Evening News: Billups: Blake’s “too nice”; Thibs and Monty join USA staff; Nets interview Kidd

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Hello and welcome to the Evening News.

As the Finals continue, we’ll keep you updated every evening. What’s happening today?

Here’s the latest from around the league:

Podcast: WWVD? (What Will Vinny Do)

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Vinny Del NegroVinny Del Negro will be coaching his final game with the Los Angeles Clippers tonight when they lose Game 6 to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Wait a minute, is that fair to say? And is that fair to surmise?

No, and maybe.

This much we know: The Clippers have lost three in a row, Blake Griffin is iffy with a sprained ankle, the Clippers are getting virtually nothing from anyone not named Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford, and the time to take desperate measures has arrived — especially for a coach in the final year of his contract.

What might those desperate measures be?

How about starting Crawford over Chauncey Billups? Or maybe starting Eric Bledsoe. Or maybe Matt Barnes over Caron Butler.

Or maybe nothing?

We shall see tonight, as I discussed with Travis Rodgers of KLAA-ESPN Radio in Los Angeles this morning:

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SH Blog: Jackson’s motives for calling out Denver, Kobe says Lakers can win with current core

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Stephen CurryAs we head into an all-important Game 6 between the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets on Thursday, lets first get whatever happened in Game 5 out of the way and hope that nothing dumb – like players getting ejected or face suspensions over unnecessary physical play – happens.

The word, at least according to Mark Jackson and his “source”, is that Denver’s game plan was to go after Stephen Curry, who had completely lit them up in the previous three games leading up to Game 5.  Here are his exact words, from Tim Kawakami of Mercury News:

Jackson took it farther, saying that the Nuggets were targeting Curry’s injured left ankle and suggesting that a member of Denver’s organization basically apologized to him for it.

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StatBox Playoff Breakdown: Curry limited by Denver defense and Clippers won’t be able to overcome Griffin’s absence

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It’s been fairly evident that Stephen Curry has been the most important player in the Denver-Golden State series, which has now a nasty turn. Warriors Coach Mark Jackson said that the Nuggets were dirty on Wednesday night, but how did that impact Curry’s play in Game 5? And also in the Western Conference, Blake Griffin’s injury allowed Zach Randolph to shine in a crucial Game 5 win for Memphis. Can Los Angeles overcome Griffin’s limitations and once again vanquish the Grizzlies? Find out below.

Stephen CurryDirty play or not, Denver stays alive
This game was one of the most statistically close contests in the playoffs so far. Golden State shot 43.2 percent from the field, Denver 42.7 percent. Each team scored 21 bench points, while Golden State hit one more 3-pointer. Denver scored, and attempted, two more free throws. The difference in the game, a 107-100 win for the Nuggets on Tuesday night to stay alive in this Western Conference first round series, was the seven-point differential in points off turnovers.

Golden State committed 17 turnovers, turning into 19 Nuggets points, and that provided the difference in a close game on many levels. But this game was marred by Golden State’s accusations of dirty play from the Nuggets, who were facing elimination.

“There were a couple, man. Going through the paint minding my own business and they come out of nowhere trying to throw elbows,” Curry said. “I got a (target) on me, I don’t know what it is, just got to keep playing and do your thing.”

Whatever Denver did during Game 5, it worked. Curry had his worst statistical offensive game of the series to date.

Curry FG % 3 FG % Points Assists Rebounds FTA
1st 4 Games 50 47.4 27.3 10 4.5 3.75
Game 5 36.8 14.3 15 8 4 0

No matter what you blame Curry’s Game 5 shooting woes on, it afflicted other Warriors as well. The bottom line is that Golden State didn’t hit enough shots to offset its turnovers on Tuesday. The four Warriors who took over 10 shots, Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack, shot a combined 29-for-69 (42 percent) and 11-for-29 from three. Dirty play or not, Golden State didn’t do enough offensively to knock Denver out of the postseason.

Griffin is a loss the Clippers can’t overcome
LAC_Griffin_Blake
Blake Griffin was limited in Los Angeles’ crucial Game 5 home loss to Memphis on Tuesday, playing 20 minutes after suffering a freakish high ankle sprain during a routine practice drill. A regular high ankle sprain, which the rapper Drake famously said are “nothing to play with,” would almost certainly keep Griffin out in Game 6, if not longer than that.

Griffin was the key player for the Clippers in this really interesting playoff preview for a pair of reasons. He’s Los Angeles’ only real offensive threat in the frontcourt, with apologies to DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes, and that Griffin is the only player on his team who can really contend with Zach Randolph down low. Griffin played just 17 minutes on Tuesday, it’s impressive he played that many, shooting 2-for-7 with four points, five rebounds and five assists in the 103-93 loss at Staples Center.

Without Griffin in the fold, Randolph went off for 25 points and 11 rebounds on 11-for-21 shooting. Randolph will be virtually impossible for L.A. to successfully contend with if Griffin isn’t at his best, which definitely won’t happen this series.

Griffin Minutes FG % Points Rebounds FTA
LAC Wins 29.5 44.4 15.5 6.5 5
LAC Losses 25 43.8 13 5.7 4

Griffin’s offensive impact on this series doesn’t seem so great whether the Clippers have won or lost, but Randolph’s offensive splits during wins and losses during this series should be a large concern for the Clippers now that Griffin will be limited:

Randolph Minutes FG % Points Rebounds FTA
MEM Wins 37.3 55.4 25.3 10.3 6.3
MEM Losses 28 55 13 6 3.5

 Randolph’s production seems to mean more to his team than any other player in this series, and the Clippers won’t be able to stop him without Griffin’s consistent presence in the lineup for more than 20 minutes or so.

Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

Bernucca: Future murky for Lakers, biggest underachievers in NBA history

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Dwight HowardBefore Game 4 of their Western Conference first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers handed out white towels to fans at the Staples Center.

Apparently, someone in the marketing department didn’t understand symbolism. By halftime, those towels had become flags of surrender for the Lakers, the biggest underachieving team in the history of the NBA.

Dwight Howard offered his own symbolism, figuratively throwing in the towel midway through the third quarter. Unwilling to grit his teeth and bang and bump his way through all of another telling, embarrassing loss, he got himself ejected, starting his offseason of uncertainty with an hour’s headstart on his teammates.

Dwight Howard, human surrender flag. Yeah, there’s the sort of toughness you want to build a franchise around.

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