The trade deadline passed Thursday with no All-Star-caliber players dealt.
But the Los Angeles Clippers made a trade with an eye on the postseason.
The Clippers dealt a player they didn’t need (Lance Stephenson) to the Memphis Grizzlies for a player who fills a need (Jeff Green) just before the noon PST deadline.
When you look at the teams we have to beat, we need to get longer, more athletic and we need to increase our shooting. And I think with Jeff we did all three of those things.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, on newly acquired Jeff Green
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Los Angeles has enjoyed a solid season and is fourth in the Western Conference. The night of the trade, the Clippers beat the San Antonio Spurs in the teams’ first game after the All-Star break. But the Clippers had weaknesses, and among the West contenders, they made the most significant move to challenge the Golden State Warriors.
Critics will say Green is not a difference maker – that his talent teases, but he’ll never put a team over the top. But the Clippers don’t need him for that role. At full strength, they can rely on MVP candidate Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, JJ Redick and sixth man Jamal Crawford.
The Clippers wanted to bolster their depth, a problem exposed during last season’s playoff collapse against the Houston Rockets. And Stephenson fell out of the rotation this season.
This season, the 6-foot-9 Green is averaging 12.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He is shooting 43.1 percent from the field and just 30.9 percent from three-point range.
Green played for Clippers coach Doc Rivers with the Boston Celtics and should prosper in an offense directed by Paul. When Griffin returns from a broken hand and a team suspension, Green’s offense should benefit even more.
“I really wanted more length,” Rivers told reporters. “When you look at the teams we have to beat, we need to get longer, more athletic, and we need to increase our shooting. And I think with Jeff we did all three of those things. … I thought of all the things that were offered, he was the best available for us.”
If the West standings hold form, the Clippers will renew their rivalry with the Warriors in the conference semifinals. To deal with the champions, the Clippers need more frontcourt versatility, which Green offers. And at full strength, the Clippers believe they can beat the Warriors.
Few teams have a point guard (Paul) and two athletic big men (Jordan and Griffin) who can hold their own against the Warriors, as when Los Angeles eliminated Golden State in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.
Then again, the Warriors are far better now. It would be fun to see if the Clippers could oust them.
The Portland Trail Blazers were written off before the season after losing four starters from a playoff team.
Now they’re in postseason contention.
The lone returning starter, Damian Lillard, showed why he’s one of the NBA’s best players by scoring a career-high 51 points in a 137-105 rout of the Warriors on Friday night.
The Trail Blazers have won nine of 10 and would be a scary first-round matchup.
The Chicago Bulls, once believed to be a top challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, have been hit by injuries to key players. Now they’re tied with the Charlotte Hornets for eighth in the East.
Until Jimmy Butler is healthy, Chicago needs Derrick Rose to return to his MVP form of 2010-11. Rose is averaging 16.3 points this season but 27.0 points in his first two games since the All-Star break.
To stay in the playoff picture, the Bulls need Rose to step up.
51 Career-high points by Portland’s Damian Lillard in the Trail Blazers’ rout of the Warriors on Friday
“I would say it’s OK to have fun, and you can have fun and win. But the other side of the coin is when you cross the line, everyone’s in trouble. Once you step on the court, all the smiling, all the fun and games, that has to be deleted from your program. Or it has to be put on sleep, because at the end of the day, as a big man, you want to say, ‘How do I want to be remembered?’ ”
– NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal on the “Jay Mohr Sports” radio show when asked his advice for Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, whose playful demeanor again has been criticized.