Los Angeles Times


Clippers’ season-best fourth straight win is part of revival since veterans got vocal.

- By Andrew Greif

By the time the Clippers pulled into San Antonio on Jan. 19 they had lost nine of their previous 11 games and, with each passing day, valuable time to steer themselves out of their skid.

The Clippers’ roster is loaded with players who are versatile but not by nature vociferous. But as the losing continued, which included losses to Philadelph­ia and Utah on consecutiv­e nights that dropped the preseason championsh­ip contender into the play-in tournament tier of the Western Conference standings, coach Tyronn Lue wanted one of the NBA’s oldest rosters to find answers among themselves. Guard Norman Powell, wing Paul George and forward Marcus Morris Sr. were the most vocal, said people familiar with the locker-room discussion­s.

“Guys were like, ‘OK, it’s getting ridiculous, we got to win some games,’ ” center Ivica Zubac said. “We were talking about that Utah game: We can go on a win streak. We just got to lock in, we got to stick to our plan.”

What a difference a week makes.

Despite a litany of defensive mistakes, the Clippers held off San Antonio last Friday. They started a win two days later behind what Lue

called the team’s best defensive performanc­e to date against Luka Doncic. By not allowing their double-digit lead against the Lakers to disappear Tuesday, even in the face of a career-best shooting night from LeBron James, they felt they’d showed a composure they had lacked.

On Thursday the Clippers closed the week that has, for now, revived their season by beating San Antonio again, 138-100 to improve to 27-24. As Kawhi Leonard scored 12 of his 27 points in the first quarter, and George scored 10 of his 35, the team’s execution that had once looked scattersho­t turned methodical, and a once-disjointed roster appeared dangerous.

They turned the ball over only five times. They never ceded their lead.

“Things, they feel different,” Lue said. “We still got a long ways to go, like I keep saying, but things do feel different.

“When you win, it changes a lot of things, but we are getting better in certain areas, especially offensivel­y. I think we’re turning the corner in that regard. And defensivel­y just gotta play a full 48 [minutes].”

Significan­t caveats apply: San Antonio’s defense is the NBA’s worst by a Texas-sized margin. And the

Spurs were playing on a second consecutiv­e night, and are now 2-9 when playing with less rest than their opponent.

But Thursday brought or continued developmen­ts they gladly welcomed: another more focused defensive effort, the season’s first fourgame winning streak — not a coincidenc­e it also marked the first stretch of four straight games with both Leonard and George available — and the return of guard Luke Kennard after being sidelined by nine games with a calf injury.

A week after San Antonio backcut its way to 72 points by halftime, the Spurs didn’t score that many until four minutes remained in the third quarter. By that point the Clippers had scored 100 points, and the win improved them to 18-2 when crossing the triple-digit barrier first. This, George said, was a team that hadn’t broken amid its bruising losing skid.

“We were having tough nights,” he said. “But I think every one understood at some point we were going to be healthy.”

Kennard scored five points in 17 minutes and didn’t experience any discomfort. He’d last played Jan. 6, and as the Clippers shook up which guards played and how often during his nine-game absence, Lue said the “plan” he had in mind for his preferred rotation wouldn’t be able to be put in place until Kennard returned.

Of course, this being a Clippers season riddled by injury, that plan still wasn’t able to be implemente­d despite Kennard’s return because the roster still is not whole. Backup guard John Wall missed his seventh consecutiv­e game with an abdominal injury and starting forward Morris was sidelined by a bruised rib suffered Tuesday. Instead, Lue went with a different plan — starting Kennard in place of Morris for the season’s 19th starting lineup.

Even with the new wrinkle of Kennard’s start, Lue, midway through the first quarter, used what has recently become a familiar lineup featuring Powell as the lead guard surrounded by four wings, without a center. By removing Kennard for Powell, Lue opted against pairing up a pair of smaller guards, a lineup constructi­on that the coach has acknowledg­ed makes the Clippers’ life defensivel­y more difficult.

It is why one of the most anticipate­d elements of Lue’s future rotation plan centers on which combinatio­ns of smaller guards Lue chooses to play together, and how often. The logjam could be eased before the Feb. 9 trade deadline if the team’s front office can find ways to pare down the backcourt depth chart.

 ?? Ashley Landis Associated Press ?? PAUL GEORGE’S highlight-reel windmill dunk helped give the Clippers a 21-point halftime lead. George finished with 35 points.
Ashley Landis Associated Press PAUL GEORGE’S highlight-reel windmill dunk helped give the Clippers a 21-point halftime lead. George finished with 35 points.

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