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Miami HEAT 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders

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After failing to qualify for the playoffs two seasons ago, the Miami HEAT returned to the postseason last year. The HEAT finished as the Eastern Conference’s third seed and would eventually advance to the second round.

However, as we set to begin the 2016-17 campaign, a lot has changed in Miami. Gone are Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. The team added several players through free agency in an attempt to replace the outgoing veterans and move on to life without Wade. But what can we expect from the HEAT this season?

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2016-17 campaign.

FIVE GUYS THINK

Back in 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to join forces, who would’ve thought that Bosh would end up being the final piece remaining from the trio? Yes, things appear to have fallen apart quite quickly in Miami. And even if Bosh is able to play, he will likely make the difference between the HEAT battling for a late playoff spot or tanking their spring away. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Each season, there are surprises and if Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow can find some sort of synergy with Goran Dragic, Miami might be in business. While I like Hassan Whiteside’s story, I am not sure that he is ready to lead a team the way that the HEAT would likely require in the wake of Wade’s departure. The conference is getting tougher around them, so I’m not too keen on the HEAT. It could be a long season in South Beach.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Moke Hamilton

Heading into the 2016-17 campaign, the HEAT are one of the toughest teams to peg. On one hand, the team’s identity is built on being mentally tough and defensively focused year in and year out – regardless of the constructed roster. On the other hand, the team has plenty of wildcard questions that almost makes it impossible to predict where Miami will finish in the standings. How will the squad adjust to life without future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade? How will center Hassan Whiteside, who has never made over $1 million in a season up until this point, respond to making nearly $25 million annually? Can second-year forward Justise Winslow make a significant jump after the team lost veteran wings Luol Deng and Joe Johnson in free agency? Will All-Star Chris Bosh be able to return to action after a series of medical setbacks? Buckle up HEAT fans, the ride along this route could be filled with plenty of turbulence.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

Well, that got ugly really quickly, didn’t it? Miami lost two of their most important veterans in Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng for nothing, and there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when Chris Bosh also exits stage left – perhaps calling it a career because of his blood clot issues. Hassan Whiteside and all of his questionable advanced metrics now serve as the franchise cornerstone, which doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in this team as a title contender. Even in a summer of big contracts, Tyler Johnson’s $50 million feels exorbitant, but he, Josh Richardson (minus the knee injury) and Justise Winslow are where hope in the future lie. For the sake of Pat Riley’s coronary health, let’s hope they (and Whiteside) live up to expectations.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Joel Brigham

Get ready for the Hassan Whiteside show. Last year, there were plenty of times when the big man put up monster numbers even when his minutes and role were relatively limited. Miami typically didn’t run plays for Whiteside, so he had to produce based on hustling and making the most of his limited opportunities. Now, with so many changes in Miami, head coach Erik Spoelstra will need the 27-year-old to play his best basketball on both ends of the floor and show that he’s capable of being a franchise cornerstone. But even if Whiteside produces, who knows if Chris Bosh will play this season? Will Goran Dragic continue to show signs of decline? Are Miami’s young players like Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson ready to take on increased roles too? Will the fact that Miami has so many players in contract years become a distraction since each player – especially those who haven’t gotten a significant pay day yet – may be looking out for themselves first and foremost? It feels strange to do this, but I have the HEAT ranked last in the division simply because there are a lot of questions that need to be resolved before I buy in on this squad.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

It’s tough to get a good read on the Miami HEAT. Losing Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng leaves them awfully thin on the wing and now Miami will need more production from young players like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and, most importantly, Hassan Whiteside. Between Whiteside, Gordan Gragic and Chris Bosh, this team does have notable talent to work off of. However, Bosh’s status is uncertain and if he can’t suit up for a majority of Miami’s games this season, the HEAT could take a big dip in the standings. While there are obvious concerns with this team, I believe Erik Spoelstra is an adaptive coach who can rework his systems based on the talent available to him.

3rd Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Chris Bosh

While it looks like Bosh is the top offensive player on the HEAT, it could ultimately be Goran Dragic who has to take over go-to scorer duties if Bosh isn’t quite ready to return to action. When healthy, Bosh has proven to be a great scorer and leader for this HEAT team. Last season, Bosh averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 53 games. His 19.1 points per game led all players on the HEAT last season, just edging out Dwyane Wade’s 19 points per game. Lately, Bosh resumed basketball activities and posted videos of his offseason workouts, which is a good sign. He said recently that he’s ready to play and that he’s done everything he needs to do to return. It’s unclear at this time when a return could happen, but his recent comments are a step in the right direction for Bosh and the team.

