James Harden

Clippers Notes: Future Skepticism, Westbrook, Lue, Championship Window

The Clippers will play in a new arena next season but they’ll have to hope their current core group can produce a better playoff run, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes.

Team president Lawrence Frank declared on Monday that he’ll try to re-sign Paul George, who can opt out of his contract, and James Harden, who will be an unrestricted free agent.

Kawhi Leonard, who signed a three-year extension, only appeared in two games during the first round due to injury. Despite the age of the team, Frank said it’s not far-fetched to believe they’ll have better health during the next postseason.

“I understand the skepticism of, ‘Hey, this is another year where you haven’t had the group [whole],'” he said.“But I would guard against the cynicism. Just because it’s happened [four straight seasons] doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen next year.”

They will have to cling to that hope because they don’t have much choice except to run it back with Leonard, George and Harden, Youngmisuk adds.

We have more on the Clippers:

  • Russell Westbrook has a $4MM player option to ponder and stated in an Instagram post that he was just fine with being a key reserve for the team. “I, for one, enjoyed my year, and worked hard to bring the energy and provide a spark for each opportunity I was given,” he wrote in part, adding, “I hope to come back better, stronger, and remain eager to take on any role that continues to put us in the best position to win next season!”
  • The Clippers can’t afford to offer Westbrook significantly more if he opts out but Frank said the players would hate to lose him, Mark Medina of Sportskeeda.com relays. “Guys in the locker room love Russ,” Frank said. “Got a lot of respect for Russ, what he’s done for his career and what he’s done for the Clippers. He’s one of the game’s great players.”
  • The front office has, by all indications, prioritized an extension agreement with head coach Tyronn Lue, according to Medina. Lue has one year left on his deal. “He has a great way of connecting while still holding guys accountable,” Frank said. “He’s a truth teller without leaving scars or wounds. He’s an unbelievable strategist who makes terrific in-game adjustments. And he has a growth mindset in that he’s always looking to get better. So our hope is that Ty is here for a long time. We love Ty.”
  • The championship window for this group has closed, Law Murray of The Athletic opines. The conference is too strong and dotted with younger stars leading teams such as Oklahoma City and Minnesota, Murray notes. He adds that the past three years have proven that the team cannot seriously contend with aging, injury-prone stars in Leonard and George. However, Frank disagreed. “We are still big believers that the window is still open,” Frank said, as Murray relays. “But also acknowledge the fact that we can understand the skepticism with it, and there are no guarantees either way.”

Frank: Clippers Will Look To Keep Core Group Intact

The Clippers are hopeful of bringing back their core group despite the team’s first-round loss to Dallas, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank told assembled media during a Monday press conference.

Kawhi Leonard has already signed a three-year extension but the team’s three other big stars could all depart. Paul George has a $48.8MM player option on his contract for next season, while James Harden will be an unrestricted free agent. Russell Westbrook holds a $4MM option on his 2024/25 contract.

The Clippers and George chose to defer extension talks around the All-Star break, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“We’d like to be able to bring back and retain Paul and James,” Frank said. “We’re hopeful we can, but also understand and respect the fact that they’re free agents. Paul has a decision with his option. James will be an unrestricted free agent, so our intent is to bring him back, but also realize that they’re elite players and they’ll have choices.”

The Sixers and Magic are expected to pursue George if he opts out, Janis Carr of the Orange County Register writes.

George is eligible to sign up to a four-year, $221MM extension, though it’s reasonable to assume the Clippers are pursuing a lesser amount, considering that they failed to reach an agreement during the season. Shams Charania of The Athletic confirmed on FanDuel’s Run it Back show (Twitter video link) on Monday that L.A. has offered George less than his full max.

“We want Paul, we value Paul,” Frank said. “Paul’s done some tremendous things here. He’s an elite player, and our biggest thing is we always want to be able to treat players well and pay them fairly, and we also have to build out a team, especially, this is a new CBA. But in terms of the exact money, I would never go into details other than we’ve had really, really good conversations over the course of the year and hopeful that we can get him to remain a Clipper.”

Harden said right after the series that he “hadn’t even thought” about his free agency.

As for Westbrook, Frank said he’d hold discussions with the former MVP regarding his role next season, if he decides to opt in. Westbrook was the team’s sixth man for a majority of the season.

