DeAndre Jordan

DeAndre Jordan’s goal: Be on the court in fourth quarter

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When it came down to crunch time last season, Vinny Del Negro didn’t trust DeAndre Jordan. That’s why Jordan never touched the court in the fourth quarter in four of the six Clippers playoff games last year, when they lost to Memphis.

To be fair, Del Negro had no reason to trust Jordan — his defensive rotations were late plus he shot 38.6 percent from the free throw line (hack-a-Jordan became a thing). Jordan was a late game liability.

Jordan says he plans to change that this season. He better if the Clippers have plans of being the contender they look like on paper.

New Clippers coach Doc Rivers brings a more positive attitude and a clean slate — Jordan will get the chance to prove he should be on the court in crunch time. Jordan told the Los Angeles Times he thinks that he will earn the court time.

“My focus and (Rivers’) focus are defense,” Jordan said. “Everything else is going to be a bonus for me.”

Okay. But what about those free throws?

“I’m going to shoot the ball the same way, man,” said Jordan, who turned 25 in July. “I’m not really thinking too much into it. I watched a lot of film of last year, the shots that I made and the shots that I missed. I feel like if I just keep the ball up and don’t have a hitch in my shot and don’t think about it as much and — no offense — don’t pay attention to what you guys [in the media] say, I’m going to be fine.”

Whatever work Jordan did this summer he is going to get ample opportunity to showcase it because the Clippers are thin along the front line. If Jordan isn’t getting it done, Doc is going to have to turn to Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins. That’s not good.

Jordan’s defense is the single biggest key to the Clippers being the contenders they think they are. The Clippers were a top four offense in the NBA last season then they went out and added shooters like J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. With Griffin and Jordan still improving their games, the Clippers are a top three offense this season, and maybe the best in the league.

But can they stop anyone when it matters? Not consistently last season, and not in the playoffs. Doc Rivers was a great defensive coach when Kevin Garnett was the guy quarterbacking the D and patrolling the paint. Can he coach Jordan up into that role? Is Jordan really ready for it?

It won’t matter if Jordan can’t stay on the court — his free throw issues had him sitting the fourth quarter a lot last season, including in the playoffs against a massive Memphis front line, when Los Angeles needed him most. Rivers will be forced to yank Jordan, too, if the free throws don’t fall.

Jordan has said he worked hard on his game and weaknesses. We’ll start to see that next week when camps open. No pressure, but the Clips are relying on you to get them to the next level.

Nerlens Noel on prior criticism of 76ers: ‘I don’t think the roster’s changed’

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Before the season, Nerlens Noel called the 76ers’ center situation – with himself, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor – “silly.”

Philadelphia general manager Bryan Colangelo advised Noel to stay in his place. 76ers coach Brett Brown told Noel focusing on his strengths would yield a big payday. Noel has mostly been away from the team while rehabbing from surgery.

Has any of that changed Noel’s perspective?

Noel, via Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

“I don’t think the roster’s changed,” Noel said Thursday. “So, I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Noel didn’t seem concerned that he wouldn’t fit back in with the team after being away for the start of the season. He envisions his role as simply “being Nerlens Noel.” What exactly that will entail will unfold this season.

“I put myself in a different place with all these things,” Noel said. “Do what you can control. That’s what I give power to, is what I can really control. I think right now I’m in a good place mentally, I think my body feels great and I just want to get back to playing basketball and let things take care of themselves.”

This sounds like someone who still wants out.

In fact, the 76ers have only gotten bigger, trading combo forward Jerami Grant to the Thunder for power forward Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova will limit Philadelphia’s opportunities to play two-center lineups – not that those appear fruitful. Plus, Embiid will get more minutes.

A defense-first interior player, Noel faces a tough fit. The 76ers just don’t have a roster that complements his skills after years of asset accumulation and tanking – which also likely grinds on him.

Noel said he’ll focus on what he can control, and I believe he’ll try. But it’s hard when the situation around him is so counter to his best interests.

Report: Age minimum still on table in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  The full draft board of the first 30 pics of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft is seen at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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A new Collective Bargaining Agreement is expected to be finished soon, but with months until the current deal expires, both the owners and players can afford to take their time and get the details right.

Both sides reportedly agreed to keep the age minimum – which requires players to be 19 and one year removed from their high school class’ graduation – in place.

Or not?

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Other issues, like the age limit for players entering the league, are still on the table. The league has long sought to increase the age limit from its current 19, and at least one year removed from one’s high school class, to at least 20 years of age. The union has talked about a “zero and two” setup, similar to that used by baseball — players can enter the Draft out of high school, but if they choose to go to college, they have to stay in college at least two years (in baseball, it’s three years) before declaring for the Draft.

The union wants to lower the age minimum. Adam Silver wants to raise it.

Most likely, the current one-and-done rule remains in place.

But a zero-or-two setup could be an interesting compromise. That would allow players certain they’re ready for the pros out of high school to declare for the NBA draft. In all other cases, Silver would get his wish.

Again, the status quo likely remains in tact. But it’s good both sides are discussing the issue to see whether there’s a better solution.

76ers increase Joel Embiid’s minute limit to 28

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, tries to get around Cleveland Cavaliers' DeAndre Liggins, center, and Kevin Love during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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Take comfort, chairs and staffers.

The 76ers have raised Joel Embiid‘s minute limit from 24 to 28.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

This was never a hard limit. Embiid played more than 24 minutes in five of his 12 games with a high of 27 in an overtime contest. Presumably, the new “limit” will also allow for Embiid to sometimes it.

Embiid’s numbers per 36 minutes are eye-popping: 28.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 3.8 blocks and 6.4 turnovers. A small workload likely factors into his per-minute dominance, and he’s still a long way from typical starter minutes. But I’m interested to see how his production translates over a larger sample.

The 76ers, in their mission to be less bad this season, will also appreciate a few more minutes of Embiid. They defend like the NBA’s second-best defense with him on the floor and the league’s second-worst defense without him. They also score a little better with him. Overall, they get outscored by just 2.2 points per 100 possessions with him and a whopping 14.2 points per 100 possessions without him.

This could give Philadelphia a couple extra wins over the rest of the season. At minimum, it’ll make the 76ers more enjoyable to watch for a few more minutes each game.

James Johnson dunks on Rudy Gobert in crunch time (video)

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Opponents shoot just 41.8% at the rim with Rudy Gobert defending it – which is now second to Hassan Whiteside among the 50 players who defend the most shots at the rim per game.

But James Johnson went up with no fear, scoring two of his 24 points in the Heat’s 111-110 win over the Jazz last night.