Top Defensive Player: Hassan Whiteside

After leading the league in blocks last season, it should be no surprise to see Whiteside as the team’s best defensive player. He averaged a career-high 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game last season. He was recognized for his defensive efforts by finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting and being named to the All-Defensive Second Team. With his ability to block and alter attempts, he has demonstrated that he will be a force in the paint for a long time. He held opponents to 54 percent shooting less than five feet from the rim, which places him among the best centers in the league. Whiteside led the league in contested two-point shots (13.5 per game) last year, while also ranking first in defensive rating (94.5), first in block percentage (9.7) and fifth in defensive win shares (5.3). Whiteside recorded three point-rebound-block triple-doubles last season, including his 19-point, 17-rebound, 11-block performance against the Denver Nuggets in January. With Whiteside and backup center Willie Reed, post defense shouldn’t be an issue for Miami.

Top Playmaker: Goran Dragic

Even with Wade on the roster last season, an argument could’ve been made that Dragic was the team’s top playmaker. As the point guard on the floor, it’s Dragic’s job to run the offense and set up his teammates. Last season, he averaged 14.1 points, 5.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds. He isn’t going to be a guy who averages double-digit assists every night, but he’s still great at initiating the offense and getting others involved. He ranked inside the top 15 in the league with 9.4 drives per game and second with 4.6 passes off of those drives. When Dragic didn’t play at a high level last season, the team generally didn’t perform well, which was evident while watching the HEAT in the playoffs. It’s obvious that the HEAT will need Dragic to continue to produce in order to be successful. Dragic will have the ball in his hands more this season, so we’ll see what he does with the increased responsibilities.

Top Clutch Player: Goran Dragic

With Wade now on the Chicago Bulls, Miami will be searching for a new go-to player. Wade established himself as one of the best clutch players in the league and there was never any doubt about who would get the ball in past late-game situations for Miami. Now, it appears Dragic could be next in line to take over clutch duties. Miami’s top scorers in the last five minutes of five-point games were Wade, Deng (who is now a Laker), Whiteside, Bosh and Dragic. Dragic scored 38 points in those situations and shot 42.9 percent from three-point range. It’ll be interesting to see if Dragic will be able to capitalize more in those situations now that Wade is gone. He’s a guy who can create his own shot and get to the rim. He’s also one of the better shooters on the team and can be counted on to hit big shots. Head coach Erik Spoelstra could also opt to go with a committee approach that utilizes Dragic, Bosh, Whiteside and others based on who has the hot hand and best match-up.

The Unheralded Player: Josh Richardson

Richardson is another example of a HEAT player who put in work and became a meaningful role player. He is a former second-round draft pick out of Tennessee who made the most of his opportunity when given increased minutes. He essentially stepped into Tyler Johnson’s role when he went down with a shoulder injury. Even Richardson was surprised when his number was called; he told Basketball Insiders over Summer League that he was expecting to be in a developmental role for most of the season. In 23 games before the All-Star break, Richardson averaged 1.9 points in 11.5 minutes per game. In 29 games after the All-Star break, he bumped up his production to 10.2 points in 29.1 minutes per game. Richardson has proven to be the team’s best three-point shooter, knocking down 46 percent of his attempts from long distance last year. Richardson showed that he can be a meaningful contributor on this team and he should continue to take on a bigger role moving forward.

Top New Addition: Dion Waiters

Throughout Miami’s busy office, Pat Riley and his staff added six new players to the roster. The biggest story of the summer was obviously the departure of Wade, but the HEAT were able to add some quality players through free agency too. The team signed Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Beno Udrih, Dion Waiters and Derrick Williams. Considering they’ll pay Waiters just $2,898,000 this season (with a player option for next year), it looks as though he’s the best new addition of that group. Not only was he a bargain, he has been productive at times throughout his young career. He averaged 9.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and two assists per game last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Adding Waiters seems like a great move because the team won’t need him to play a huge role in their offense. Waiters has shown that he can thrive as a supporting piece whose job is to just check in and play his style of basketball. It’s also worth noting that Waiters has every reason to be on his best behavior and deliver a breakout campaign, since he can hit unrestricted free agent again next summer if all goes well. It remains to be seen if he’ll be starting, but he should give Spoelstra an added scoring punch either as a starter or as a reserve.

– Cody Taylor

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Erik Spoelstra

Spoelstra has already solidified himself as one of the best head coaches in the league. The HEAT have seemingly always been in contention under Spoelstra’s watch. Even when Miami has battled through some unfortunate injuries and Bosh’s health scare over the past two years, the team has still managed to compete at a high level. It seems as though the team keeps finding these diamond-in-the-rough players like Whiteside, Johnson and Richardson among others. While Riley deserves credit adding these individuals, Spoelstra is one who has developed them into significant contributors, gotten them to buy in and put them in positions to succeed. The fact that the team was able to stick around in the playoff race and advance to the second round without Bosh last season was very impressive. While Bosh’s health comes first, it really makes you wonder how good the team could have been had he stayed healthy and this group had been at full strength.

