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Clippers and Montrezl Harrell have been clicking on offense since Lou Williams' return

Clippers and Montrezl Harrell have been clicking on offense since Lou Williams' return
Clippers center Montrezl Harrell dunks against Charlotte on Tuesday night. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

It wasn’t as though the offensive efficiency of Clippers reserves Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams went unnoticed earlier this season, but the 10 games since Williams returned from an injury have been another reminder of not only how good they are together, but how potent the Clippers can be when they are rolling.

The latest example came Tuesday.

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Williams scored a game-high 27 points and Harrell contributed 23 during the Clippers’ 128-109 victory over Charlotte, with four of Harrell’s nine field goals coming off assists from Williams. Two came in screen-and-roll situations. On their two other connections, Williams knew from experience to look upcourt early for Harrell, who’d already established post position well before the ball passed half-court.

They scored 31 of the Clippers’ 66 second-half points while shooting a combined 80%. Winless in the four games Williams missed in mid-December because of a hamstring injury, the Clippers are 7-3 since.

Coach Doc Rivers called the contributions of Harrell and Williams “huge” against the Hornets, but the Clippers have reaped their rewards all season, outscoring opponents by 114 points when they play together — the highest plus-minus among the 13 two-player Clipper combinations that have played at least 500 minutes this season.

“You know it’s something you can go to,” Rivers said. “In one stretch we had Trez, Lou and [Danilo Gallinari] involved in the same play. That’s a hard play, it’s just hard because you can’t switch on Gal, you can’t switch on Trez. If you don’t, it’s going to allow Lou to go downhill.”

Williams and Harrell first played together in Houston in 2016-17, but in limited, inefficient spurts. Traded that offseason to the Clippers in the deal that sent Chris Paul to the Rockets, the duo was given a much longer leash and finished last season with a plus-122 rating, again tops among the Clippers' two-player combos that played at least 500 minutes together.

So, other than Williams himself, no one was happier than Harrell to see the reserve guard return Dec. 20 after missing four games.

Harrell averaged 12 points, 4.8 rebounds and made 54.5% of his shots from the field during that stretch. In the 10 games since Williams’ return, Harrell is averaging 17.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and is shooting 62.9%, and owns the team’s third-highest plus/minus rating of 7.5. He scored 20 points or more five times over that span. During his first three NBA seasons, he scored 20 or more only nine times in 173 appearances.

Against the Hornets, Harrell dished five assists to tie a season high from Nov. 15. One of those passes found Williams, who made a 14-foot jump shot that added to the Clippers' fourth-quarter lead.

“A lot of people would say I score the ball so much that I kind of fall away from the aspect of passing the ball,” Harrell said. “But my teammates know I do a great job of passing it.”

Williams and Harrell, in particular, have made a habit of finding one another.

Turning it around

Might the Clippers have found answers defensively?

They rank 10th in the league in defensive rating in January, eighth in opponent field-goal percentage allowed (44.3%) and have a 3-1 record to show for it.

That’s a far cry from the team’s struggles in December, when the Clippers ranked third worst in defensive rating as opponents shot 47%.

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The win over Charlotte “started with our defense getting stops and being locked in,” forward Tobias Harris said.

Said Gallinari: “Other than a couple of stops that we didn't get, as long as we're talking about making two, three, or four stops in a row, that's going to make a difference.”

The Clippers’ game at Denver on Thursday will be a litmus test of that progress. The Nuggets are seventh in offensive rating and first in offensive rebounding percentage.

UP NEXT

AT DENVER

When: 6 p.m., Thursday

On air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Nuggets entered Wednesday first in the Western Conference with a 27-12 record and have won six of their last seven games. In the latest victory, center Nikola Jokic produced his fourth triple-double this season and made the game-winning shot with less than three seconds remaining to beat Miami.

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