What went wrong for Clippers? Five takeaways from blowout loss to Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, left, drives toward the basket in front of Clippers guard Reggie Jackson.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, left, drives toward the basket in front of Clippers guard Reggie Jackson during the Clippers’ 124-73 loss Sunday.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The Clippers felt as though they’d taken important steps forward after gritty victories against the Lakers and Denver Nuggets, last year’s Western Conference finalists, to open this new season.

Then came Sunday’s 124-73 loss to Dallas. The Clippers have endured many brutal losses throughout five decades of oft-tortuous history, yet none were ever this lopsided. It was so large, and so unexpected, that coach Tyronn Lue called it more of an exception than a step backward.

“It doesn’t take away from what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been working on, and how we’re trying to get better each night,” Lue said.


Even when Sunday’s outcome was long over, the Clippers remained engaged with one another during timeouts. Guard Patrick Beverley could be seen talking through the team’s issues. Center Serge Ibaka leaned over Lue’s whiteboard to offer a suggestion. Players have heard Lue stress that the team must communicate with one another during the good times and the bad, and this was their first test of their response when a game went sideways.

The Clippers trailed the Dallas Mavericks by 50 points for the biggest halftime deficit of the NBA’s shot-clock era en route to a 124-73 loss Sunday.

Dec. 27, 2020

“The guys that are sitting on a bench are trying to say to the guys on the court what they see and find a way around that,” center Ivica Zubac said.

But there was no getting around the sheer size of Sunday’s drubbing. Was this a step back?

“Yes, because we lost by 50,” Zubac said. “But we still know, even after the first two games, we still knew what we got to work on and that stuff don’t change. We got to go to the gym and work on the stuff that we’ve been working on, that we want to get better at, and just keep going.”

Here are five takeaways from the loss:

1. A 51-point loss begs a meta question: Is there, in fact, anything to be learned from such a thorough defeat? The Clippers (2-1) seemed split. Lue suggested he might not play the video from the loss at all.

“I think you throw it away and get back to what’s been working and how we’ve been working,” Lue said. “Our guys didn’t have a lot of pop on either end of the floor and you could see it.”

Backup guard Reggie Jackson did want to go over what went wrong, though, even if such a review would require the team “to look at pretty much every possession,” as Zubac said.


Teams often say they will move on quickly from bad losses. But how hard is that to do in practice?

“Probably a little tougher for younger guys,” Jackson said. “But we have a veteran-laden team so I think guys understand, maybe not this bad, but you have a few ugly games throughout the season that you chalk up and can kind of tell from the beginning that it’s not going your way.”

A lacerated mouth suffered against the Denver Nuggets on Christmas will cause Clippers star Kawhi Leonard to miss Sunday’s game against Dallas.

Dec. 27, 2020

2. Jackson is the Clipper most likely to take a philosophical perspective, so it was not unexpected when he framed Sunday’s defeat not so much as a question of how the Clippers will respond later this week against Minnesota, Portland and Utah, but whether it could serve them to be better in the future against “our biggest opponent, which is ourselves, each and every day.”

“This game kind of emulates life and the biggest opponent in life is yourself,” Jackson said. “You got to look at yourself in the mirror, you got to figure out a way to be better, and that’s the goal. You’re either going forwards or you’re going backwards so we’re just trying to take baby steps, continue to move in the right direction, bringing it together as a collective whole. And hopefully, as the Los Angeles Clippers, we can find a way to continue to push towards the goal that we have ultimately for ourselves.”

3. The Clippers have touted their new-team, new-season mentality, but Sunday made clear this updated roster has their work cut out for them to solve an old problem — how do they maintain consistency when Leonard is out of the lineup? The Clippers are now 8-8 when Leonard does not play, dating to last season, and their performances without him varied wildly.

They’ve beaten playoff teams such as Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana and Portland, and also pounded Atlanta by 49 points last season sans their superstar forward. The flip side was that without Leonard, the Clippers often fell victim to some of the league’s worst teams, such as Chicago, Atlanta and Sacramento.


A condensed, 72-game season, offers a smaller margin for error in the race for playoff seeding. Between the unknown timetable for Leonard’s return from his lacerated mouth, along with the expectation that the Clippers will attempt to curb his workload at times this season through scheduled rests, Leonard will certainly miss more games ahead. The question is whether his team can muster a winning record without him.

Highlights from the Clippers’ 124-73 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Sunday.

4. When Leonard sits, a greater share of the offensive onus falls on Paul George to create shots for himself and for others too. Last season was rocky in that regard: In the 11 games in which Leonard sat and George played, George averaged 4.3 turnovers per game. His overall season average was 2.6 turnovers.

George committed four turnovers Sunday, too, and Dallas stole a pair of his first-quarter passes and turned them into four quick points to begin their onslaught. But George’s struggles holding onto the ball this season haven’t only been specific to Leonard’s absences; he has 15 turnovers in his first 97 minutes, underscoring the importance of George finding the balance between playing aggressively but not carelessly.

“All I got to do is value the possession,” George said. “And just sometimes having more of an aggressive mentality, at all times, it is just what I got to carry into every game.”

From Lue’s perspective, George’s turnovers can be trimmed if he’s “being decisive with what he wants to do, not thinking, not guessing, just being aggressive and then making the right play like he’s been doing,” the coach said. “We can’t have the careless turnovers when we’re kind of like indecisive with what we want to do. So we’ll clean those up and it’s early and he’ll understand what people [are] out on the floor when we give him the space to play.”


5. What a difference two days made for Dallas (1-2). Two days after grabbing 27 rebounds in a Christmas loss to the Lakers, the Mavericks doubled that total against the Clippers. Dallas scored zero second-chance against the Lakers off of three offensive rebounds. They scored 14 second-chance points Sunday after grabbing 11 offensive boards.