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Three things to know: Westbrook’s 0-of-11 night highlights Lakers’ shooting woes

LOS ANGELES — Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Westbrook goes 0-of-11 highlighting Lakers continued shooting woes

There were reasons for optimism in Lakers nation out of Thursday’s game against the Clippers: The defense was improved and more aggressive, which led to 22 Clippers turnovers and Lakers transition buckets (22.3% of the Lakers possessions started in transition, an impressive number). On a team culture front, the Lakers showed some real fight, coming from double-digits down twice to make the Clippers earn their win.

“I’m super duper proud of our guys, they competed,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “I think we’ve seen improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, especially on the defensive end…

“We’re trending in the right direction.”

All of that gets short-circuited because the Lakers can’t shoot.

That’s why the Lakers fell to 0-2 on the season after a 103-97 loss to the Clippers (although, to be fair, the Lakers’ losses were to the two teams projected by many to be in the Western Conference Finals).

Russell Westbrook was the poster child for the Lakers’ shooting futility, going 0-of-11 on the night, including 0-of-6 from 3. Whenever Westbrook lined up to shoot a jumper, the Lakers’ home crowd inside the Arena audibly groaned. It was ugly. LeBron James’ only suggestion to Westbrook was to “flush it down the toilet” and move on and he’s right, Westbrook is not going to shoot this poorly every night.

It wasn’t just Westbrook, the Lakers shot 35.1% overall and were 9-of-45 (20%) from 3. For all the good things the Lakers started to do this game (it was a better outing than opening night), their shooting cut their momentum off at the knees. Look at the Lakers’ shot chart for the night.

FGA for the Los Angeles Lakers during LAC vs LAL - 10-20-2022

There were bright spots for Lakers fans. Lonnie Walker IV was aggressive and led the Lakers with 26 points (9-of-21 shooting). Anthony Davis had another strong game with 25 points and eight rebounds, and he and LeBron ran some high-low actions that led to good looks. (Davis hurt his back in the third quarter after a hard fall to the ground, he came out of the game and was stretching it out the rest of the night, but said postgame, “I’ll be alright.”) The Lakers’ defense was much better and held the Clippers to under a point per possession.

LeBron had 20 points and a turn-back-the-clock dunk.

When the Lakers competed on defense, got stops then got out in transition, they made runs on the Clippers — they even took the lead early in the fourth. But the Clippers were deeper, bigger, and executed for longer stretches.

Ham is right, the Lakers looked better Thursday night than they did a couple of nights earlier. They showed some grit.

But until they start knocking down shots, it’s all moot.

2) Kawhi Leonard, John Wall make returns to court

Kawhi Leonard is the Clippers’ 11th man.

At least he was on Thursday, when he didn’t enter the game until 6:25 was left in the second quarter. It felt like a long wait to return after 493 days since he last played in an NBA game.

“I mean, it was long but I waited 82 games last year, so 15 minutes, you know, won’t be that long,” Leonard said. “But I did this before, this is how I started my career so, you know, that’s how I approached it mentally.”

Leonard came into the game and quickly drained two midrange jumpers over defenders, forcing the Lakers to call timeout. The long wait at the start of the game was intentional, it made it easier for him to stay warm for his 20 minutes the rest of the way, Leonard said. While there was rust, Leonard got to his spots and finished with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with seven rebounds.

It was part of a balanced Clippers attack — five players had 14 or 15 points, and nobody had more than that.

John Wall, playing his first game in over a season, was one of the people with 15. He came in pushing the pace, hit a couple of midrange jumpers himself, and was a real connector for the Clippers in transition.

Wall made smart decisions with the ball, finding Leonard for a 3 on one play, being patient and finding a cutting Ivica Zubac on another.

All of it was part of the Clippers’ depth that wore the Lakers down. It wasn’t the Clippers’ best shooting night (9-of-29 from 3 as a team, 31%), but they were deeper and just bigger across the board than the Lakers and that led to good defense, plus that depth of scoring options became too much for the Lakers to stop when it mattered.

It’s a marathon of a season and the Clippers are easing Leonard and Wall back into action. The depth of the roster, which the Lakers couldn’t match, is what lets the Clippers do that and still win games. Like the one Thursday night.

3) James Harden is putting up numbers, but 0-2 76ers have some work to do

The good news for Philadelphia? James Harden is in shape and putting up numbers: 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds against one of the best defensive teams in the league in the Bucks. That on the heels of a 35/8/7 season opener.

The bad news: The 76ers are 0-2 as Harden dominates the ball, at the same time he and Joel Embiid are still trying to find a rhythm together.

The 76ers came close to picking up a win Thursday against a shorthanded Bucks team (Khris Middleton remains out and missed). A P.J. Tucker free throw put the Sixers up 88-86 with 32.7 seconds left, but Wesley Matthews answered with a 3-pointer that proved the game-winner for Milwaukee.

A Brook Lopez free throw gave us the 90-88 final score.

Philly did a respectable job on Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he still had 21 points and 13 rebounds, coming close to a triple-double. Lopez added 17 for Milwaukee.

The 76ers offense right now sees too much Harden pounding the ball, waiting for opportunities to attack — it looks more like the heliocentric Rockets offenses that Harden led than what Doc Rivers wants. A stat flashed on the broadcast by TNT summed it up: Harden dribbled the ball 525 times in the opener against the Celtics, the rest of the team combined was at 411.

Milwaukee’s defensive strategy was to let Embiid take any shot he wanted that wasn’t at the rim, make him more of a jump shooter, and he shot 5-of-18 on 2-pointers. Harden has to find a way to get Embiid the rock more in places he can thrive.

The Sixers again struggled when they went to their bench — they scored just 13 points, and DeAnthony Melton had nine of those. When the bench is on the court, the 76ers have had scoring lulls. Another concern, the 76ers have been outscored by 18 points in the third quarters through two games.

It was always going to be a bit of a process (so to speak) to get Embiid, Harden, and Tyrese Maxey all at their peak (both Embiid and Maxey had 15 points against the Bucks). Facing Boston and Milwaukee to start the season is a tough way to break in that young relationship.

But that’s the bar — the Bucks and Celtics are the Eastern Conference favorites. If the 76ers want to make it to the NBA Finals, those are the teams they need to be able to beat come May.