houston 99-91. Duncan scored 16 in the third quarter and San Antonio closed the game on an 8-0 run. The Spurs are an NBA-best 11-1 at home. Their annual rodeo road trip (nine games) begins Monday.
  • Danny Granger scored 29 of his 36 points in the second half, and a third-quarter skirmish with Kevin Love fueled  the Pacers’ 109-99 victory over Minnesota. Darren Collison out-played Ricky Rubio with 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds for the Pacers, who topped 100 points for just the second time this season. “I’ve said all along I’ve never liked the Pacers,” Love said. “I guarantee the next time we play them it will be just as physical.”
  • Steve Nash scored a season-high 30 points to go with 10 assists in the Suns 120-103 victory over New Orleans. With 6,522 assists in nine-plus seasons with Phoenix, Nash surpassed Kevin Johnson’s franchise mark of 6,518.
  • Lawrence Frank lost again in New Jersey. Returning to face his former team for the first time as a head coach, Frank’s Detroit Pistons lost for the third time in three nights and the seventh consecutive time overall, 99-96 to the Nets.

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