Once their Thanksgiving meal finished Thursday night in San Antonio, a handful of Clippers coaches and about half a dozen players attended a private screening of “Just Mercy,” a drama featuring Jamie Foxx that will not hit theaters until late December.
It was the latest occasion early this season when players have found themselves together, a roster full of new faces trying to bond. Before training camp opened, they had already gone deep-sea fishing and watched a Rams game from a suite at the Memorial Coliseum. As guard Lou Williams observed last month, the Clippers actually like one another — which is not something he could say about every team he’s been part of since entering the NBA in 2005.
Foxx’s performance, coach Doc Rivers said, was deserving of award nominations. The Clippers, meanwhile, would rather forget the video from their own performance Friday.
A 107-97 loss to the Spurs, a team mired in one of the NBA’s worst months, served as a reminder of the Clippers’ nascent on-court chemistry, despite the promising early returns from Paul George’s and Kawhi Leonard’s first four games together.
“We weren’t playing well,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if we didn’t have any energy or whatever, but give them credit.”
Humming properly, the Clippers have displayed strong ball movement, multiple scoring options and on-a-string defense. It is the benefit of players with the skill of Leonard and George, in addition to the baked-in chemistry between teammates such as Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Williams, who intuitively know how to play off one another after spending several seasons together.
But none of that has made the Clippers (14-7) immune to stretches when it can appear as though they are reticent of figuratively stepping on one another’s toes. Their glacially slow offensive pace during Friday’s defeat wasn’t the result of a disruptive Spurs defense but their own shortcomings, said George, who pointed the finger at his own play.
“I had a lot of possessions that I should have been aggressive to score but more so was looking to pass and make plays and facilitate,” George said. “I think that’s where I’ve got to find that thin line of coming out to score and be aggressive, attacking and letting everything else come next to that. I think that’s where I can really start to find my rhythm and play a little better.
“Still got 60-plus games and a lot more chemistry to build.”
George made two of his 11 shots for five points, and his three assists came against five turnovers — an unexpected stat line considering the ease with which he had averaged 24.8 points since his return from offseason shoulder rehab two weeks ago.
Before Friday, he had finished with five or fewer points only four times in the last five seasons.
“We all didn’t really get in a rhythm offensively to help [George] get to his spots,” Leonard said. “On the defensive end, as well, we weren’t communicating that much and it was just that carryover.”
Rivers acknowledged the difficulty of getting everyone on the same page. Injuries continue to be a problem — guards Rodney McGruder and Landry Shamet were out Friday — and practice time has dwindled. When the Clippers face Portland on Tuesday and Milwaukee on Friday, it will be their first gap of two or more days between games since Nov. 7-11.
Asked before tipoff whether he felt his team was jelling ahead of schedule, Rivers had reason to say yes, based on the team-building that began in August and September. Then again, based on some sloppy on-court execution he’d witnessed during that morning’s shoot-around, “I would say probably not,” he said.
“We have in what we have in and we’re becoming good at that,” Rivers said of their schemes, “but we have a long way to go.”
When: 7:30 p.m., Sunday
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570
Update: The Wizards (6-11) have lost three of their last four and allow 114.8 points per 100 possessions, the NBA’s worst defensive rating. However, they own the second-best offensive rating behind Bradley Beal’s 28.3 points per game — the league’s fifth-highest scoring average — and 7.1 assists.