Sprung: Pacers strive on strong defense and intensity

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David WestThe first thing you notice watching the undefeated Indiana Pacers is their intensity.

More than the other seven teams this writer has seen in person this season, Indiana plays hard and aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. The Pacers did that again Saturday night – its fourth game in five nights- and came away with a hard-fought 96-91 win over the Nets at Barclays Center to go to 7-0 on the season.

“We are just trying to play our style of basketball,” Pacers forward David West said.

That style includes going hard on every possession and playing the league’s best defense. Indiana has allowed just 85.3 points per game this season, the best mark in the NBA by more than seven points.

The following chart shows the many ways that the Pacers have the NBA’s best defense:

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Bernucca: Like many adored stars, Wade gets a pass

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Wade meets the PresidentWhen you’re an adored star in this league, you get a pass on a lot of things.

And Dwyane Wade got a pass for an absolutely rockhead play in Miami’s inexplicable loss to Boston on Saturday.

The Heat led by four with less than two seconds to play. On their home floor. Against the Celtics. And lost. In regulation.

And most of it was on Wade, who (a) faltered in the clutch; (b) made his own strategic decision without any input from the coaches; (c) poorly executed his strategy; and (d) opened a door to a loss that had pretty much been closed.

And Wade got a pass. Understandably, from his coach and teammates. But also from the fans and the media.

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Hubbard: Clippers Fans Acting Like Owner Donald Sterling

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Donald SterlingOver the years, bashing the Clippers has hardly been an art form primarily because if anyone can do it, it’s not art.

As lousy of a history as the Clippers have had, they have always been an underground favorite of writers. At certain points of the season, most writers have some sort of burnout. When that happens, Clips owner Donald Sterling will inevitably do something absurd and, boom, you’ve got a column.

The wacky Sterling stories are so numerous that it’s difficult to pick a favorite one. But as I was researching some of the stories written on him with the goal of better understanding Clippers mentality, one that seemed to connect the present with the past involved Baron Davis.

Davis averaged 14.9 and 15.3 points, respectively, in his two seasons (2008-10) with the Clippers but made only 37 percent of his shots the first season and 41 percent the second. He had some injury problems and certainly did not have a strong supporting cast – as seasons of 19 and 29 wins would indicate – but he did not play as well as he had before getting a five-year, $65 million deal. Sterling soon became disenchanted.

150px-Baron_Davis_has_the_sadSo how did the owner distinguish himself in handling that unhappiness? Like no other owner would. According to Yahoo! Sports, Sterling began taunting Davis during games from courtside. From Yahoo!:

“Among Sterling’s verbal barbs . . . ‘Why are you in the game?’ . . . ‘Why did you take that shot?’ . . . ‘You’re out of shape!’”

Sterling apparently did not confine his ridicule to Davis and reportedly heckled some of his other players. But it is the rare owner who verbally attacks a player during a game.

While that was hardly Sterling’s strangest performance, perhaps it provides insight on what happened last week when the Rockets visited the Clippers. I’m not sure that I can scientifically prove that fans of any team adopt the traits of the team owner, but let’s just say Clippers fans did not distinguish themselves admirably on Monday night when Dwight Howard returned to Los Angeles for the first time since leaving the Lakers for the Rockets.

The Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1984, so for 30 years they’ve been trying to establish a rivalry with the Lakers and have largely failed because they’ve been so lousy. But to build a rivalry, you can’t like the other team. Clippers fans are supposed to treat the Lakers like fans from the Cubs treat the White Sox, or fans of the Jets treat the Giants. You don’t root for the rival that you are supposed to despise.

But not Clippers fans. They booed Howard when he was introduced and each time he touched the ball, which tells you all you need to know about Clippers fans. They were booing the player who would have made their in-town rival better.

Some might argue that when Kobe Bryant returns, the presence of Howard would have made the Lakers superior to the Clippers – indeed, the Lakers managed to win the first game of the “hallway rivalry” by 13 points with no Bryant or Howard. So why were Clippers fans upset with Howard? They should be cheering him for leaving.

crystalNow, I understand that there was an element of city pride involved. It is difficult for an Angeleno to understand why someone would rather live anywhere else.

Houston? Please.

But it would have been far more sophisticated to cheer Howard. Think of the message that would have sent to the Lakers and their fans.

Great move, Dwight. And by the way Lakers, you suck.

Then again, when you have an owner who badgers his own players during a game, it may be a lot to expect for the fans as a whole to be any sharper.

These are supposed to be new times for the Clippers. They have the best talent in their history. Chris Paul, who is a transcendent player and leader, is in his third year with the team. Blake Griffin, still unrefined offensively but still a scoring machine, is an elite talent. And Doc Rivers provides coaching . . . and apparently common sense.

One of Rivers’ first acts was to have all Lakers championship banners and retired numbers to be covered during Clippers home games. Why have the Lakers’ success slap the Clippers in the face on their home court? You can bet if Rivers had been in the stands last week, he would have been leading the cheers for Howard, not booing.

But there is just something about the Clippers. You know how certain people are special because they have the “it” factor? Whatever the opposite of that is, the Clippers have it. They are the “non-its” of the sports world.

One of the stories I found about Sterling, who has had his share of ugly headlineshad to do when he bought the San Diego Clippers in 1981. One of his first promotions was an event that was billed as “The First Annual New Year’s Eve Luncheon.”

It was held on Jan. 7.

Sometimes, I guess, it’s difficult to get those dates straight. And apparently knowing which team to cheer for can also be a challenge . . . for some.

CHECK OUT JAN HUBBARD’S ARCHIVE FROM SHERIDAN HOOPS.COM. TERRIFIC STUFF ON THE NBA, PAST AND PRESENT.

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.

Marks: Boooo-num Returns — And Philly Shows its, ahem, Love

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photo (2)PHILADELPHIA –They came to bury Andrew Bynum when the man who was supposed to be the 2013 Philadelphia 76ers’ savior—if only he could’ve played– came back to town last night.

He wasn’t impressed with the frosty reception.

“I thought it was a little weak, honestly,’’ Bynum said after a less-than-triumphant return to the city that once came out in droves to shower affection on him one sun-drenched August day in 2012. That now seems like light years ago.

“I thought it would be much worse—and it wasn’t,” he added. “I just went out and played. It was just another game to me. I wasn’t hyped by the crowd doing what they did. It was kind of funny. I was smiling the entire time.’’

Maybe not at the end. The Sixers pounded Bynum’s Cavaliers into submission, 94-79.

And if Bynum was smiling, he was about the only one wearing Cleveland maroon and white who was. After the Cavs raced to a 28-14 first period lead, they were outscored 63-33 over the next two periods, so annoying coach Mike Brown that he left his starters on the floor to the bitter end.

The Top 10 Surprises of the NBA season

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It’s exactly 10 days into this NBA regular season, it feels like 10 weeks for those who cover the league on a regular basis, and a whole hell of a lot has already happened.

Few things have gone as expected, of course the undefeated start for the Pacers is an exception, and surprises abound across the league. Here are 10 that immediately came to mind, including a pair of dazzling young point guards, one major market team in big trouble and another that’s downright irrelevant right now.

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