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Nets vs. Clippers: Brooklyn's Defense Trending in Right Direction Through West Coast Trip

When the Brooklyn Nets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 109-98 on Thursday, it was the second time they held an opponent under 100 points in nine days, after doing so once in the previous month.

They’ve won all five games they’ve played in that stretch, beginning with a 104-94 win against Indiana before they headed west for a five-game road trip that concludes Sunday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

“It’s a non-negotiable if we want to reach our best level,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash of Brooklyn’s defense. “We have to buy in. We have to understand what we’re trying to do, what our principles are. Make clean reads and decisions and play together down there. Guys have improved, turned a corner, however you want to put it at the defensive end where at least now we are cleaner with our decision-making, our connections with one another, and they’re starting to have little stretches in the game where our defense is strong.”

Brooklyn’s defensive rating over the last five games is 114.1, essentially even with its season-long efficiency of 114.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. Breaking down some segments of the season, though, illustrates recent progress made.

Through their first 12 games as of Jan. 12, the Nets were 11th in defensive efficiency (108.2). In their first 14 games without Jarrett Allen — beginning against the Knicks on Jan. 13 before the trade for James Harden was official, but in which Allen didn’t play — that rating was 119.4, last in the league over that stretch. So for this group, figuring things out on the fly after a major trade and limited practice time since, it’s a significant step in the right direction.

“It's about time we turn the corner defensively,” said Kyrie Irving. “No team is gonna win anything in this league if they don't get stops. It’s about time. And we heard them loud and clear in the last few games. And it is one of our points of emphasis when we go into games is just stay connected, no matter what. Stick to the game plan, we trust it, we've talked about it. So just go out there and play, and play free and execute it. But we're gonna hold each other accountable. I know you see on TV or when you’re watching, we're yelling, we're pointing at each other. But that's what we need in order to stay engaged for certain guys, we need that level of, we need that level of grit. It’s okay to get angry on the offensive end and be physical in the league. We're not friends with these guys out here trying to win. So let's just keep going.”

DURANT OUT VS. CLIPPERS

Prior to Saturday’s practice, Steve Nash confirmed that Kevin Durant will be out against the Clippers on Sunday, the fourth straight game he’s missed with a hamstring strain. Nash said Durant would do a light workout as part of Saturday’s practice session.

“I don't have a timeline, but he's out for tomorrow,” said Nash. “So still just trying to regain that strength and his rehabilitation. Like I keep saying, I don't think this is a long-term thing, but there is elements of maybe it being — taking a few more days than we thought or just being cautious. I think right now both are necessary. I don't think he's ready, I think he needs more time but we're also definitely going to be cautious. He'll be out tomorrow.”

ABOUT THE CLIPPERS

The Clippers are 22-9 and in third place in the Western Conference. They’ve won five of their last six, including Thursday’s 116-112 win over the Jazz that snapped the nine-game winning streak of league-leading Utah. In this year’s previous meeting, the Nets beat the Clippers 124-120 on Feb. at Barclays Center behind 39 points from Kyrie Irving and a triple-double from James Harden. Kawhi Leonard had 33 points for the Clippers in that game, and Paul George scored 26. Leonard leads LA with 26.8 points per game, plus 5.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.7 steals, which are fourth in the league. George averages 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. Both are shooting 50 percent on field goal attempts, and George is shooting 47.2 percent from 3-point range. The Clippers lead the NBA in 3-point percentage (41.9) and free throw percentage (84.4), and they’re third in effective field goal percentage (56.8) and fourth in field goal percentage (48.5). LA is fifth in points per game (115.5) and second in offensive rating (117.4) behind only the Nets.