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South Carolina's Clowney keeps disrupting offenses

South Carolina's Clowney keeps disrupting offenses

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina's star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney only had two tackles against Arkansas on Saturday. But both were for losses, and his presence was enough to disrupt the Razorbacks at every turn.

At one point, the sophomore for the 12th ranked Gamecocks came back to the sideline frustrated, once again shut out from making a play during an Arkansas series. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward pointed out the Razorbacks were using up to five guys to contain him.

``I told him if he's going to wait to get some one-on-one blocking, he's probably going to wait until he gets to the NFL,'' Ward said.

Draft experts suggest Clowney would be the No. 1 pick if he came out this season. But the NFL will have to wait until 2014, after his junior season. In the meantime, Clowney keep terrorizing Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, even with groups of guys coming after him.

``It makes you throw the ball a little faster than you normally do,'' Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. ``He makes you have to guess sometimes.''

Clowney came to South Carolina as the top prospect in the country, and has proven his talent from the start. SEC coaches named him freshman of the year in 2011 and he made the second team all-SEC. His eight sacked were eighth in the league, and he was the only freshman in the top 10.

Clowney has 9.5 sacks this year, third in the league and just off the season record of 10 sacks set by Melvin Ingram last season. Clowney terrorized Georgia so often in a 35-7 win that he generated some Heisman Trophy buzz. It wore off after losses to LSU and Florida, but Clowney came back and saved the day against Tennessee, swimming past the two linemen assigned to him all day, diving and reaching out with his long arms, grabbing Tyler Bray just as he tried to throw and forcing the late fumble that preserved a 38-35 win.

Ward moved Clowney just outside the guard against Tennessee. Arkansas saw that on film and shifted its line whenever Clowney moved toward the middle. Ward said he could hear the Razorbacks offensive line yell ``Clowney left!'' whenever the sophomore moved.

The decision freed up the Gamecocks other speedy defenders up front. South Carolina picked up four sacks and held Arkansas to 83 yards rushing,

``They had a lot of guys on me. But I expect that every game we play in,'' Clowney said ``You've got to get past it and make something happen.''

Clowney grumbles some about the way he gets treated. After the Arkansas game, he said he could have made more tackles, but he felt like offensive linemen were allowed to be a little too aggressive blocking him without getting holding penalties.

``That ain't a call anymore in this league,'' Clowney said. ``They've got to tackle you down to the ground before an official is going to call a hold.''

While so many Razorbacks were busy keeping Clowney away, his teammates picked up three sacks Saturday and three additional tackles for losses.

Clowney passes on a leadership role so far with his defense, and his laid back demeanor shows up on the field. Clowney got one penalty for roughing the passer Saturday, and it appeared Wilson embellished the small bit of contact. Clowney shook it off.

``I get frustrated, but I try to keep my cool down on the field,'' Clowney said. ``They got to tackle you down to the ground before an official is going to call a hold.''

Ward keeps polishing his young talent. He has said many times that Clowney has gotten this far on his freakish talent alone and will need to work on his fundamentals if he wants to be an all-star defensive lineman in the NFL.

Clowney is responding, and Ward keeps setting up schemes like what his defensive coaches call the rabbit package, throwing Clowney and three other fast, disruptive defensive ends on the line to create chaos.

``Clowney was rated the No. 1 player coming out of high school,'' Ward said. ``So we expect this from him.''

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LeBron James had his worst ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

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LeBron James had his worst ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

No Wizards fan needs to be reminded of the torment their favorite team has suffered at the hands of LeBron James for the last decade-and-a-half. He has eliminated them from the playoffs three times, scored 57 in their building and hit a variety of game-winning shots.

So, it should be considered no small feat what the Wizards did on Sunday night in their 128-110 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. They held James, arguably the league's best player, to only 13 points. That's his lowest scoring total ever against the Wizards franchise.

James has played the Wizards 65 times over the years, between the regular season and the playoffs. His previous career low vs. the Wizards was 14, back on Feb. 7 of 2004, when he was a rookie.

While in the Eastern Conference for his first 15 NBA seasons, James played the Wizards four times a year and often had the upper-hand. In his career, even with Sunday's loss, he is 30-19 against them with a 26.9 points per game average.

Usually, James powers his way to the rim against the Wizards and scores at will. Not on Sunday night.

"I have no clue," head coach Scott Brooks said when asked for the secret to shutting him down.

"It seems like every night it's 40 points here. He makes shots. Last year, here I think he averaged [39.9 points, 11.0 assists and 10.0 rebounds]. He's a pretty good player."

James shot just 5-for-16 from the field on Sunday, good for 31.3 percent. He was 0-for-2 from three and had four turnovers with only three assists. He was a -21 in the box score.

Some of James' struggles could be attributed to fatigue, as the Lakers played the night before in Charlotte. And James did have an off-night with some missed shots he would otherwise make.

But the Wizards had a plan and it worked. They deployed Jeff Green to guard him in isolation. Green is not only the Wizards' best match from a physical standpoint, he knows James well having played with him last season with the Cavaliers.

