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Montrezl Harrell facing plenty of challenges in his return to the Clippers

Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell looks on during a game.
Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell, who returned to the NBA bubble in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, could be back on the court later this week.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Should Clippers center Montrezl Harrell clear his four-day quarantine later this week, as expected, the finalist for the NBA’s top reserve will have only days to rebuild rhythm with teammates and regain his conditioning before the postseason begins.

And those are only the physical challenges he faces after three weeks away from the team.

Since leaving the NBA’s Disney World campus July 17, Harrell has also expressed emotional and mental anguish on social media while mourning the death of a grandmother with whom he was close.

If all that sounds daunting, a Clippers teammate who knows Harrell as well as anyone on the roster believes the standout center will not only regain his old focus but play with heightened motivation.

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“He’s back, ready to work,” said Lou Williams, a guard who, like Harrell, is a finalist for the NBA’s Sixth Man award. “Obviously Trez is a high-energy guy. He’s a guy that plays at a high level, extremely physical player, extremely emotional player.

“With some things on his mind, I feel sorry for the other guys on the other team. ”

At 82, Jerry West doesn’t try to hide the cracks in a fabled life. “I wish I would have done something really important in my life.”

Harrell is one of four Clippers whose arrival or stay at the league campus has been delayed or interrupted by a death of a loved one, joining JaMychal Green, Patrick Beverley and Williams. Harrell has written that he is dedicating the rest of the Clippers’ season to his grandmother.

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“I love my best friend my number one lady,” Harrell tweeted Aug. 4. “So this next wave of greatness is coming with a lot of pain and passion.”

Michael Ojo, a college teammate of rookie guard Terance Mann, recently died as well, while practicing with a club team in Croatia.

“Close teams always come together in these moments,” coach Doc Rivers said. “When Trez gets back, you’ll see some of that here as well. ”

Said Williams: “When Pat was gone every day, we were in constant communication. When I was gone for a few days, we were in constant communication. Nothing is different with Trez. We were speaking with him every day, every other day, dealing with him, just making sure he was OK, if he needed anything .”

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Despite his time away and the strong impressions made by reserve centers JaMychal Green and Joakim Noah, Harrell will inherit his backup center role as soon as he is eligible to play, Rivers said. That could be as soon as Friday, when the Clippers face Oklahoma City in their eighth and final seeding game.

The decision is rooted in Harrell’s 18 points per game, which are a major reason why the Clippers lead the league in bench scoring. Just as pressing, however, is that Rivers has yet to have his entire 15-man roster available at the same time since arriving in Orlando more than one month ago.

Life inside the NBA’s closed environment in Orlando means constant surveillance and medical checks. And sometimes wine. Lots and lots of wine.

“It would be kind of nice to have our normal rotation at least one time in the bubble,” Rivers said. “We have to be the only team that has not had their normal rotation one game this entire bubble stretch. It’s been tough in that way. But hopefully we can get it for one game.”

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The Clippers had hoped entering the restart that their roster’s improved health during the league’s four-month hiatus would generate momentum as the playoffs approached but that has not been the case because of late arrivals — center Ivica Zubac and guard Landry Shamet each arrived two weeks late because of coronavirus — and a trio of departures.

Their search for continuity has been further hampered by a calf strain that has sidelined Beverley, a starting guard, for the last three games. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have each sat out one of the team’s last two games to rest.

“I think our coaching staff, they’re getting ready for the big picture,” Williams said. “Mentally we’re getting ready for the big picture. You kind of see it where we turn it on for four or five minutes, then the lineups may be a little quirky. I’ve been on many restrictions since I’ve been out of quarantine. As you can see Kawhi, Paul, they have been flip-flopping games. Pat has been sitting.

“I know there’s another level there. I know we have another place that we can tap into. I think guys are getting ready for that. ”

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Up next: vs. Denver

When: 6 p.m. PDT, Wednesday

On the air: Prime Ticket, ESPN; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Nuggets (46-25) are 1½ games behind the Clippers (47-23) for second place in the Western Conference standings. Denver forward Michael Porter Jr. has been one of the breakthrough players in the bubble by moving into the starting lineup and averaging 23.8 points per game. Porter fell to 14th overall in the 2018 draft, one pick after the Clippers selected Jerome Robinson, because of a back injury that cut short his college career at Missouri. Another back surgery kept him from playing a single game during his rookie season.


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