By Sarah Berkowitz
Forget all the talk about whether Kentucky could beat an NBA team, as Larry Brown has said.
That’s a joke.
But imagine how much better the 37-0- Wildcats would be with Nerlens Noel, who would have been a junior this season if he hadn’t left Lexington after his freshman year in 2013!
Sixers rookie Noel continued his unbelievable improvement last night with a career-high 30 points and 14 rebounds for the Sixers in their 119-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The 76ers have the third-worst record in the NBA and own six picks – including two first-rounders – in the upcoming NBA Draft.
”It’s a great learning experience for us,” Noel said.
Chris Paul scored 25 points, DeAndre Jordan had 17 points and 20 rebounds, and the Clippers extended a franchise record by clinching a playoff berth for the fourth straight season.
Los Angeles had made the playoffs just once in 14 seasons prior to the 2011-12 season. But the talented Clippers aren’t satisfied with merely getting in the postseason these days.
”What, we clinched tonight?” Paul responded when told. ”There are a few teams in the league who get to the playoffs and consider it a successful year. For us, we’re playing for more than that. That’s just how it is. I’m not trying to be ungrateful, but we’re playing for a bigger purpose.”
J.J. Redick added 19 points for the Clippers, who won their sixth consecutive game to help their chances for home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Los Angeles began the day in fifth place – one game behind Portland, which played at Phoenix later.
Los Angeles put all five starters in double-figures in an offensive performance that showed why the Clippers are contenders in the talented West. Matt Barnes scored 15 points and Blake Griffin tallied 10, but they and the rest of the starters just watched in the fourth quarter.
”I just thought we were rolling,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
Los Angeles led by 19 points in the first half but entered the third quarter up just eight, 62-54. But the Clippers scored the first eight points of the second half to double the lead with just under 9 minutes left in the period, and extended the advantage to 92-66 on Jordan’s alley-oop dunk with 1:58 to go.
Philly missed its last 10 shots of the third quarter and the Clippers led by as many as 32 in the fourth quarter.
”We defended and jumped on them,” Paul said.
About the only thing that went wrong for the Clippers was Jordan’s free-throw shooting. Jordan, who entered hitting 39.9 percent from the line, was 5 for 17 against Philly. He missed 9 of 12 free-throw attempts in the opening 24 minutes and drew loud boos when he airballed one try.
Other than that, it was a breezy night for the Clippers.