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Clippers use strong second half for easy win over Hornets

Clippers guard Rajon Rondo brings the ball up court while guarded by Charlotte's LaMelo Ball.
Clippers guard Rajon Rondo looks to drive against Hornets guard LaMelo Ball on Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C.
(Jacob Kupferman / Associated Press)

When the free throw fell through the net late in Thursday’s blowout, his first NBA point in the books, Jay Scrubb held an act-like-you’ve-been-there expression together like the seasoned veteran he isn’t.

The Clippers’ rookie made it all of three seconds.

Stoic while tapping the hands of fellow rookie Daniel Oturu and second-year guard Terance Mann, Scrubb’s guise fell and a smile emerged upon seeing Luke Kennard run in for a high-five.

In a game that will otherwise be forgotten as the Clippers chase bigger victories than a 113-90 road win against Charlotte fueled by 64% second-half shooting, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Scrubb captured a moment to remember having waited five months for it to happen.

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The 55th overall pick in November’s draft, Scrubb underwent surgery before training camp to insert a screw in his right foot. The recovery knocked him out from participating in February’s shortened G League season at Walt Disney World, near Orlando, Fla., and has limited his ability to flash the freakish athleticism that helped him earn junior college player of the year honors at John Logan College. This was only his second career appearance.

“Some days I’m not able to get onto the floor, some days a lot of my time is conditioning and the weight room,” Scrubb said after scoring four points in four minutes. “It’s been a grind for sure with this being my first injury where I’ve been away from the game for so long. It’s made me a lot hungrier, and it’s humbled me a lot, for sure.”

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue says the goal is for center Serge Ibaka to return this week from a back injury that has sidelined him for nearly two months.

He left Charlotte with more than his first points. Coach Tyronn Lue presented him the game ball.

The Clippers (47-23) also left with a reminder of what they must work on. After 18 turnovers Tuesday in a win against Toronto, Kawhi Leonard said that such mistakes “just comes between the ears. What type of mindset are we going to have?”

Then they committed 17 more against the Hornets, including six during a second quarter in which the Clippers missed nine of their 10 three-pointers and 11 of 16 shots overall as they struggled executing how to attack Charlotte’s defense as it shifted between zone and man.

After halftime they outscored Charlotte 69-43 and sat Leonard and Marcus Morris for extended periods as their lead grew to as much as 23.

“We’re doing some good things, yes, but the way we turn the ball over, sometimes we try to do too much,” said Nicolas Batum, after his first game in Charlotte since the Hornets released him in November. “Try to overpass maybe too much sometimes.”

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The Clippers’ selection of Scrubb, which made him the first junior college player taken since 2004, was a bet on his long-term upside despite knowing he would require surgery. Scrubb had averaged 21.9 points and 1.5 steals while shooting 50% overall, and 30% on three-pointers, before the pandemic ended Logan’s season.

With the Clippers, the 20-year-old Scrubb has landed with one of the NBA’s oldest rosters, and for five months, his teachers have included veterans including Leonard (16 points, nine assists), Paul George (20 points, 10 rebounds) and, since late March, Rajon Rondo (nine points, five assists), whom Scrubb said he grew up idolizing in their shared hometown of Louisville, Ky.

“It’s been great having that big brother, you know, on my side that’s there for me,” Scrubb said.

The Clippers started fast Sunday against New York but ended the home portion of their regular season with a 106-100 loss to the Knicks.

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When Rondo arrived in a trade with Atlanta, Scrubb gave Rondo the No. 4 he’d worn at Kentucky and switched to No. 0 “out of respect.” Usually, jersey transfers come with monetary compensation for the player giving up the number. In this case, Scrubb said it came with the promise of more lessons.

“That’s all I need, him giving me knowledge,” he said. “What more can I ask for?”

UP NEXT

AT HOUSTON

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When: 6 p.m., Friday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Rockets (16-54) have lost seven in a row and nine of their last 10 entering Friday’s game. No team in the NBA has won fewer games at home this season than Houston (8-27).


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