Clippers looking for ways to compete without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
The answer appeared obvious: The strain created when Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George entered the league’s health and safety protocols Monday, a day after Patrick Beverley injured his right knee, would apply the most pressure on a defense that had only recently begun to play with consistency.
The Clippers had allowed 99 points per 100 possessions this season when that trio played together — 10 points fewer than the team’s average.
“PG and Kawhi are our two best players, Pat’s one of the best defenders in the league,” center Ivica Zubac said. “It’s tough, but it’s just how this year’s going to go.”
Compensating for the void on offense is no enviable job either. Leonard and George have averaged 11 assists per game between them and are two of the most efficient high-volume shooters in the NBA. Only three other players this season have shot 80% on free throws, 50% overall and 40% on three-pointers while taking at least 10 shots per game. Still, an offense that ranked near or atop the NBA in most shooting categories presented more options to fill some of the dropoff, with two obvious candidates.
Forward Marcus Morris now has the opportunity to shoulder the kind of offensive workload he thrived handling last season, when he led the New York Knicks in scoring before his trade to the Clippers. Lou Williams, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer off the bench, also has more runway to produce the kind of shot making that has made him a three-time winner of the league’s sixth-man award.
Neither, however, was able to provide an immediate boost Tuesday in the Clippers’ first game without Beverley, George and Leonard, a 108-99 loss in Atlanta. Leonard made four of 14 shots for 11 points, and Morris made three of nine shots for 10 points.
With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George out because of COVID-19 protocols , the Clippers learn “next man up” might not work in a superstar-driven league.
Williams has made 10 of 41 shots during his last five games, a span that has coincided with a hip injury that caused him to miss two additional games.
“I just think he’s just trying to find his rhythm,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think [when] you miss days and you come back, and the games are coming so fast, you don’t really have a chance to really get in a flow and a rhythm. But I like his shots, the shots he’s taking. Those are his shots and you know of course he’s gonna make shots.”
Williams’ averages of 8.9 points and 8.3 shots per game this season are his lowest averages since 2007 and 2014, respectively. He said discomfort in his hip continues to linger.
“Nothing serious,” Williams said. “We work on it from day to day. As far as me shooting the ball goes, it’s affecting my shot a little bit but I am a pro. I am expected to make shots when I go out on the floor. I’ve just got to be better and play better.”
The Clippers (13-5) reiterated Tuesday that they are unsure when George, Leonard and Beverley will rejoin the team. Until they do, the team’s margin for error has been sliced away.
“We can’t get out of character and try to do things outside the reach of who we are as basketball players,” Williams said.
That has meant the Clippers who are available must walk a fine line of not doing too much while still finding ways to contribute to a greater degree than before.
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Reserve guard Reggie Jackson, who replaced Beverley in the starting lineup, has found that balance with just three turnovers, to go with 34 points, in his last 60 minutes. Jackson fell out of the rotation 10 games into this season but is an integral part of it now, in part because of his career-low 0.6 turnovers per game.
“When you have stars like Kawhi and Paul George, and you have a defensive prowess in Pat Bev who makes the games a little easy, they can always pick things up, pick energy up,” Jackson said. “Find ways that get you out your game, especially scoring. Like I said, two stars, Pat will provide us some second-chance points with offensive rebounding, as well, give us many opportunities on defense.
“We’re just going to have to find a way to play for all 48 minutes as a team, and then shore up things. ... just taking care of the ball, make sure we’re getting great shots each and every play and then get floor balance and get back on defense.”
When: Thursday, 5 p.m. PT
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket. Radio: 570, 1330
Update: Miami will be playing its second game in as many nights after facing Denver on Wednesday. Coming off a breakout season in which he raised his scoring average by seven points per game, Bam Adebayo has taken another leap during his fourth season, jumping from 15.9 points last season to 20.7 through this season’s first month. This is a reunion game for Clippers associate head coach Dan Craig, who spent the first 17 years of his NBA career with the Heat.
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