The swish of the net after Landry Shamet’s first shot Saturday night in Chicago was encouraging for the Clippers.
Even better, from the team’s perspective, was what it meant beyond simply three points.
After getting Shamet back against the Bulls, in his first appearance since suffering a high ankle sprain Nov. 11, the Clippers could soon see their full rotation play together for the first time since the roster was assembled in the summer. To this point, timing and injuries have made that impossible.
All-Star forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George weren’t full participants in practice until early October and mid-November, respectively, while recovering from injuries. Injuries also cost reserve guard Rodney McGruder 11 games, and Shamet’s ankle kept him out for 17, with his sprain occurring just days before George’s Clippers debut.
Saturday’s 109-106 loss to the Bulls was the second consecutive game that Lou Williams (sore calf) and Patrick Beverley (concussion) watched from the bench and the fourth straight absence for JaMychal Green (bruised tailbone).
But Shamet and McGruder both returned to action during the team’s six-game trip, and the issues that sidelined Green, Beverley and Williams are not considered long term. That means a holiday gift potentially awaits coach Doc Rivers — a full lineup.
On Saturday, George said “it was great to get my first feel with [Shamet] on the floor. Look forward to all of us getting back, seeing what that is going to be like — myself, Pat, Lou, Sham, getting all us out there.”
Shamet, who made three three-pointers in scoring 11 points, said he said he was restricted to his 21 minutes against the Bulls and most wanted to get his “feel” back on defense. He appeared to move well laterally.
“I felt good, super tired, and my wind’s not there yet, but I felt good,” Shamet said. “There were a couple times where my body was a couple steps behind my mind, and I knew to switch [defensively] but wasn’t switching. So, just getting back in the flow of game planning, schemes, knowing what to do when and reacting quicker like I was before I got hurt. I think that was the big takeaway for me.”
Rivers called Shamet’s return “fantastic.”
“Moved well, shot the ball well; I thought defensively he was pretty good,” Rivers said. “I couldn’t have been happier with him.”
Before his injury, Shamet had become used to playing alongside Leonard but had verlapped with George during only one practice on Nov. 9. Even then, they were on separate teams. In Chicago, Shamet was thrown right into the fire and started alongside George.
Rivers has said he envisions pairing Shamet and George because their outside shooting will apply pressure to defenses. George (5.9 per game) and Shamet (4.5) have attempted the most catch-and-shoot three-pointers on the team, with George making 39% of his attempts and Shamet 40%.
Their movement around screens and the perimeter could create space for skilled drivers such as Williams and Leonard.
“It’s a different group playing a little bit different than how we were when I went down and got hurt, so it’s just going to take some adjusting for me, but I’m not too worried,” Shamet said. “Offensively, I think I’ll be able to fit in and find my spots and know how to play with two All-Stars and figure it out from there.”
In George and Shamet’s 21 minutes together Saturday, the Clippers made five of nine three-pointers but were outscored by 16 points. That was part of a larger problem for a Clippers starting lineup that was cobbled together because of injuries.
“It was one of those nights our first unit couldn’t get it going,” Rivers said.
It was also a night that put the Clippers one step closer to seeing their full lineup in action.
“There is no shortcut to it,” George said. “You just got to go out there and play.”