Clippers play starters more minutes vs. Lakers: Five takeaways from the loss

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard drives to the basket against Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard drives to the basket against Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma during a preseason game Sunday at Staples Center.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Clippers’ final dress rehearsal for the regular season will come Thursday after losing their second preseason game to the Lakers in three days.

In the 131-106 Lakers victory Sunday, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue played his starters more minutes than in the preseason opener, though starting forward Marcus Morris attended the game but missed his second consecutive game with knee soreness. Assistant coach Chauncey Billups and reserve guard Reggie Jackson, both of whom took part in Friday’s preseason opener, were not with the team because of excused absences under the NBA’s health and safety protocol, according to the team.

Here are five things we noticed during the second preseason game.

1. Before tipoff, Lue described his preseason philosophy as caring less about winning than ensuring players understood where they needed to be within the team’s offense and defense. “To know what sets we are going to run, to be able to call them out and guys get to the right spot,” he said.

Unlike the 27-turnover performance Friday, when passes thrown to dead air and unsuspecting teammates led to extra Lakers possessions, the ball often found its intended receivers Sunday, when the Clippers turned the ball over just 11 times. But those players often weren’t in the right place on the court, Lue said.

“Probably eight or nine times we called plays and couldn’t get guys in the right spots, so just something we got to continue to keep working at,” Lue said. “… It’s a good test run for us tonight just, you know, throwing some different things at guys and seeing if they would pick it up. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t, so we got to continue to keep doing that. And we’ll be fine, so I’m not worried about it.”


2. Kawhi Leonard scored 11 points in 18 minutes, four more than Friday, and at times played with the pace that wasn’t apparent in the preseason opener.

In one instance during the first half, Leonard isolated against the defense of Kyle Kuzma on the right wing, exploding out of his first step inside the three-point arc before stopping and rising for a shot as Kuzma’s momentum carried him backward.

Paul George was more effective from the start offensively than in their opener and scored nine points, making three of six shots to go with four assists. He reiterated that being able to train during the offseason — unlike 2019, when shoulder surgeries left him unable to fully practice until after the season began — has aided his confidence.

“Coming into this year I feel good, my shoulders are a lot better and so it’s kind of been easing my mind,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about how to play and how to play through stuff. I’m kind of at ease when I’m on the court.”

3. With Jackson unavailable to play, guard Terance Mann was slotted into his place with the bench unit and displayed some of the things he will need if he hopes to become a viable rotation player in his second season by making an open three-pointer and slashing for a dunk in transition in the first half.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were on the court together as Clippers starters in the exhibition opener — a sight the team hopes to see often this season.

Dec. 11, 2020

A 35% three-point shooter last season, albeit in a small sample size, Mann was asked by coaches in the offseason to improve his accuracy — something that has been a knock on the guard ever since he was drafted in the second round. It remains a work in progress. Mann missed his last three three-pointers and made three of his nine shots overall. He also had five assists and five rebounds. He could have more opportunities to make a positive impression because Lue said he did not know when Jackson will return.

“One of my strong suits is being able to play-make and see the floor, so whatever Ty Lue wants to do with me, I’m gonna do,” Mann said. “If that is playing with the second unit or whatever, the first unit, third unit, just coming out there making plays, that’s what I’m gonna do.”


4. Lue has preached the gospel of better ball movement since his hiring and understanding that emphasis is easy: Last season, as the Clippers reverted to more isolation given the additions of Leonard and George, the team averaged the fifth-fewest potential assists and third-fewest passes per game, according to Second Spectrum tracking data.

So far, incorporating what has been learned in practice into games has been “not very good,” Lue said, but Sunday revealed two prime examples of the type of movement he envisions. Four players touched the ball during one first-half possession before a driving George dumped a short pass off to an open Serge Ibaka for a layup.

On another, George might have had enough room to fire a quick three-pointer as Markieff Morris closed, but instead kept the ball moving into the paint, recognizing that Ibaka was near the basket while guarded by the much smaller Quinn Cook.

5. It’s somewhat remarkable to consider given George has played in the pace-and-space era of the NBA for most of his career, but Ibaka is the first floor-spacing center with whom he has played. As with every other adjustment the Clippers are attempting to incorporate this season, the question becomes how quickly a comfort level can be reached given the abbreviated nature of the preseason.

“It’s new to me and I’m trying to get used to the spacing and manipulating the other team’s defense,” George said. “I’m used to guys rolling and being rim runners. Serge can obviously rim roll and finish at a high level at the basket but he shoots the ball so well in the pop game it’s new and it’s something I gotta adapt to.”