For next week there will be a missing piece in the Clippers’ rotation.
Norman Powell remains out of the lineup with an injured left shoulder.
However, after claiming back-to-back wins this week, the Clippers believe they’ve found something they’ve been missing during their recent five-game losing streak: maybe, just maybe, momentum.
“We’re figuring it out, I think we’re getting better game by game, definitely from these last two games,” backup guard Eric Gordon said Friday, a day before a morning session against the Knicks. “The sense of urgency is there. A lot of those losses came down to one possession and now we’re figuring it out a bit more.”
By holding Memphis to 17 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday, 34 fewer than the Grizzlies scored in their third-quarter blowout victory, and then holding Toronto to 38% shooting, including just 39% on inside-the-line shooting. In the paint, the Clippers (35-33) have found what coach Tyronn Lue called a defensive “flat” over their past five quarters.
“I thought we did a good job of talking, going back into transition at times, limiting them to one shot,” Kawhi Leonard said Wednesday. “Communication was pretty good. We’ve been talking about the guys who are talking, they need to talk more and whoever isn’t talking needs to start talking.”
Optimism has resurfaced due to the health of All-Star forward Paul George. He can “do anything and everything he wants to do” again after an unspecified right knee issue led to him being limited in both minutes and how he felt he could play after the game’s break. stars.
It could be a factor in why he’s attacked the paint more off the dribble, with 35% of his shots over the last two games inside 10 feet of the rim, up from his season average of 27%.
“I knew I had to play better on both sides of the ball,” George said Wednesday. “A lot of how this season goes will come down to how I play and my performance. So I will always accept the personal challenge to improve and, I am a guy who likes to lead by example, so if I don’t maintain my weight, how am I going to inspire or influence my teammates to maintain theirs? ?”
Still missing, despite the self-proclaimed improvement, are two important and related elements. Powell is the NBA’s top reserve candidate this season, but suffered a partially dislocated left shoulder on March 2. He will be out for the next week before being re-evaluated. Powell has been able to do court work during practice and, in some cases, has worked out multiple times a day. Lue anticipated that Powell would continue to be minimally involved in Friday’s practice, but doubted Powell would be ready for contact.
With Powell gone, Lue said he still isn’t sure which lineup combinations work best together. There’s no question that rotation decisions will be built off of starters Leonard, George, Marcus Morris Sr. and Ivica Zubac. Deciding how deep their rotation will go from there, and which players are best suited to close out games together, is the main challenge, Lue said, with just 14 games remaining in the regular season.
“The only consistency we’ve had this year, and the last two years, has been Marcus, Kawhi, PG and Zu, and that’s the only consistency we’ve got right now, and we’ve got to keep working with that. Lue said. “But then the guys on the bench just seeing how they fit in and what role they can play and who they fit in well with is going to be the hardest.”
The way the Clippers wrapped up their most recent victories underscored the evolution of Lue’s decision-making. After point guard Russell Westbrook played the entire fourth quarter on Sunday against Memphis, the Clippers won those 12 minutes by 21 points, he didn’t play the final 17 minutes on Wednesday against Toronto as Lue opted to stay with Terance Mann and Gordon all the way. last room.
“T Lue is going to play…whoever he thinks has been playing well the whole game or whatever he feels,” Leonard said, “and everyone on the team knows that.”
While debating whether to sign Westbrook as a free agent last month, one of the main hurdles was gauging the former NBA MVP’s acceptance of a role whose scope could change overnight. Lue praised Westbrook’s tackle as “100%” and has seen his willingness to play differently than he has in the past.
A career pick-and-roll handler, Westbrook set up screens on back-to-back possessions to open the second half against Toronto with immediate success, the veteran rolling to the basket and making plays that led to four points.
“He’s been doing a lot of things on the go, but it’s been great,” Lue said.