Green did an excellent job matching James' physical style without fouling. He had only one foul on the night despite playing bump-and-run coverage on many of James' drives to the basket.

Green and the Wizards also took away his three-point looks by closing early and making him pass to teammates. James' two three-point attempts were a season-low.

"Give a lot of credit to Jeff. Jeff did a great job," guard John Wall said. "It was one game. We know he is how he is. Just gotta tip your hat for us, making him make tough shots and make plays tonight."

The Wizards wanted others to beat them from long range and James' teammates didn't come through. While James didn't get off many threes, other Lakers did. They just didn't hit them.

Josh Hart went 0-for-5 from long range. Lonzo Ball went 2-for-7 and Kyle Kuzma went 0-for-4. 

“I think we did a good job of making it difficult on [James], showing him a lot of bodies, active hands," guard Bradley Beal said.

With James in check, the Wizards took advantage. They forced 22 total turnovers and that allowed Wall to feast in transition. He scored a season-high 40 points and dished 14 assists.

For one night, the Wizards had James' number. After 16 years of domination, it was about time.

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Sam Dekker stands out for Wizards without cutting corners

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Sam Dekker stands out for Wizards without cutting corners

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Scott Brooks doesn’t know much about Sam Dekker. Four games since the Wizards acquired the energy forward as part of a successful three-team deal, it’s clear the head coach is enjoying the homework.

John Wall’s passionate work from the start against the Los Angeles Lakers helped snap the Wizards’ four-game losing streak, but Dekker’s X-factor performance also stood out in Washington’s rousing 128-110 win Sunday night.

Sunday marked the Wizards’ first game since the weekend’s chaotic trade sequence that will ultimately bring Trevor Ariza back to Washington. The deal doesn’t become approved by the league until Monday. With Otto Porter (right knee contusion) sidelined, Washington took the court shorthanded at positions where players would contend with LeBron James.

Brooks admitted pregame he loved the undermanned challenge. Dekker’s constant and perceptive movement helped Washington play at needed levels without cutting corners.

“Sam is a great cutter. That is what I am finding out,” Brooks said. “I didn't really know everything about his game, I still don't.”

Brooks isn’t alone in learning about the fourth-year player. Dekker received regular rotation work the previous two seasons with the Rockets and Clippers, but his NBA career has yet to blast off.

An ankle injury kept him off the court in Cleveland earlier this campaign until the Dec. 7 trade involving Jason Smith landed him in Washington.

The general scouting report played out in real life against the Lakers. High motor player. Athletic 6-foot-9 forward. Scattered shooting from distance.

The two positive traits showed in the open court and on the move. Dekker repeatedly found space when Wall or Tomas Satoransky ran the offense. They frequently found him for dunks and layups. Dekker finished 10 of 15 from the field.

“Whenever I have the ball or attack, penetrate, he’s a great cutter,” said Wall, who finished with a season-high 40 points and 14 assists. “We were just talking about it. He said ‘Whenever you have the opportunity to be aggressive, I’m always a guy that’s cutting and doing the little things. I don’t mind doing the dirty work.’”

The Wizards (12-18) need more grit in their world considering their underachieving start to the season. That’s something Dekker believes he can provide. Considering he doesn’t have full grasp of the team’s playbook terminology, falling on the back of basketball basics is necessary for now.

“They called out a couple of plays tonight and I looked at John, looked at Brad (Beal) and I’m like where (do I go), Dekker said spastically. “(They) would just say go to the corner. OK. That part of it is tough.

“One thing you can control is how hard you play and how smart you play. When you put yourself in a position to do some good things, and help the team. That’s really all I’m trying to do right now.”

Going forward Dekker will try finding a spot in Washington’s rotation. Ariza, who was Dekker’s basketball tutor when the two played in Houston during the 2016-17 season, likely moves into the starting lineup.

Reserve minutes opened when Washington traded Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix for Ariza.  The basics of Dekker’s game compares to the popular Oubre, but with perhaps a steadier baseline.

He has yet to run the court with complete ease. Dekker remains on a minute’s restriction because of the ankle injury. “I was able to do some things tonight that I haven’t been able to in the past couple of games. That was a positive,” he said.

There’s no guarantees for minutes or the 24-year-old being part of Washington’s future. Dekker is one of several restricted free agents on the roster. For now the goal is simple: Play and play hard.

“I’m just trying to prove myself every night. I’m trying to show coach I’m a guy that can help this team,” Dekker said. “I’ve helped teams in the past, but I really want to be part of a playoff run here.”

Color Brooks impressed, with one clear clanking exception.

“I'm assuming that he is going to be able to shoot threes better than he did,” Brooks said after watching Dekker air ball a 3-point attempt and wildly miss on another. “But he cuts to the basket, he moves the ball, he plays hard, he brings energy, he plays with the proper respect for the game. That is what I love about him, he always seems to be prepared. He doesn't have to turn the switch on, it's on.” 

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