Clippers sign DeMarcus Cousins to 10-day contract

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FILE - Houston Rockets' DeMarcus Cousins pauses during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game.
DeMarcus Cousins catches hs breath during a pause in a Rockets game earlier this season. (Carmen Mandato / Associated Press)

With their depth at center running low the Clippers signed former All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to a 10-day contract Monday, the team announced.

The 6-foot-10, 30-year-old center returned from a torn knee ligament suffered in August 2019, and previous injuries to a quadriceps and Achilles tendon, to average 9.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists playing 20 minutes per game this season in Houston. The Rockets waived Cousins in February, after 25 games while guaranteeing his one-year contract, allowing him to find a better fit.

Since a back injury sidelined starting center Serge Ibaka in mid-March, the Clippers’ starters have managed during the 11-game absence because of the strong play of backup center Ivica Zubac, who has averaged 10.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots while shooting 61.5% since joining the starting lineup.

Behind Zubac, however, the Clippers didn’t have a third big man ready to take his backup minutes with rookie center Daniel Oturu not yet ready for the role. The signing of Cousins — which could be extended to a second 10-day contract — is viewed as an insurance policy in case Ibaka’s injury continues to linger.

In the last 11 games since Zubac and Marcus Morris joined the starters, the Clippers are allowing the second-fewest paint points (41.3), which is six fewer points and 14 spots better than their overall season averages. Even with NBA All-Defensive guard Patrick Beverley sidelined, the Clippers have improved to fifth in defensive rating since the All-Star break.

Could Zubac hold onto the starting job when Ibaka returns? Coach Tyronn Lue said last week he wasn’t sure how he would eventually reintegrate Ibaka into the rotation.

“Our communication is getting better and Big Zu has been really good for us at that rim and when guys get beat, he's done a tremendous job of staying vertical and contesting everything, man,” said Morris, who joined the starters at the same time as Zubac. “We're just flying around, I think going into the All-Star break, when we came out of it, we knew that we need to up our standards and continue to go forward and I think we've done a great job of it.”

Cousins was required to clear the NBA’s coronavirus testing protocol to be considered for a contract. That happened Monday, the same day the Clippers were required to sign a 14th player to meet the league’s minimum roster requirement. Cousins joins a locker room with former Kentucky teammate Patrick Patterson, a forward who received some of the backup center minutes, and point guard Rajon Rondo, with whom Cousins had played in Sacramento and New Orleans.

Long-range thinking

By making four of his five three-pointers in a 104-86 win against the Lakers on Sunday, Morris underscored that his best use offensively this season has been beyond the three-point arc, where he has made 54% of his shots from the corners and 47% overall.

Yet, Morris called himself pleased that the coaching staff has allowed him to continue probing for mid-range shots even though the frequency (39%) and accuracy (42%) with which he takes and makes those shots has decreased from last season.

That willingness isn’t necessarily a surprise. The Clippers have attempted 772 mid-range shots this season — only Orlando, San Antonio and Washington have taken more. Lue wanted to design an offense around his roster’s strengths, and Kawhi Leonard is one of the NBA’s last, most fervent mid-range practitioners. On his way to a game-high 22 points Sunday, Morris gained rhythm by making his first two shots from 16 and seven feet.

“It’s just a test to my coaching staff and T Lue just allowing me to play my game,” Morris said. “You have some teams in the NBA that doesn’t believe in the mid-range shot and just threes and layups and he allows me to be me and last game I didn’t feel as though I was aggressive enough early on and he just allowed me to go early and get mine.”

UP NEXT

VS. PORTLAND

When: 7 p.m., Tuesday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Trail Blazers have won eight of their last 11 games and sit sixth in the Western Conference standings, two games behind the Clippers in third, since C.J. McCollum returned from a foot injury. McCollum has averaged 20 points and made 36% of his three-pointers since his return. Don’t count out the Trail Blazers (30-19), who are 9-15 when trailing after three quarters — only Denver (10) has more victories. The Clippers (33-18), by comparison, are 1-11 when behind entering the fourth quarter.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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