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Takeaways from Clippers’ loss to Nets: Three-point defense needs to improve

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Brooklyn Nets vs. Clippers highlights.

Here are five things I learned while Andrew Greif reintroduced himself to his family after a few weeks in Orlando amid the Clippers’ 129-120 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday:

1. The Clippers’ three-point defense has been uneven in Orlando, and that didn’t change against an undermanned Brooklyn team that’s been one of the pleasant surprises in the bubble (maybe even earning Jacque Vaughn the full-time job).

The Nets barrage from deep set the tone for the game, made the Clippers play uphill all 48 minutes and, after things got tight, pushed the Nets ahead for good.

Part of it can be attributed to the malaise the Clippers can have from time to time (Doc Rivers will see some lazy closeouts when he watched the game film). Postgame, Rivers said the bigger concern was on the perimeter, where the Clippers were repeatedly beaten off the dribble.

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Four-straight opponents have made at least 17 threes against the Clippers, and with shooting-friendly gyms in the bubble, the Clippers need to see their defense at the line improve — and quickly.

By resting Paul George, Clippers coach Doc Rivers makes it clear that keeping his star players healthy is a priority in the team’s 129-120 loss to the Nets.

2. Speaking of No. 2’s, the Clippers are not a lock for the second seed in the Western Conference, ensuring a first-round meeting with Dallas, a team the Clippers have beaten three times this season.

The scenarios go like this: The Clippers “magic number” for the No. 2 seed is 2, meaning they need any combination of their wins plus Denver losses to clinch the second spot in the West.

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Things can get trickier, though. Because the Clippers split the season series with Houston, the Rockets can actually work their way up to the third seed, putting the Clippers on the Lakers’ side of the Western Conference bracket. For that to happen, the Clippers would need to lose their next two games, and the Rockets would need to win their next three. The teams would then finish with identical records, with Houston getting the tiebreaker because they won their division.

The easiest way for the Clippers to handle their business? Beat Denver on Wednesday and clinch the No. 2 seed.

3. While the loss to Brooklyn was disappointing, the Clippers largely left the court healthy, which clearly remains the team’s top priority. Any team with Kawhi Leonard, at this point, better have that be at the centerpiece of their plan because it’s how he functions best.

After the game, Leonard said the “healthiest” team is usually the one that plays until the end, and in a situation where home-court advantage doesn’t matter, the incentive to push for a top seed is lessened.

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The Clippers could still be conservative with Patrick Beverley Wednesday against the Nuggets, though Leonard and Paul George should be on the court.

The Clippers are off Monday and will practice Tuesday.

4. Rivers won’t say when Montrezl Harrell will return to Orlando and break quarantine, though he sounded hopeful that the team would have the high-energy big man back in time for Friday’s game with Oklahoma City.

Obviously, that return would be contingent on repeated negative tests for the coronavirus.

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Behind health and rest, Rivers cited “rhythm” as the thing he’s still looking for, and it’s hard to see how one game together will solve that.

Still, getting the Clippers closer to being whole (a year-long journey) would give the coach at least a small level of comfort.

5. While the continued production from Ivica Zubac (tying a career-best with 15 rebounds), Marcus Morris looking comfortable (15 points, 6-9 shooting) and the strong game from rookie Terance Mann (career best 14 points) were bright spots, the Clippers were at their best when their best player, Leonard, was front and center.

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After sitting out Saturday, Leonard looked fresh and tore apart the Brooklyn defense, scoring 39 in 37 minutes — to go with six assists and four steals. He was at his most dominant at the start of the second half, when Leonard scored 11-straight points to pull the Clippers back even.

It was the kind of performance that you’d expect to see from a two-time Finals MVP as he readies for the postseason.


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