  1. Justise Winslow

Winslow falling to the HEAT at No. 10 in last year’s draft was, at the time, viewed as a steal. Fast forward one season later, and it still seems as though the HEAT lucked out in that draft. Winslow’s numbers from his rookie season don’t necessarily jump off of the page, but he proved that he can impact games in a number of different ways. He’s a good rebounder at his position and his defense has been pretty solid thus far. It seems reasonable to think that he’ll have more opportunities to produce this season with Bosh’s status still in question and Wade leaving. One of the biggest differences with Winslow this season is that he looks noticeably bigger compared to last year. He played in three games during Summer League and did well, averaging 16 points per game. Don’t be surprised if Winslow makes the most of his larger role and delivers a strong sophomore campaign.

  1. Tyler Johnson

Whether you agree with Miami’s decision to give Johnson a four-year, $50 million contract, the work ethic that he has displayed to get to this point can’t be ignored. Johnson went undrafted out of Fresno State two years ago and grinded his way through the HEAT organization to earn a significant role in the offense. Johnson was having a career-year last season prior to undergoing shoulder surgery in February. He averaged 8.7 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Spoelstra experimented with him running the point at times, which gave the team some additional versatility. Johnson comes into this season completely healthy and ready to go. He figures to compete with Richardson and Waiters for the starting shooting guard spot. Regardless of where and when he plays, he’s shown that he can be effective.

  1. Willie Reed

The HEAT have liked Reed for a while now and nearly signed him last offseason after he played for their Summer League team. After his first full season in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets, Reed joins a Miami team that figures to give him a great chance to showcase what he can do. His playing time with the Nets last season was sporadic, but he did play really well when he was on the court. His per-48 stats were incredible: 20.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. Reed can be counted on to do the dirty work whenever he’s on the floor. He’s going to be one of the most active players on the court and is a bit similar to Whiteside when it comes to his ability to defend the paint and score at the rim. Reed has been waiting patiently for a chance to prove that he can be a difference maker in the NBA, and this season could be a breakout year for him.

– Cody Taylor

SALARY CAP 101

The HEAT had an interesting summer, rushing through a number of free agent signings before deciding to match Tyler Johnson’s $50 million, poison-pill offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets. With Dwyane Wade off to the Chicago Bulls, Miami went under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to acquire players like Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt. The team also used their cap space to re-sign Hassan Whiteside to a four-year, $98.4 million contract. Their $2.9 million Room Exception was used to ink Dion Waiters.

Now over the cap, Miami has 15 guaranteed players, which doesn’t bode well for players like Briante Weber, Rodney McGruder, Stefan Jankovic and Okaro White.  Assuming the team picks up the rookie-scale option on Justise Winslow before November, Miami could have roughly $22 million in cap space next summer, under a $102 million projection. Should Chris Bosh prove unable to return due to his health issues, his $75.9 million salary would come off of Miami’s books on Feb. 9. That presumes Bosh does not play in 10 games this season, and that the NBA signs off on a forced medical retirement. Currently, Bosh is preparing for the season like he’s completely healthy, but this situation remains up in the air.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The HEAT seemingly always have talent waiting in the wings within the organization. As previously mentioned above, they have found rotation players like Whiteside, Johnson, Richardson and now even Briante Weber. The team’s D-League affiliate won a record number of games last season, which just shows how strong of an organization they really have. Despite the loss of Wade, the backcourt is deep heading into this season. They have Dragic and Udrih at point guard and Waiters, Richardson, Johnson and Ellington at shooting guard. Of course, the coaching staff is a strength as well. Spoelstra is very good, and his staff is expected get a big addition back as Dan Craig will return as an assistant after coaching the Sioux Falls Skyforce last season. Spoelstra also has Juwan Howard and Keith Smart on his staff as well.

– Cody Taylor

WEAKNESSES

One of the biggest areas of concern for the HEAT has been their three-point shooting. Miami finished 27th in the league in both three-point percentage and three-pointers made per game last year. Richardson led the team in three-point shooting last year, converting 46 percent of his shots, but the next-best HEAT player was Tyler Johnson at 38 percent. In today’s NBA, with three-point shooting and spacing being so important, the HEAT desperately need to improve in this area.

– Cody Taylor

THE BURNING QUESTION

How will the HEAT fare without Dwyane Wade?

One of the most surprising storylines of the summer was Wade opting to sign with the Bulls. Wade had spent all 13 seasons of his NBA career with the HEAT and is one of the best players to ever play for the organization. Things reportedly went south between Wade and the front office, causing him to sign back home. Much was made about Wade’s health and how many games he would play last season, but he proved everyone wrong by suiting up in 74 contests and averaging 19 points a night. With Wade now gone, how will the HEAT do without him? They must replace his production and leadership, which is much easier said than done. Don’t be surprised if the HEAT fail to improve on last season’s 48-win mark.

– Cody Taylor

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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