“I’ll sit down with Russ. (Tyronn Lue) will sit down with Russ, talk with his representatives and you kind of outline what the role is going forward,” Frank said, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s very similar to when Russ came last summer. Like, we explained to him exactly what his role is, what it could be, the different guys that we’re looking at and then Russ has a decision to make. And so we’re kind of going through the process. So, I’m not going to speak for any player in terms of what they’re thinking, but that’s our process.”

Frank said he’ll also pursue extensions with center Ivica Zubac and wing Terance Mann, per Carr, then look to make marginal improvements if he’s able to retain his stars.

L.A. Notes: Ham, LeBron, Pelinka, Harden, Ballmer, George

There were signs throughout the season that head coach Darvin Ham was going to take the fall if the Lakers couldn’t make another long playoff run, writes Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. Ham was officially fired on Friday after L.A. was dispatched by Denver in five games, but it had been clear that move was coming for a long time, Shelburne adds.

Sources tell Shelburne that LeBron James was resistant to Ham’s idea to limit his minutes early in the season. James’ wishes prevailed and that plan was discarded after a few games. Players also openly questioned Ham’s strategies throughout the season, culminating with Anthony Davis saying after the Game 2 loss to Denver, “We have stretches where we don’t know what we’re doing on both ends of the floor.”

Shelburne notes that the Lakers have cycled through head coaches ever since Phil Jackson‘s retirement in 2011, with none lasting more than three seasons. That list includes Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, who both went on to win Coach of the Year honors with other teams after leaving L.A. To avoid another short-term hire, Shelburne advises Lakers management to approach this coaching search with a clear idea of its vision for the team.

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • Ham was undermined internally, which made it impossible for him to succeed, contends Jim Alexander of The Orange County Register. Alexander speculates that anonymous complaints were leaked by general manager Rob Pelinka to deflect blame from his questionable personnel moves, along with James and his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. The danger, according to Alexander, is that the front office may have fired Ham without having an obvious candidate in mind to replace him.
  • James Harden declined to speculate on his future after the Clippers were eliminated Friday night in Dallas, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Harden demanded a trade out of Philadelphia after president of basketball operations Daryl Morey refused to give him the long-term contract he was expecting, but it’s uncertain if the Clippers will be willing to meet his demands this summer. “I don’t even know,” Harden responded when reporters asked about his upcoming free agency. “You’re asking me a question that I don’t have the answer to. I haven’t even thought about it.”
  • Coach Tyronn Lue is working out his own future with the Clippers, but he was gratified that owner Steve Ballmer addressed the team after Friday’s loss, Turner adds. “You have the seventh-, eighth-richest man in the world and he’s a real fan. Like, he’s a real fan. Like, he treats us like family,” Lue said. “He actually genuinely cares about each individual and we’ve seen that time and time again. So, when you have an owner that really respects who you are, not as a basketball player, but a person and who you are, that means a lot. Not just putting you on a basketball court and saying, ‘OK, you work for me.’ Like, he really genuinely cares about each individual. He cares about the wins. He’s fired up. He’s passionate about it. And, so, that’s what I love the most about Mr. Ballmer. He treats everyone as equals.”
  • The Clippers‘ reluctance to guarantee a fourth year has held up extension talks with Paul George, sources tell Tomer Azarly of ClutchPoints. George is eligible for up to $221MM over four seasons, but Azarly’s sources say the team’s latest offer falls short of that figure.

Clippers Notes: George, Harden, Westbrook, Lue, Tucker, More

Even after a disappointing exit in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers are expected to make a strong push to bring back both Paul George (player option) and James Harden (unrestricted free agent) this offseason, Sam Amick and Law Murray of The Athletic write. Despite failing to advance past the first round since 2021, team owner Steve Ballmer still has faith in this core.

The Clippers’ poor injury luck during the Kawhi Leonard era prevented them from seeing this roster at full strength for long, but they did win 26 of 31 games from December to February at full health. That, according to The Athletic, is seemingly a big reason behind L.A.’s eagerness to run it back. Even though Ballmer wants to keep things going with this core as the Clips on their new home floor in Intuit Dome next season, the nuanced contract negotiations with George, Harden, coach Tyronn Lue and Russell Westbrook may complicate things, Amick and Murray write.

George has been eligible for an extension all season, and while negotiations have been extensive, the lack of a deal leaves the possibility open for the nine-time All-Star to depart for a cap-space team like Philadelphia or Orlando. Though George holds a player option worth $48.7MM, he’s widely expected to decline it and become an unrestricted free agent if no extension is reached. Los Angeles wants George to accept a deal similar in structure to what Leonard agreed on, which saved L.A. approximately $9.9MM. A non-max deal would help the team financially going forward as it surely crosses the restrictive second tax apron by bringing back George and Harden.

Harden wants to continue with the Clippers and he’s happy to be with the team, but it could get tricky to keep him if he seeks a max contract. Meanwhile, Westbrook accepted a reserve role in L.A. and while he found success in the regular season, he may look for an opportunity to start elsewhere.

As for Lue, while Clippers’ officials praise the work the veteran coach has done, there have been no discussions about an extension, according to Amick and Murray. Friday reports indicated the Clips plan to pursue an extension with Lue, but those conversations have not yet taken place. According to The Athletic, the Clippers know they can’t improve on Lue and expect him to be the coach next season, likely blocking other teams from trying to talk to him. For his part, Lue expressed an interest in making a long-term commitment to the Clippers during his series-ending media availability (Twitter link via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype).

I didn’t come here to bounce around and go all over the place,” Lue said. “Mr. Ballmer, Lawrence [Frank], Mark [Hughes], and Trent [Redden] have all been great to me. This is where I want to be. Hopefully, they feel the same way.

We have more from the Clippers:

  • Forward P.J. Tucker is expected to exercise his $11.5MM player option for next season, according to HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto. This comes as no surprise, as Tucker averaged career lows in minutes and points this season. Tucker was frustrated with his role this season and Los Angeles sent him home at one point. Scotto’s piece lines up with the reporting from The Athletic regarding the futures of George, Harden, Lue and Westbrook. In addition to writing about those four, Scotto speculates on what president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank‘s future with the organization looks like.
  • Including George, the Clippers have eight players eligible to sign extensions this offseason, ESPN’s Bobby Marks writes in his 2024 offseason guide. Role players Norman Powell, Terance Mann and Ivica Zubac are among the extension-eligible players. Mann, an unrestricted free agent in 2025, is eligible to sign a four-year extension worth $78.7MM.
  • Leonard missed games in the playoffs for the Clippers for the fourth straight season, but according to his teammates, he tried to play more in this series. “[Kawhi] wanted to be out there, wanted to be with us… it was more staff keeping him back,” George said, per The Orange County Register’s Mirjam Swanson (Twitter link). Leonard appeared in two postseason games this year, averaging 12.0 points per contest.
  • George didn’t speak much on his upcoming free agency after the Game 6 loss, according to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “Yeah,” George said on if he sees himself with the Clippers long term. “If it works that way, absolutely. … I’m not even focused on that yet. I got a lot to kind of digest myself, so I haven’t even got to that yet. Look forward to kind of going back, just letting everything kind of decompress, talk to my family, be around family support and then address the next step. … Yeah, it’s just not where I’m there. I’m not there yet.

Woj: Clippers Want To Retain Lue, George, Harden

After Darvin Ham was fired this afternoon, a report from The Athletic indicated the Lakers would be interested in Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue if he were made available.

Appearing on NBA Today with Malika Andrews (Twitter video link), ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski downplayed the possibility of Lue becoming the Lakers’ coach, suggesting he could remain with Los Angeles’ other team for the foreseeable future.

I don’t believe it’s realistic based on this: Ty Lue still has a year left on his contract,” Wojnarowski said (hat tip to RealGM). “And the Clippers are determined to do a long-term deal with Ty Lue, I’m told. They want him to be their head coach for a very long time. That’s a conversation that will happen after the playoffs are over, but they love the job he did this season. They love the job that he’s done there.

This is an organization that, by all indications, however this series (with Dallas) ends up, wants to re-sign Paul George, James Harden. Try to improve that roster around those two and Kawhi Leonard. And Ty Lue will still be the head coach for them.”

Wojnarowski’s full story regarding Lue, George and Harden can be found right here.

The Lakers tried to hire Lue back in 2019, Wojnarowski noted, but the two sides couldn’t come to terms on a contract. At the time, it was reported that Lue was seeking a larger salary.

Wojnarowski also reiterated a point he previously made, that the Lakers might not go after the biggest available names, such as Mike Budenholzer, for financial reasons.

You may see other candidates who’ve had success as head coaches, a Kenny Atkinson, a James Borrego, coaches of that ilk certainly could be part of this conversation,” Wojnarowski concluded.

