Around the League

Dwight Howard Photo ShootThe Miami Heat held up the championship trophy on June 20th, and a week later the 2013 NBA Draft was held in Brooklyn. Since then some veteran stars have relocated while others chose to remain with their current squads. Here’s a quick hits edition of the five most influential signings of the past few weeks:

The most speculated upon player this off-season was Dwight Howard. Entering his 10th pro campaign, the 27-year old, 7X All-Star, 5X Rebounding champ and 3X Defensive Player of the Year chose to depart the glitz and glamour of the Lakers and hitch on with the Rockets and head coach Kevin McHale. Howard was never truly comfortable in LA and it showed. He griped about Mike D’Antoni’s offense and his misuse. Nonetheless, Howard still led the league in boards, and when motivated he’s easily the best 5-man in the league.

Mikhail Prokhorov promised a winner when he bought the Nets a few years ago. With the acquisition via trade of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the rebuilding Celtics, Brooklyn now has the most talented first 5 in the league with PG Deron Williams, SG Joe Johnson and C Brook Lopez. KG and The Truth may not have much left in the tank, but they will bring leadership and championship pedigree to a franchise that has struggled in the standings for so many years. And come the 2014 playoffs, these two won’t back down from anyone, including LeBron.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles ClippersThe Cleveland Cavaliers have the best young lead guard in the NBA in Kyrie Irving. And now they’ve gambled on the mercurial Andrew Bynum, who, when healthy, is one of the two or three best centers in the league. Only 6 million of Bynum’s two-year, 24-million-dollar contract with the Cavs is guaranteed, which is important in this case considering that Bynum played zero minutes last year for the 76ers due to knee issues. Entering his 9th year, Bynum is only 25 years old and has two championship rings from his time with Kobe and Co. If he can stay healthy this could be the best free agent signing of the summer.

The Golden State Warriors upset the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs and then a few weeks later signed free agent Andre Iguodala away from them. Entering his 10th year, the above-average defender Iguodala brings a toughness and well rounded game to coach Mark Jackson’s relatively young team. Iggy’s career averages are impressive:  15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.9 apg and 1.7 spg. He is a strong, sturdy wing player who has played in all 82 games five times in his career.

I’m going to combine a player and coach for my final pick – Chris Paul and Doc Rivers. Paul is the best point guard in basketball and pushed hard for the Clippers to go out and get the respected Rivers. After 9 seasons in Boston, including a title and another trip to the Finals, Rivers expressed interest in departing the rebuilding C’s. He found the perfect landing spot with “LA’s second team.” The talented Clips are on the verge of making the jump to title contender. However, if CP3 had decided to leave via free agency, LA would have slipped back to average in the talent-heavy Western Conference.

Gameday: Nets vs. Clippers

The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have both toiled for years as the proverbial younger brothers in the respective shadows of their metropolitan foes, the Knicks and Lakers.

The 2012-2013 season has seen the emergence of these two franchises from their long-held backseat roles. Tonight’s 48 in SoCal will mark the second and final time these two squads will do battle in the regular season.

In their first year in Brooklyn, the Nets have compiled a 40-28 record and have clinched a playoff berth after missing the postseason for four years straight. They are currently in the 4th spot in the Eastern Conference, only a game and a half behind the suddenly slumping Knicks.

The 47-22 Clips also sit in the 4th spot of their conference and have clinched a playoff berth as well. They are a whopping 11.5 games better than their Staples co-tenants.

Brooklyn has won six of their last eight contests, including four road victories. On Wednesday night coach P.J. Carlesimo’s guys destroyed the Mavericks 113-96 in Big D.

Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento KingsBrook Lopez scored a season-high 38 points to go along with 11 boards and 2 blocks. Deron Williams went for 31 points and 6 dimes in front of his hometown crowd. In addition, super-motor Reggie Evans hauled down 22 rebounds.

The Clippers are 5-4 in the month of March and have yet to record back-to-back wins. After a disappointing 116-101 loss at Sacramento on Tuesday, coach Vinny Del Negro’s team bounced back with an easy 101-72 win against Philadelphia in Los Angeles.

As is so often the case, PG Chris Paul led the team with 19 points, 9 dimes, 6 boards and 5 steals. This was especially important because backup 1-guard Eric Bledsoe missed his 5th straight game with a calf injury and super veteran Chauncey Billups sat out with a hamstring issue. Both players are listed as questionable for tonight’s matchup.

When these two sides played in Brooklyn on November 23rd, the Nets topped the Clips 86-76. The game was tied going into the fourth quarter when the Nets pulled away, limiting LA to 13 points in the final 12 minutes. Lopez led the team with 26 points and 3 blocks.

Tune in to the YES Network at 10:30 PM ET to see if the Nets can improve on their 18-14 road record and take the season series from the Clippers.

Gameday Dish: Clippers vs. Timberwolves

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe 16-19 Minnesota Timberwolves host the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at the Target Center.

Tackling one of the top teams in the league will be a tough assignment for the shorthanded Wolves. They will have to play near-perfect basketball to beat this talented, veteran Clippers team.

The 30-9 Clips own the NBA’s second best record behind Oklahoma, and many consider them to be the deepest team in the league. Coach Vinny Del Negro’s squad has won 7 of their last 10 games including their last two on the road.

All-Universe PG Chris Paul missed both wins due to a bruised right kneecap he suffered in a loss to Orlando on Saturday, and he’ll likely be sidelined again tonight. Paul is averaging 16.8 ppg, a league-leading 2.6 spg and 9.7 dimes per game, which is second In the NBA.

Los Angeles beat the Rockets in Houston on Tuesday 117-109. With Paul out, third-year PG Eric Bledsoe stepped into the starting rotation and put up 19 points, 5 dimes, 7 boards and 2 steals. Also, 6th Man of The Year leading candidate Jamal Crawford poured in a season-high 30 points.

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a frustrating season for the injury-riddled Wolves. Minnesota last played on Monday when they lost at Dallas 113-98.

It was the sixth straight game they played without their star Kevin Love, who is out with a broken shooting hand.

In fact, it was a fracture of the same hand that forced the team’s leading scorer and rebounder to miss games at the start of the schedule.

The 24-year-old, 2X All-Star has participated in only 18 of the Wolves 35 games. In addition, 2012 ROY runner-up PG Ricky Rubio has only suited up for 10 contests after returning from a torn ACL he suffered last spring.

The Wolves coaching staff has also taken a hit. Assistant coach Terry Porter has been filling in for headman Rick Adelman, who’s missed the past five games to be with his wife in the hospital.

Tune in to TNT at 8PM ET to see whether LA’s new varsity squad can keep rolling in the land of 10,000 lakes or if the depleted T-Wolves will improve on their 10-5 record in the Twin Cities.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Clippers vs. Spurs Game 1

The Los Angeles Clippers come to the Alamo City tonight to take on the #1-seeded Spurs. The Spurs finished the lockout-shortened season at 50-16, tied with the Bulls for best record in the NBA. 2012 Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich’s squad is on a 14-game winning streak, and they’ve had plenty of time to rest up since sweeping the Utah Jazz in the first round on May 7th.

On the other bench, the Clippers are tired and dinged-up thanks to a knock-em-down, seven-game first round series with the physical, bruising Grizzlies. The West’s 5th seed won on Sunday 82-72 in Memphis and advanced to the second round for only the third time in franchise history.

2nd-year All-Star Blake Griffin played only two minutes in the 4th quarter in the Game 7 victory, partly because he’s been hobbled with a sprained left knee. If tonight’s 48 were a regular season game Griffin would definitely be sitting out, but it’s the do-or-die postseason and LA will need his 20.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg and athletic energy to compete against the disciplined depth of the Spurs.

5X All-Star PG Chris Paul, who finished third in the MVP balloting this year, is also less than 100% as he’s nursing a strained right hip flexor. 1st-year Clip Paul went for 19 and 9 on Sunday and was the key to the success of the Clips this season. He can dominate both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor and has the best handle in the league. The Wake Forest product has led the league in steals four times including this season. Paul’s matchup with 4X All-Star PG Tony Parker (who finished 5th in MVP voting this year) and his ability to slow down the zooming Frenchman will be critical for LA to have a chance in this series.

LA’s Vinny Del Negro had his best W-L % this year as a head coach, .606, and is in the second round for the first time. Del Negro endured loads of criticism, second-guessing and negative rumors during the year, but toughed it out and has ClipperLand giddy with their first round success. Interestingly, the pride of Springfield, MA once suited up as a Spur for Gregg Popovich in Pop’s first two years in San Antonio.

These two sides played three times this regular season, twice in Texas and once at Staples. The Spurs came out on top on December 28th at home 115-90 and on February 18th in SoCal 103-100 in OT. Their final meeting was on March 9th in San Antonio, and the Clippers prevailed 120-108. Paul had 36 points, 11 dimes and 4 steals in that win, although his lead-guard rival Parker was out with a sore thigh. Regardless, that victory should give the long-suffering Clipper fan base some hope when the Game 1 tips off.

Tune in tonight at 9:30 PM ET to watch the 4-banner Spurs take on the upstart Clippers on TNT.

Czar’s 2011-12 Season Preview

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