| USA TODAY
It seems counterintuitive to say a team with a pair of superstars like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George needs help on offense.
The Los Angeles Clippers are that team, though. They’ve lost three in a row and six of their last nine to close the first half of the season, a skid that has exposed holes in their struggling late-game offense. Los Angeles unraveled in the fourth quarter Thursday, going 4½ minutes without a field goal down the stretch in a 119-117 loss against the Washington Wizards.
The Clippers’ clutch numbers aren’t pretty. The NBA defines clutch time as the final five minutes of the game, with the score within five points. The Clippers have only played 45 such minutes this season, tied for fourth-fewest in the league, but they have not performed well in them. They are last in overall field goal percentage and 26th in effective field goal percentage. They are 19th in offensive rating and last in net rating by a wide margin, which speaks to some defensive issues as well.
Leonard and George are excellent finishers. Leonard can dominate one-on-one matchups in the midrange, and George is a sharpshooter when he spots up on the perimeter. But they aren’t as great as facilitators, and the offense can get bogged down when they’re asked to do that more.
Much has been made about the Clippers needing a point guard, and they’re reportedly exploring the trade market for a veteran.
Before Thursday’s game, Clippers coach Ty Lue revealed he recently met with Leonard and George to discuss the late-game struggles. After similar issues contributed to their infamous collapse in last season’s playoffs, the Clippers’ fourth-quarter execution could wind up under an even more intense microscope in the second half.
Here are four more things to know today in the NBA as the league heads into the All-Star break:
Chaotic finish in Memphis
The Milwaukee Bucks emerged with a 112-111 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies after a wild finish Thursday in which the lead changed hands five times in the final minute. Ja Morant put the Grizzlies ahead by one on a driving lefty layup with 7.3 seconds left. With no timeouts, the Bucks quickly pushed the ball up court, and Jrue Holiday buried an 11-foot jumper from the left baseline with two seconds to go. Desmond Bane’s long 3 attempt at the buzzer was short, and Milwaukee survived.
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Quiet star quietly reaches milestone
San Antonio Spurs veteran DeMar DeRozan scored 20 points Thursday to pass 17,000 for his career. He reached the mark on a putback late in the first quarter of the Spurs’ 107-102 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Like every other accomplishment during his 12 seasons in the NBA, DeRozan eclipsed 17,000 with virtually no fanfare whatsoever. DeRozan has been one of the steadiest players in the league over the years, and only five players have scored more points than him since he was drafted in 2009: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook.
What to expect in the All-Star Game
The teams are set for the All-Star Game after captains LeBron James and Kevin Durant drafted their squads Thursday night. Usually one of the marquee events on the NBA calendar, things will be subdued this year, with all of the festivities taking place Sunday: the skills competition and 3-point shootout begin at 5:30 p.m. ET; the All-Star Game starts at 8 p.m. ET, with the slam dunk contest at halftime. The league has pledged nearly $3 million in donations from the events to groups supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Trade season heats up
With the deadline just under three weeks away, trade season will really begin to heat up after the All-Star break. Who needs to make a move the most? Which players are most likely to be dealt? Our friends at HoopsHype are tracking all the latest news and buzz on their rumors page. Stay updated on it all ahead of the March 25 deadline.
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.