Warriors assistant Atkinson, formerly lead coach of the Nets, was another Lakers candidate recently mentioned by The Athletic. Borrego, Charlotte’s former head coach, is a new name to watch. He’s currently an assistant with the Pelicans.

According to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha (Twitter link), Celtics assistant Charles Lee is a candidate for the Lakers’ coaching vacancy as well.

Clippers Notes: Harden, Game 5 Loss, Leonard, Coffey

Clippers guard James Harden drew praise for his strong play in the first four games of the team’s first-round series with Dallas.

However, in Wednesday’s 30-point home loss, the 34-year-old turned in the latest in a lengthy history of dreadful playoff performances, going 2-of-12 from the field and scoring just seven points in 33 minutes, per Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times. Harden did not speak to the media after the game, notes Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times.

As Hernandez writes, Harden wasn’t the only Clipper who played poorly, with Paul George (15 points on 4-of-13 shooting) and Russell Westbrook (six points on 2-of-11 shooting) struggling as well. But L.A. obviously needs more from Harden, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, if it hopes to advance.

According to Ben Golliver of The Washington Post (Twitter link), Harden now has 13 playoff games shooting 20% or worse on 10-plus shot attempts, which is the most in NBA history since the league implemented the three-pointer in 1979/80. Westbrook is third on the list with nine.

The Clippers now trail the series 3-2 and are facing a potential elimination game in Dallas on Friday.

Here’s more on the Clippers:

  • Prior to Wednesday’s Game 5, head coach Tyronn Lue said the Clippers were still uncertain about when Kawhi Leonard might be able to return to action, tweets Tomer Azarly of ClutchPoints. “We’re not sure when he’s coming back,” Lue said. “It’s a day-to-day thing. When he’s feeling good and medical says he’s cleared to go, then that’s when we’ll go. Right now, we’re just focused on tonight.” Leonard, who has been battling right knee inflammation and clearly wasn’t 100% in his two postseason appearances, appears unlikely to be ready for Game 6, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter video link via FanDuelTV’s Run It Back show).
  • Despite the disappointing effort in Game 5, Lue noted the Clips have a recent history of winning on the Mavs’ home floor in the playoffs, including Game 4, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. “We’ve shown that past two playoff series,” Lue said of being able to win in Dallas. “We were down 3-2 [in 2021]. We didn’t play our best game and we understand that. I think we all understand that collectively. So we’ll be better for Game 6.”
  • While the Clippers are certainly capable of winning two straight games to advance to the second round, the Mavericks have played with much more urgency to this point in the series and look hungry to advance, according to Mirjam Swanson of The Southern California News Group. That doesn’t bode well for L.A.’s chances in Game 6 in Dallas, says Swanson.
  • He hasn’t posted impressive numbers in the series, but Lue said wing Amir Coffey has gained confidence starting in place of Leonard, per Janis Carr of The Orange County Register. “He’s always been able to attack in transition. He can make a shot,” Lue said. “… He can defend. He can defend multiple positions. So, just his confidence, I think his growth, understanding the NBA game, understanding what we need from him on a nightly basis, and he’s grown, and he’s gotten better and better. So, it’s just good to see that he could finally be in the rotation and get consistent minutes too.”

L.A. Notes: LeBron, Bronny, George, Harden, Lue

LeBron James‘ desire to play with his son Bronny James next season may be overstated, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said during an appearance on NBA Today on Tuesday (YouTube link). Citing his conversations with agent Rich Paul, Wojnarowski suggested that if Bronny decides to remain in the 2024 draft, the James family is more focused on getting him into the right developmental situation rather than steering him toward the Lakers.

“The idea of them playing together is not a priority. It’s not foremost – at least any longer – in LeBron James’ mind,” Wojnarowski said. “… If (Bronny) does go in the draft, he very likely would spend next year in the G League.

“… I think that’s the priority for them as a family, what’s best for Bronny James. And if it ends up them together, that would be great, but I don’t get a sense it’s playing much – if any – role in LeBron James’ decision on next season.”

Wojnarowski’s comments on NBA Today represented the latest in a series of reports about LeBron’s motivations and potential player option decision entering the offseason. James, who shut down that line of conversation following Monday’s Game 5 loss to Denver, took to Twitter on Tuesday in another attempt to quell the speculation about his contract situation.

