LOS ANGELES – The uneven play by the Los Angeles Clippers down the stretch of the regular season followed the team out of their final home game at STAPLES Center. And so with four games on the road to finish their 2020-21 NBA campaign, the Clippers are going to need a strong finish to either move up to the second slot in the Western Conference or get locked into the third seed for the playoffs.
If the Clippers stay solid at No. 3, chances are they will get Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Should the Clippers move up and supplant the Phoenix Suns as the No. 2 team in the Western Conference, Tyronn Lue’s team will have the luck of running into LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (currently sitting at No. 7).
With three of their last remaining four games against the Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers should be in a good spot to end the regular season on a high note. That would be a lot better than what the team has played over the last 10 games before their mini getaway from home.
Including their 106-100 defeat to the New York Knicks on Mother’s Day, the Clippers went 6-4 before their Canada escapade against the Toronto Raptors to start their road trip. The Knicks did a number on the Clippers defensively, holding Los Angeles to under 30 points in each of the four quarters. New York was able to do that by limiting the Clippers to just 43 percent shooting from the field.
Both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard struggled in this one. Even though he produced a game-high 29 points, Leonard connected on just 9 of 26 shots he took from the field. George misfired on 12 of 20 shots to finish the game with just 18 points.
“I think we came into the game talking about [them] stunting off the pass, or they were going to jump the elbows, they are going to be physical, we got to own our space,” Lue said. “I thought early on we did that, and I thought as the game went on they kind of wore us down and their physicality and their tempo wore us down going into the second half.”
Two of the biggest takeaways from this game for Lue and his squad were minutes and rotation of the lineup. George gave the Clippers a little over 41 minutes of game action, while Leonard logged in a shade above 36 minutes.
“It was good,” Leonard said. “I’m glad I’m able to get those longer runs. You know we [have] four games until the playoffs so we need the longer minutes, the touches, playing against double teams, shooting over the double team, passing out of the double. Overall just playing the game we are going to play in the playoffs pretty much. I’m happy I was able to get some minutes tonight.”
George, who played a season-high in minutes, said with the exception of battling a cold he didn’t mind putting in the extra work.
“I would have been fine with it,” said George. “I was just under the weather the last couple of days. Today was just tough for that reason, but I’m fine. I thought I conditioned myself up to this point to be able to play at 40, 40 plus [minutes]. It was just tough, you know just dealing with a little cold coming into today.”
Speaking of minutes and rotation, outside of his starters, Lue gave four other players looks off the bench against New York. Slowly integrating himself into the rotation, center DeMarcus Cousins put in 15 minutes of work. Guard Rajon Rondo played 22 minutes, while Nicolas Batum gave the Clippers 27 minutes. Patrick Beverley, still rounding himself into shape following a lengthy absence because of an injury, gave the team 16 minutes off the bench.
The number of players that came off the bench and the minutes allotted to them against the Knicks may be a sign of what Lue’s rotation will likely look like when the postseason comes into play. Lue liked the way things flowed in a more conventional sense.
“It was good. Just trying to figure out with [DeMarcus Cousins] on the floor the things to run, the things he can pick up and understand,” Lue said. “Having [Kawhi Leonard] in that first unit was good, having [Paul George] in the second unit. Just some things we got to continue to keep figuring out. I thought their pressure tonight, their physicality really wore us down throughout the course of the game and they really got into us and really tested our ball-handling and our passing and they were physical with us all night.”
Batum, who spent a good chunk of his time trying to slow down New York’s high-flying guard Derrick Rose in the Clippers’ 10th defeat at home (45-23) this season, said the rotation move by Lue and his coaching staff is an adjustment, but everything should fall into place once the playoffs come around.
“It’s our first time in a while since we have played that way,” Batum said. “We have four games left to figure it out. We are going to be okay, I’m not even worried about it. I know the coaching staff tried to reset the rotation for the playoffs, so we just got to get our game going or it get it together and we will be alright. That was cool to see the rotation finally get [Kawhi Leonard] and [Paul George] got their regular playing time so we are going to be okay.”
Featured Image: Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) in a pensive mood in a game against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 19, 2021. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline