Bernucca: Among the Elite, Thunder the Team to Beat

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Kawhi Leonard A look at the overall NBA standings shows four teams at the top – Indiana, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami – separated by one game in the loss column. In fact, they were dead even until three of them lost Sunday. 

Just a notch below them are three more teams – Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland – separated by two games in the loss column. They also would have been dead even had the Blazers held on Sunday against the Rockets.

Let’s call these teams the Magnificent Seven, because your NBA champion is somewhere among them. Dismiss any of them at your own peril; these are the only teams who, at the season’s three-quarter pole, have won at least two-third of their games.

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Tweet of the Night: Rick Fox says the best part of watching Lakers-Clippers is free gum

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Mike D'AntoniThe Los Angeles Lakers are 21-41 this season, so the logical thing to do was to believe that things couldn’t get much worse for this bunch.

Then Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers happened, where they were historically bad.

After a competitive first quarter between the two teams, the Clippers completely broke the game open in the second quarter, leading 73-40 at half time.

The final score? 142-94.

It was the Clippers’ biggest margin of victory ever, and the most lopsided loss in Lakers’ history. The Lakers have now lost the last two games against the Clippers by a combined score of 84 points. 

Heisler to Donald Sterling: Congrats on No Longer Being the Local Wretch!

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letterwriterDonald T. Sterling
Sterling World Plaza
Beverly Hills, Calif. 90210

Dear Donald,

Just thought I’d check in to console you, as I have always done at this point of the season when everything is lost, your coach is shaky and you’re about to lose however many players are on expiring contracts.

Hey, it’s not easy being second fiddle to the Lakers here. If the Lakes eclipse the Dodgers and Angels, too, at least the baseball teams play in summer. You play in the same arena at the same time. No wonder the only people who follow you besides the people in the bargain-compared-to-you-know-who seats are “The Tonight Show” comedy writers.

The most-read stories are the ones that start “Lakers win.” Then come “Should Lakers tank?” and “Should Lakers fire Mike D’Antoni?” and “What’s the chance of Jim Buss selling the team?”

What else is new? Last season you finished 11 games ahead of them, swept the season series, 4-0, and were eclipsed by “Welcome Back, Phil—Oops!” and “Dwight Says He Doesn’t Hate Kobe,” and “Who Needs Dwight?”

Let’s check the standings….

Must be a misprint. They’ve got you at 42-20.

That’s a 56-win pace, the same as last season. This would be the first time you won 50 back-to-back since… ever. Until last season, you had never done it here, in San Diego or Buffalo.

Of course, in Clipper style, you then lost in the first round and fired Coach Vinny Del Negro, whom you loved—although not enough to give him a single-year extension so he wouldn’t be a lame duck.

Pardon me while I check that record online….

Hey, it’s true (or everyone is reprinting the same mistake)!

Not only that, you appear to have become the destination of choice for free agents, replacing you know who!

LAC_GRANGER_DANNYNot that there were a lot of superstars out there, but you got your pick of the players everyone wanted. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett tried to get Glen Davis to Brooklyn but he chose to play for his old coach, Doc Rivers, instead of his old teammates. The Spurs, Rockets and Bulls wanted Danny Granger, who wanted… you?

There’s even a story that says you’re going to pay the luxury tax for the first time, which, of course, I refuse to believe.

I’m going to need to check with an actual source on that….

Holy cow, that’s true, too?

The tax bill will only be about $600K, but it will also cost you the $3 mill or so you got annually as your share of the tax proceeds split by non-paying teams. That’s a grand total of $4.2 million!

I know you want to win, you’ve told me often enough, but you said that back in your skinflint days, when Ron Harper who was making $4 million and compared playing for you to being in jail.

I’m going to have to talk to an actual source, someone who can tell me what’s going on….

Let’s see, do I know anyone who used to work for you?

Oh yeah: Vinny, Harp, Elgin Baylor, Larry Brown, Gene Shue, Don Casey, Dennis Johnson, Paul Silas, Gene Shue, Chris Ford, Jimmy Lynam, Alvin Gentry, Mike Dunleavy, Neil Olshey, Alan Rothenberg, Harley Frankel, Mike Schuler, Bobby Weiss, Bill Fitch, Mack Calvin, Arn Tellem, Carl Scheer, John Hammond, Jeff Weltman, Keith Jones….

DocRiversThis keeps getting more and more incredible. They say you haven’t interfered since Doc arrived as de facto boss of everything—on a $7 million per deal that makes him the NBA’s highest paid coach.

(Actually, they said you were kind of stalling on Doc’s first trade, the three-way deal that sent away Eric Bledsoe and brought J.J. Redick. Doc didn’t threaten to resign, but people close to him reported that he was ready to.)

And everything has been ducky since!

Not that perceptions have changed but Miami insiders say that LeBron James’ preferred choice would be to play under Doc, alongside Chris Paul, the godfather of one of Bron’s sons.

(Of course, it can’t happen. If Bron tells the Heat, “Trade me to the Clippers or I’ll go go to a team like Dallas or Cleveland with cap room,” Heat president Pat Riley will likely challenge him to do just that. I don’t see Bron going somewhere he didn’t plan to for five years to show Riles he wasn’t bluffing.)

Nevertheless, it beats the jailbreak days with everyone crossing the days off their calendar.

Now that you’ve got the fundamentals of ownership down—in only your third decade!–I think it’s time to think about giving something back.

It’s time to extend a hand to those less fortunate owners whose teams have come into bad times, offering them the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years.

You know, someone who really needs it, like Jim Buss.

Best always,

Mark

Hall of Fame writer Mark Heisler is a founding member and regular contributor to SheridanHoops, the Orange County Register and Forbes.com.  Follow him on Twitter.

MORE FROM MARK HEISLER:

DAVID STERN, THE MJ OF COMMISSIONERS, CALLS IT QUITS
KOBE’S RETURN – NOT QUITE AS IN DAYS OF YORE
LAKERS’ LONG-TERM TARGETS: LOVE, DURANT, KYRIE

Schayes: Playoff Push is On; Will New Faces Help in Indy, LA? Or Will We See Adrian Dantley 2.0?

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puzzlepieceAs the season winds down, several teams are working to put that final piece in place that might make the difference. From my experience, this is a high-risk proposition.

Indiana added Evan Turner, hoping that he will change his spots. While an argument can be made that they needed a mature guy to play limited minutes and deepen an already deep rotation, they opted instead to roll the dice with the notorious knucklehead who is playing for a new contract.

Wouldn’t they have been better off keeping Danny Granger and all of his intangibles?

Tweet of the Day: Phoenix Suns, Leandro Barbosa Honor Fallen Detective

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While Pheonix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers square off Tuesday, the team and its players will be honoring a fallen police detective.

John Hobbs, 43, was a 21-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department. He and his partner, 44, were both shot while attempting to arrest an ex-convict, identified as William Thornton, for violation of probation.

According to Police Chief Daniel Garcia, Thornton, who was also a key suspect in a Feb. 25 attempted murder case, “immediately opened fire” on Hobbs and his partner—who were undercover.

Hobbs, who was hit first, fell to the ground, but continued to return fire, hitting the suspect multiple times. His partner, who was also hit, remains in hospitalized in stable condition. Neither officer was wearing a bulletproof vest, as Police Sgt. Steve Martos stated that ”they didn’t have time.”

Both Suns guard Leandro Barbosa and PR director Casey Taggatz tweeted about the team’s choice to honor Detective Hobbs.