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Paul George and Kawhi Leonard make immediate impact in their return for Clippers

Clippers guard Paul George shoots in front of Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon during the first half Friday.
Clippers guard Paul George shoots in front of Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon during the first half of the Clippers’ 116-90 victory Friday.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

As glad as coach Tyronn Lue was to know Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would be back in his lineup Friday in Orlando, Fla., it answered only one of two questions looming over the Clippers.

Before their two leading scorers entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols Monday, the Clippers had been rolling, building a seven-game winning streak. Upon their return after a two-game absence, Lue’s focus turned to how quickly the entire roster could “get our thing back, building again as a team,” he said before tipoff.

How about one game?

The hallmarks of the Clippers’ previous streak were on display during a 116-90 rout of Orlando that began a new streak. It was their second win in as many nights and their 14th consecutive against the Magic.

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Former Siena, Georgia Tech and George Mason coach Paul Hewitt will coach the G League Agua Caliente Clippers.

They limited Orlando’s effectiveness from the three-point line, where the Magic shot just 10 for 33. They curbed their own mistakes, with 11 turnovers turned into just seven Orlando points. They left no doubt after halftime, winning the second half by 12 points.

Of course, they also received monster performances from Leonard and George, the duo that has kept the team near the top of the Western Conference all season.

George scored 26 points with nine rebounds and five assists. Leonard added 24 points with four rebounds and three assists.

“On a night when guys were a little tired, I think just having their presence was big for us,” Lue said. “It was huge.”

Each shot better than 50% to help the Clippers make 48% of their shots, and each set the course for the night within a telling first six minutes.

George made his first shot, a pull-up from 16 feet, followed by Leonard’s three-pointer from the corner over the outstretched hand of 6-foot-8 Magic forward Aaron Gordon one possession later to spark a 14-0 run that produced a 13-point lead midway through the opening quarter. George capped the stretch by sprinting along the baseline, catching a pass from Serge Ibaka and flushing a one-handed dunk.

Highlights from the Clippers’ 116-90 win over the Orlando Magic on Friday.

The Clippers (15-5) went 1-1 to start their six-game trip, a four-day absence that Leonard termed a “bummer” because it broke up the momentum gained to that point. He spent his time staying in shape while communicating with coaches about their game plans.

“Just keeping my mind in the game,” he said.

George, meanwhile, said in a postgame television interview that he’d been “just in the house, chilling with my family” while quarantining.

He later suggested that their league-mandated absences were precautionary.

“We were both healthy, first and foremost,” George said. “But, we were playing so well, it was unfortunate that we had to take a hiatus, but safety’s first.”

The Clippers are not at full strength. Starting guard Patrick Beverley missed his third game because of a knee injury. And though their lead grew to as many as 28 points, they were not immune to mistakes.

Clippers guard Reggie Jackson celebrates with center Ivica Zubac.
Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, left, celebrates with center Ivica Zubac after scoring as time expired at the end of the third quarter Friday against the Orlando Magic.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

With George’s minutes restricted in the first half, and wary of overextending Leonard too early, Lue didn’t stagger their minutes as has been his custom.

When both checked out late in the first quarter, Orlando feasted on a lineup of reserves, outscoring the Clippers 15-6 to end the quarter tied.

Orlando scored the first 11 points of the third quarter to pull within three. Terrance Ross made his first seven shots and finished with 24 points off the Magic’s bench.

But their depleted roster was never close for long against the suddenly fortified Clippers.

Point guard Reggie Jackson, who scored 10 points, said he was not surprised how quickly the team picked up where it left off.

“I don’t want to sound too overconfident in this group but we’ve just been playing well as of late, starting off with the way the starters were playing,” Jackson said. “They’re really getting us rolling in our seven-game win streak. Unfortunately [we] dropped one. But we’re trying to start a new one.”


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