“I’ve seen, heard a lot of reports about my future,” James wrote. “I said it last night and I’ll say it again. I do not know yet as I’m only thinking about spending time with my family and friends! When I know after speaking with the fam, my counsel, as well as my representation about it then you guys will know.”

Here’s more on the NBA’s two Los Angeles teams:

  • The Lakers are spending the day on Wednesday conducting exit interviews with their players, sources tell Dave McMenamin of ESPN, who tweets that the team is still going through the process of evaluating its season — and evaluating head coach Darvin Ham. Reporting earlier this week indicated that Ham’s job is very much in jeopardy but that the team will take a few days to finalize a decision.
  • Appearing on ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast with Brian Windhorst (YouTube link), Ramona Shelburne identified the Magic as another team (along with the Sixers) that is “paying very close attention” to Paul George‘s contract situation entering the 2024 offseason. Teammate Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers agreed to an extension worth a little less than the max earlier this year, but George has yet to reach an agreement on a similar deal and could become a free agent in July. “It’s just a matter of whether the Clippers are gonna give him the max, which is something they don’t want to do because they didn’t give it to Kawhi,” Windhorst said (hat tip to NBC Sports).
  • Weighing James Harden‘s underwhelming playoff history against his poised, disciplined performance during the Clippers‘ first four games against Dallas this spring, Jim Trotter of The Athletic considers whether or not it’s time to start believing in the postseason version of the veteran guard.
  • With Tyronn Lue seemingly unfazed by the absence of Leonard for much of the first round so far, Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explores how the rest of the Clippers have adopted the steady, even-keeled demeanor of their head coach.

Pacific Notes: Harden, Leonard, Russell, Huerter

The Clippers‘ acquisition of James Harden during the opening weeks of the 2023/24 regular season was met with mixed reviews at the time of the trade, then major skepticism after the team lost its first five games with the former MVP in uniform. However, as Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register writes, Harden has been indispensable in the first round for Los Angeles with star forward Kawhi Leonard ailing.

Harden has played over 39 minutes in each of the Clippers’ four playoff games so far. He leads the team in postseason scoring (26.0 PPG), has been L.A.’s top play-maker (7.0 APG), has a scorching hot shooting line of .541/.500/.913, and even leads the club with 1.3 blocked shots per contest.

“That’s what James is here for,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said on Sunday. “When PG or Kawhi or one of our top dogs is out, to be able to step in and fill in and be able to score the basketball, make plays for other guys, make it easier for Norm (Powell) and Zu (Ivica Zubac) and Mace (Mason Plumlee) and those guys.”

Because Harden is in the second season of a two-year contract, he won’t become eligible for an extension before reaching unrestricted free agency this offseason. The Clippers will hold his full Bird rights though, putting them in a good position to bring him back.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • With uncertainty surrounding Leonard’s availability for the rest of the Clippers‘ first-round series, Lue is focused on supporting the star forward rather than bemoaning the fact that the team might have to continue playing without him, per Law Murray of The Athletic. “(He’s) worked hard to get to this point, to a place he wants to be in the playoffs,” Lue said of Kawhi. “And then to be hurt and not be able to be 100 percent and play the way he’s capable of playing, it’s very frustrating for him. I feel bad for him.”
  • The first-round series vs. Denver has been a roller coaster ride for Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, who made just 6-of-20 shots in Game 1 and 0-of-7 in Game 3, but had 44 total points on 51.6% shooting (57.9% on threes) in Games 2 and 4. Mark Medina of The Sporting Tribune takes a look at Saturday’s bounce-back performance from Russell, who could become a free agent this summer by turning down his $18.7MM player option for 2024/25. For what it’s worth, L.A. has a +3.6 net rating in D-Lo’s 145 minutes on the court during the series.
  • It was a forgettable year for Kings wing Kevin Huerter, who saw his minutes reduced, shot a career-worst 36.1% on three-point attempts, and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in March. “Frustrating is definitely the word,” Huerter said, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. “Even before the injury, just a lot of ups and downs — a lot more downs, I think, than previous years.” On a positive note, the 25-year-old said he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery: “They said 12 weeks out from surgery was (when I can) start shooting, doing on-court stuff. … We’re hoping August is contact. Should be on pace for training camp in September.”

Pacific Notes: Suns, Leonard, George, Curry

The Suns are one loss away from what could be a very uncomfortable offseason and the only way to avoid it is to become the first team ever to overcome a 3-0 deficit, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. A loss on Sunday would be a monumentally disappointing way to end the season after acquiring Bradley Beal last summer to form a Big Three with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

With so much as stake, players are trying to avoid being overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge ahead.

