Clippers priming Rajon Rondo for playoffs with methodical approach

Clippers guard Rajon Rondo defends against Lakers guard Alex Caruso.
Clippers guard Rajon Rondo defends against Lakers guard Alex Caruso during the Clippers’ 104-86 win Sunday at Staples Center.
(Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

Before Rajon Rondo debuted midway through the first quarter, the Clippers’ newest point guard watched the opening minutes of a matchup between his present and former teams Sunday from a padded folding chair stationed behind where coach Tyronn Lue stood barking out instructions.

Following his first five-minute stint, the point guard dangled his Puma sneakers from an elevated seat atop a baseline videoboard. By the second half, he’d found an open front-row chair between assistants Dan Craig and Kenny Atkinson, watching the Clippers’ 104-86 rout of the Lakers unfold.

Just as his coach had predicted before tipoff while describing the “slow process” of acclimation that could last several weeks, it could take Rondo time finding where he is most comfortable with his new team.


Beginning with Sunday’s one-sided romp against the short-handed Lakers, the regular season’s final 22 games will be a testing ground for Rondo and the Clippers, “trying to see what he picks up, what we like, what we can run and kind of go from there,” Lue said. “But it’s going to be a process now, have him come in so late in the season.”

The Clippers held the short-handed Lakers to a season low in points during a 104-86 victory on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.

In stretches Sunday at Staples Center, that process, along with the potential the Clippers firmly believe the 35-year-old, two-time champion can unlock once that acclimation period ends was all on display during his 13 minutes.

Dribbling to his right on his first play, Rondo lost the ball — the first of his four turnovers.

They hardly deterred stars Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the rest of the roster from wanting the ball in his hands.

Teammates grabbing a defensive rebound immediately looked to pass upcourt to Rondo, who pushed forward with an urgency not often seen from an offense owning the league’s fourth-slowest pace. On average this season it has taken the Clippers 10.2 seconds to take a shot after a defensive rebound, the league’s fifth-longest span, according to the advanced statistics site Inpredictable.

“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in a lot easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops and get out on the break, my job is to advance, pass the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one.”

Rondo had one rebound, two steals, three assists, four turnovers and four fouls, and played in five-minute stretches during the first and second quarters. His shift ended after he drove into the paint for a swooping, one-handed basket — his only points — with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, after which he reached toward an area near his right hip. Rondo, who had not played in four games since being traded from Atlanta because of a right adductor injury, spoke with the team’s trainer during the ensuing timeout, flexing his legs.

Clippers teammates Marcus Morris Sr., left, and Rajon Rondo react during Sunday's win over the Lakers.
(Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

His vantage point for the last 13 minutes was a folding chair in front of the videoboard, and afterward said his exit was precautionary.

“He was a little rusty tonight, we expect that,” Lue said. “But just his conversation, talking to PG and Kawhi, where they like the ball, where they want to receive it at, on catch and shoots, and different things like that, he is just trying to work the room to see what everybody likes.”

Said Marcus Morris, who scored a game-high 22 points: “I think he’s really going to be a big factor in us trying to hang that banner.”

The Clippers’ belief is rooted in the fact Rondo has helped raise two title banners in his career, most recently six months ago with the Lakers.

“He’s one of the smartest players that I’ve ever coached,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got a great lens on what’s happening with our group, has a great BS meter and he’ll call it out with guys to make sure guys are going about their business the right way, whether it’s on the court, off the court, whatever. He’s a champion for a reason and he should help the Clippers.”

Part of Rondo’s job description is straightforward — shouldering the brunt of ballhandling to allow Leonard, who scored 19 points with 10 rebounds and eight assists, and George, who scored 16 points with seven rebounds, easier shots. One of his passes — a laser-guided bounce pass in traffic — to Leonard didn’t produce an assist but did help Leonard make his own.

Highlights from the Clippers’ 104-86 win over the Lakers on Sunday.

In ways that could become visible as the season goes along, Rondo has been tasked with making Lue’s life easier, too, acting as an extension of the coach he has been close friends with since Lue coached him in Boston more than a decade ago. Since Rondo arrived in a trade last month, much of his time has been spent around coaches, whether assistants Chauncey Billups and Larry Drew on the practice court to learn the playbook, or sitting among them on game days.

“We’re going to listen to him,” George said. “I look at him as a leader, a leader of this group. He’ll hold a lot of weight.”

Rondo joked that Lue “hasn’t yelled at me too much, obviously, we won the game today.”

“I can’t really say exactly, pinpoint one thing that needs to be done here,” Rondo said. “I want to come here, help this team out as much as possible. Lead in every way that’s possible. And, obviously, we have one common goal.”