One-two punch of Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris have become one of the league’s deadliest forward combos

Danilo Gallinari (8) and Tobias Harris (34) of the Clippers celebrate a lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves on their way to a 120-109 win at Staples Center on Nov. 5, 2018.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

When Tobias Harris leaves work, he never truly leaves basketball behind.

The Clippers forward is hyper-aware about the game. He spends his free time watching, preparing for or thinking about it. He wants every piece of information the coaching staff can give him and selects the sneakers he will wear in each game carefully.

Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers’ other starting forward, has worn the same model of Adidas all season. He prefers not to watch basketball during his free time, or know his statistics. Not only during a game — for as long as possible.


“Unfortunately, sometimes I see,” he said. “They put it on my locker or they put it somewhere or the coaches tell me about it. I have no idea.”

Despite divergent approaches, Harris and Gallinari have meshed seamlessly during their first full season together and in the process provided the Clippers a deadly combination.

The Clippers have an offensive rating of 112.4 and a defensive rating of 109.7 — both nearly a point better than the team’s overall ratings this season — during the 1,019 minutes Gallinari and Harris have played together this season. That’s nearly 200 minutes more than any other Clippers tandem. In the entire NBA this season, only eight other two-player combos have played together more often.

“One of them always has an advantage, and that’s what we explained before the year,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I guarantee you during the game, teams will switch.

“I said, it’s the same thing, ‘Small guy out in front of you or a big guy, and the big guy can’t guard you because he’s too slow, and the small guy can’t guard you because he’s too small, and you guys just have to figure that out,’ and they do, they do a great job of it.”

One reason why is they share more similarities than differences. The 6-foot-9 Harris and 6-10 Gallinari both are inside-outside scorers capable of taking advantage of mismatches and starting the offense as a de facto point guard. Coaches say they’re both remarkably even-keel, coachable and prioritize the same thing: victories.

“I’m playing good it’s good, but as long as we’re winning, I think that’s the most important thing,” Gallinari said.

Harris is building a case for his first All-Star appearance, averaging career highs in points (21.0), rebounds (8.1), shooting percentage (50.3%) and three-point percentage (42.1%) — though if he wants to earn his first All-Star appearance will likely need NBA coaches to select him as a reserve. When the NBA released the first round of fan voting for All-Star starters Thursday, Harris was not among the top-10 vote-getters among the West’s frontcourt players. By comparison Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins, who hasn’t played this season while recovering from injury, was 10th.

“I’ve always had goals of being in the All-Star game as a player,” Harris said. “You guys know me, I push myself to high standards.”

Both Gallinari and Harris have expressed interest in taking part in the three-point competition during All-Star weekend. Gallinari ranks fifth in the league by shooting a career-best 46% on threes even if he didn’t know it until a reporter recently informed him. He’s joined Golden State’s Stephen Curry as the only players this season averaging 19 or more points while shooting at least 45% on three-pointers.

“They run a lot of plays for us and they always find us in the right spots,” Gallinari said. “Our bigs are screening for us a lot so they make our life easier, but it’s tough to guard me and Tobias because one of us either has a small guy on us or big guy.”

Said Rivers: “I think you can always get better. I think they’re playing well, but they can always get better.”

It wasn’t immediately apparent that this combination would be even this efficient. They played only nine games together last season because Harris arrived via a midseason trade from Detroit and Gallinari struggled to stay healthy because of injuries to his hand and glute. The results weren’t gaudy: With those two on the floor, the Clippers shot 43% — four percentage points worse than this season — and allowed more points than they scored.

But Gallinari returned to the U.S. from his native Italy weeks earlier than usual in the offseason in part to learn how he could better pair with Harris. By October, two weeks before the regular season began, Gallinari raved that “the chemistry has been great. We love to play with each other.”

In the two months since, it has showed.



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Update: Phoenix (9-30) has lost its last four games and during that span is tied with Portland for the worst rebounding average in the NBA, grabbing 36.5 a game. The Suns have lost by an average of 12 points during their losing streak. The Clippers (21-16) are 2-0 against Phoenix this season. The Clippers recalled rookie guard Jerome Robinson from the G League on Thursday morning before sending him back to the Agua Caliente Clippers hours later, after he took part in a Clippers practice. The team also thinks forward Luc Mbah a Moute is one to two weeks from returning to action after sitting out the last 33 games because of a sore left knee.

Twitter: @andrewgreif