“I’m the type that just focuses on the next game,” Booker said. “So, play by play, possession by possession. They say no one has ever done it before. That’s exciting.”

Beyond the 3-0 margin, it’s concerning for Phoenix that none of the games have been very close. Rankin notes that the Suns are losing by an average of 17.6 points per game and are scoring just 99 PPG against a Minnesota defense that ranks at the top of the league. Coach Frank Vogel and his staff have a lot to figure out to make the series competitive.

“So far, they’ve been too much for us to handle, but the series is not over,” Vogel said. “I expect our guys to play better and I feel like we still have a lot of fight in us.”

Added Beal, “I’ve never been swept a day in my life. I be damn if that happens.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Clippers still aren’t sure about the Game 4 availability of Kawhi Leonard, who continues to battle inflammation in his right knee, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Leonard participated in practice on Saturday, which didn’t involve any contact drills, and the team’s medical staff will closely monitor Leonard if he’s able to take the court on Sunday. “I think just doing what’s right by him,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “So, just talking to medical staff throughout the course of the game, talking to him, seeing how he’s feeling and just kind of go from there. So, he can monitor his own body, he’s grown and he can tell us how he’s feeling. Sometimes you got to protect a player from themselves. And, so, that’s what my mindset is. Kawhi and our staff is the same way.”
  • Paul George may be losing some negotiating leverage with a shaky performance in the playoffs, notes Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register. George, who holds a $48.8MM player option for next season, is hoping to reach a long-term extension with the Clippers. He had a chance to cement his value with Leonard’s limited availability, but Swanson observes that the team has been relying on James Harden as its number one option against Dallas.
  • Warriors guard Stephen Curry doesn’t expect missing the playoffs to become a habit, relays Sam Gordon of The San Francisco Chronicle. Appearing on “Inside the NBA” after winning the Clutch Player of the Year award, Curry said he’s been keeping a close eye on postseason action. “I’m taking notes, doing a little scouting, just on the feels of how much I miss that environment, that atmosphere,” he said. “I don’t want our absence to be another year next year.” 

Pacific Notes: Harden, Leonard, George, Booker, Wiggins, Thompson

Kawhi Leonard‘s absence didn’t hold back the Clippers in Game 1 against the Mavericks, in part because James Harden ramped up his scoring, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN notes. Harden scored 28 points, including 20 in the first half as his team built a 26-point halftime lead en route to a 12-point victory.

“I can score with the best of ’em,” Harden said. “Still can score with the best of ’em. My role for this team is just generating really good shots and making guys’ jobs easier. And then when my number to score is called, then you score the basketball. Obviously, Kawhi is out, so my play-making and my volume is going to go up a little bit more, and took advantage of it.”

Harden will be hitting the free agent market after the season and performances like the one on Sunday should help him land another lucrative contract.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Clippers believe they can more than hold the fort until Leonard’s knee is healthy enough for him to play, Paul George told Janis Carr of the Orange County Register and other media members. “I mean, we still have more than enough,” George said. “Obviously Kawhi puts us well over the top, but we still got more than enough. So, I think we still got experience. We still, like I said we got enough to win games. Obviously, we want Kawhi back when he’s ready, but I still think we have enough confidence to continue to push forward and win games when we need to. We’re going to hold it down until Kawhi comes back. Honestly, he is the piece we do need if we plan on winning it all and getting to where we want to get to. But we’re going to hold it down for him until he’s ready to return and we feel comfortable with where we’re at.”
  • It’s time for the Suns to regroup after a 25-point loss to Minnesota in their first-round series. Devin Booker shot just 5-for-16 from the field and believes his team needs to match the Timberwolves’ physicality, he told Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. “We all just need to adjust to the playoffs, the physicality,” Booker said. “They’re being ultra-physical with me and I had three early fouls and went to the bench. Just trying to find a rhythm from there.”
  • The Warriors are likely to pursue upgrades via the trade market this offseason, with Andrew Wiggins among the players they’ll be willing to deal, according to Marc Stein in his latest Substack post. Stein notes the Warriors made unsuccessful attempts to create a market for Wiggins during the season. Stein also believes Golden State will find common ground with free agent Klay Thompson, though the veteran guard will have other suitors despite his 0-for-10 clunker in the Warriors’ play-in tournament loss.