Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Hickson

Clippers defending their way to six straight victories

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On paper, the Clippers might be the second-best team in the West — a couple of elite stars with some quality role players around them, decent roster balance — but they haven’t played like it for long stretches of this season. Their offense has been inconsistent and their defense has never impressed…

Well, until the last week.

The Clippers are on a six-game winning streak and while there are a few reasons for that — including a stretch of games at home — the Clippers’ faltering defense has improved and that has been the real key. John Schuhmann broke down the numbers over at NBA.com.

Before the streak began, they ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions…. Over the last six games though, the Clippers have allowed just 97 points per 100 possessions.

The biggest statistical key has been an increase in forcing turnovers. L.A. had forced just 15.2 turnovers per 100 possessions through their first 47 games, but have forced 17.7 over the last six, with 10 different guys on the roster picking up at least three steals during the streak. Chris Paul, of course, has led the way with 13 steals. But Eric Bledsoe has six in just 80 minutes during the streak.

The forced turnovers have produced an increase in transition opportunities, which is where the Clippers are at their best.

As with all things, it’s not jut that simple. The Clippers have done other things right, too, such as the chemistry that is really building on the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick-and-roll.

But if the Clippers are going to carry this success over to the playoffs (and next season, and beyond) it will be about the defense. This can’t be a six-game statistical aberration, it has to be the norm. We’ll see if they can keep it up on the road and against tests like the Lakers.

But for now, the Clippers are winning with defense. And that makes them even more dangerous.

Carmelo Anthony says he can play at high level 4-5 more years

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp

Carmelo Anthony can flat-out score the rock — that has never been the question. Even hurting last season for many of the 40 games he played, he averaged 24.2 points a game, had a true shooting percentage of 53.1 percent (right near the league average) while having the entire weight of the Knicks offense on his shoulders (32.2 usage rate, fifth highest in the NBA). When people (or players) talk about him being overrated, the discussion turns to defense or if he makes his teammates better. But there should be no doubt Anthony is an elite scorer.

He thinks he will be for a while longer — like another five years. Via Ian Begley of ESPN:

In fact, the 31-year-old Knicks star is confident that he can play at a high level for the next “four or five years.”

“Without a doubt. Without a doubt,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ final training camp practice on Saturday.

The Knicks better hope that’s true, they already made that bet with that massive five-year contract they gave him last summer.

Anthony’s age combined with him coming off knee surgery have a lot of people — myself included — expecting him to take a step back. Not a big one, but he is coming up at the point in his career where some open shots he used to get are now contested because he’s half-a-step slower, and some of those looks don’t fall as often. His jumper isn’t suddenly going to look like Rajon Rondo‘s, ‘Melo is going to get his points, but he may not be as efficient.

Fortunately, the Knicks have an improved supporting cast around him this season. That should take some offensive load off his shoulders, and maybe the Knicks offense will see better ball movement and start to resemble the triangle. If it’s just more isolation Anthony, it’s not going to be pretty.

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.