James Harden and the Nets have the Clippers thinking defense – Daily Bulletin


The Beard is in Brooklyn and the whole league is abuzz.

Well, sorta: “That ain’t have nothing to do with us,” the Clippers’ Paul George said Wednesday night, inclined in this case to stick to the expected script.

Not yet, it doesn’t. But by adding three-time NBA scoring champion James Harden to a lineup that also features Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets figure to be an offensive juggernaut of epic proportions, a combustible handful for any opposing defense they meet in their budding championship pursuit.

Including, conceivably, the Clippers, who have title aspirations of their own – and who happen also to boast a collection of award-winning perimeter defenders.

Kawhi Leonard is a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and a six-time All-Defensive Team pick; George is a four-time All-Defensive Team selection; Patrick Beverley is a three-time pick. The new guy, Nicolas Batum, is a savvy defensive disruptor who is averaging a career-high 1.2 steals per game 12 games into his Clippers tenure.

Together, that unit has prompted a season-worst 23.4% (3-for-14) shooting night from Portland star Damian Lillard, a 44.2% shooter on the season. They did a decent job on Jamal Murray, limiting the Nuggets guard who averaged 34.2 points in the bubble to a pedestrian 23 on Christmas.

They even tightened the spigot on the Warriors’ Steph Curry, holding one of the game’s all-time great shooters to 13 points on 5-for-17 shooting.

So, that’s it, then? Consider the Clippers candidates to play the part of Brooklyn stopper?

Naw, not so fast, says Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The second-year New Orleans guard lit up the Clippers for a career-high 37 points on Wednesday, the game after Zach LaVine torched them for 45. Mike Conley (33 points on seven 3-pointers vs. L.A.) and Patty Mills (27 points on a career-high eight 3s) say hi, too.

So does Curry, who followed up his off night last week with a 38-point effort the very next game, a characteristically rousing effort that highlighted Golden State’s comeback victory.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue put his finger squarely on some of the issues that have allowed opposing guards to go off, suggesting the issues will be fixable as the season continues – including Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the NBA’s eighth-most prolific scoring team. Led by three guards averaging between 12 and 19 points per game, Sacramento is averaging 114.8 points.

So what are the Clippers getting wrong (when they are getting it wrong)?

“Pulling in too much on the pick-and-roll,” Lue noted before Wednesday’s 111-106 victory over the short-handed Pelicans. “We want to try to handle the pick-and-roll two-on-two as much as possible, unless you’re dealing with dynamic rollers.”

Lue also noted that opponents have also taken “advantage of us on short close-outs: We’re getting there, to the guys on the rotations, but we’re not running the guy off the 3-point line and guys are still standing and shooting. Even though we’re contesting, they’re making shots, so we got to do a better job of getting to the shooters, running them off the line, and sending them to our bigs in our help defensive schemes.

“We are top five in rim protection,” Lue said, “so just doing a better job of reading the pick-and-roll situation, playing it two-on-two, and also closing out and making sure we’re making guys put the ball on the floor.”

Or, as Leonard likes to say, it’s about “trying to build habits” that will equate to winning in the long run, perhaps even against those new-look Nets.

LOU WILL’S SORE HIP

The Clippers’ elder statesman tapped out of their win against the Pelicans at halftime because he was experiencing some hip pain, said Lue, who couldn’t on Wednesday offer any insight on Lou Williams’ prognosis.




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