Paul George, Terance Mann assist Clippers fend off Suns

Long, languid strides introduced Kevin Durant, the 13-time All-Star in all-black, from one finish of Footprint Arena’s courtroom to a chair at its center Thursday. A private spotlight reel performed on a Jumbotron overhead, and a noon crowd packed into one aspect of the world’s decrease bowl howled on the sight of him.

Durant gripped a microphone in his left hand and tried uttering his first public phrases as a Phoenix Sun since a commerce final week ended Brooklyn’s super-team experiment. But a crowd estimated round 3,000, revved up each by a T-shirt toss that includes the franchise’s gorilla mascot and the prospect of a long-sought championship, let him go no additional, their chants of “KD, KD” forcing the participant so typically unattainable to cease to pause.

He hopes to return from a knee damage quickly after the All-Star break, later this month, he stated, and when he does, he and teammates Chris Paul and Devin Booker can be accompanied by the strain he has come to count on being “one of the best players to ever play the game.”

“I know how significant a championship is to a franchise and to a city,” Durant would later say. “I’ve been a part of two of those and I’m looking forward to getting back on that road to try to do it again.”

“It’s a tough trio and it reminds you of the Klay [Thompson], Steph [Curry] and KD, even though CP is a little older now,” stated Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who game-planned for Durant within the Finals whereas in Cleveland. “It’s a tough cover, it’s a tough matchup, just interested to see how they play, who they share the basketball. But on paper, it looks really good.”

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And right here is the place the Clippers are available in — actually by way of the identical tunnel by way of which Durant exited, hours later, working off after a 116-107 victory that leaves them 33-28, fourth within the Western Conference standings. They haven’t been the West’s most constant crew, like Denver. And they’re not mentioned as its most loaded, like Phoenix.

What is unattainable to dismiss is that the Clippers, additionally on paper, and regardless of months of inconsistency, could but nonetheless appear to be a harmful postseason challenger ought to they combine backup middle Mason Plumlee, Bones Hyland and guard Eric Gordon of their last 21 video games.

Despite taking part in with out backup guard Norman Powell, whose sore proper knee isn’t anticipated to restrict him when the crew resumes Feb. 24, and even with imperfect play for lengthy stretches Thursday, when the Clippers’ lead was lower to 5 with 4 minutes, 51 seconds left, they responded, extending the cushion to 11 within the last minutes to win and tie Boston for a league-high 18 highway wins.

Lue entered his postgame assembly clapping, exclaiming “what a way to go into the break!”

“We still got to get better,” Kawhi Leonard stated. “I don’t think we’re playing at a championship level yet but you know, we’re gradually getting better and we got to keep getting better.”

Whether they’ll problem the Suns, amongst different West contenders, hinges closely on the essential analysis interval for the roster that continued Thursday and can final the remainder of the month, as Lue hopes to resolve the season-long riddle of who performs greatest with whom. The beginning lineup isn’t off-limits. Whomever is taking part in greatest will end video games and sacrificing can be mandatory, Lue stated.

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One think about closing the hole between the crew they’re and the potential of what might be is “accepting the challenge on a nightly basis,” Paul George stated. One translation of that’s sharpening their point-of-attack protection and night out the gulf between their highs and lows. Breakdowns have allowed drives into the paint, compelled the Clippers’ protection to scramble and allowed three-point seems to be. For the final month, opponents have shot a league-high 42.2% on above-the-break three-pointers, and the third-most correct mark from the corners, and Phoenix’s Josh Okogie continued to take benefit with six three-pointers.

Clippers’ Terance Mann (14) drives to the basket between Phoenix Suns’ Torrey Craig, left, and Deandre Ayton through the first half on Thursday in Phoenix.

(Darryl Webb / Associated Press)

The Clippers additionally can’t shake moments of carelessness. Twice within the first half had been turnovers through which the Clippers threw out-of-bounds passes on to a Phoenix defender, who instantly scored. Their 10-point lead disappeared; with three minutes nonetheless to go earlier than halftime, they’d already exceeded their turnover complete from all of Tuesday’s victory towards Golden State.

In two video games with their three new rotation gamers, the Clippers have been buoyed by extra balanced rotations, not wanted to rely solely on “small ball” lineups when middle Ivica Zubac — who had 13 factors and 12 rebounds, plus assisted on Terance Mann’s backdoor dunk that iced the victory — rests, due to the presence of Plumlee. But because the commerce exercise within the West underscored, success hinges on stars. Leonard missed all eight of his photographs within the first half, the primary time he’d gone scoreless in any half this season. His first factors got here on free throws 24 minutes into his night time — then scored 11 in his subsequent 5. He completed with 16, whereas George scored 10 of his 26 factors within the last quarter.

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As a part of the Clippers’ ongoing roster analysis, the Clippers have held conversations with buyout candidates reminiscent of Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley to gauge whether or not the objectives of the gamers and groups align. For now, these check-ins look like extra about diligence than imminence, with the Clippers seen as being affected person earlier than a transfer, if any, materializes. Skepticism stays that any accessible guard can be seen as an improve from the choices already on the roster. Lue has instructed Hyland to not flip off his scoring intuition to suit right into a ‘’traditional point guard” mold.

“There are a lot of ball-friendly guys here,” Plumlee said. “I feel like every year somebody does it non-traditionally, so like teams do it without a big, teams do it without different things. I think Bones obviously has shown a lot of playmaking. I think there are plenty guys who are willing to make the pass and that’s going to be good.”

Lue stated he didn’t consider the buyout discussions swirling across the crew had the impact of inflicting any present Clippers to figuratively look over their shoulders. Meanwhile, each West contender is on look ahead to Durant’s debut on the courtroom this time, in uniform.