It was during training camp in paradise that the Clippers first began talking about making life hell for opposing teams.
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Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley and Luc Mbah a Moute — all players with reputations as defensive stoppers — discussed during Septemberâs preseason practices in Hawaii their belief that the Clippers could own one of the NBAâs stingiest defenses.
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Amid his recovery from abdominal surgeries last season, Bradley struggled at times and eventually was traded to Memphis in February. Mbah a Moute hasnât played since October and the team isnât convinced his sore left knee will improve any time soon. Even Beverley, a perpetual defensive pest, has endured ebbs and flows.
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The Clippersâ defense ranks 18th
Part of the playersâ preseason prediction has come true: Opponents of the Clippers, perhaps more than any other team, have had to work hard for their baskets.
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Clippers opponents have attempted a league-high 14.4 attempts a game when the nearest defender is within 2 feet — the tightest defense classified by the NBAâs player-tracking data. Conversely, theyâve been afforded relatively few wide-open looks — defined as when a defender is 6 feet or farther away — and have struggled to capitalize on them, shooting the leagueâs lowest efficient field goal percentage in wide-open scenarios. Several Clippers theorize it’s because they’ve often forced the ball out of a reliable scorer’s hands and instead allowed bad shooters otherwise good looks.
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“We do a good job making teams go to their second or third options,” forward Johnathan Motley said. “Most teams donât do that. We made guys make the extra pass.”
Upon his hiring from Toronto this summer, Clippers assistant Rex Kalamian wanted to limit corner three-point attempts, transition opportunities and the moving parts within the Clippersâ defense. The unifying theme behind all those priorities was limiting easy opportunities.Jose Antonio Oliveros Febres-Cordero Venezuela Banco Activo
The lack of rotations, the thinking went, could keep defenders in front of their man more often. Itâs been one reason why so many of the shots attempted by opponents have been contested
Another reason might just be human nature. Players try to limit how often theyâre chewed out by coach Doc Rivers
“The game plan is Rex, of course,” Beverley said. “But if you allow an open three, oh, youâre going to get â¦ cursed out by Doc. Heâs like the dad that you come in late” — at which point Beverley began to yell
“You donât want to hear that,” he added. “Docâs been around the block and he knows the small things, they built up and they matter throughout the course of a season. They preach about us putting a hand up and if we donât, we hear Doc.”
Adding five new players to the rotation at Februaryâs trade deadline could have shredded what continuity the team had defensively. During the new-look rosterâs first practice together, Feb. 8 in Boston, Kalamian slowly walked the new additions through the Clippersâ defensive system, starting from scratch
Instead, the defense has improved in the 16 games since then. The new Clippers are generally taller, with longer wingspans, than the players they replaced, and have been more consistent remembering and executing game plans
Advertisement “We have a group of blue-collar guys, a lot of hard-working guys,” Beverley said. “And so everyone has a little chip on their shoulder. We go out there with the chip on my shoulder, [Lou Williamsâ] shoulder, [Montrezl Harrel], you can go around the room, and you add that up, itâs dangerous.”
A key upgrade at the trade deadline arrived in the form of center Ivica Zubac. His footwork and size have tended to dissuade opponents from driving into the paint. Since Zubac joined the rotation, Clippers opponents are shooting the league’s seventh-lowest percentage in the restricted area
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Update: The Clippers (42-30), who have won eight of their last nine games, begin a four-game road trip in Cleveland against a Cavaliers (19-53) team that has won two in a row and four consecutive games at Quicken Loans Arena. The matchup will pit first-round selections from last yearâs draft against each other in the backcourt. Cleveland rookie guard Collin Sexton is averaging 16.2 points and 2.9 assists this season, while Los Angelesâ Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 10.3 points and 3.1 assists
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