Depleted Clippers hit the road looking for offensive help
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue lamented the problems posed by his team’s lack of a backup point guard after Monday’s loss to Brooklyn, and there appears to be no easy answer on the horizon.
As the Clippers left Tuesday for a three-game road trip beginning in Boston with All-Star forward Paul George sidelined by injury, starting guard Reggie Jackson remained in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the team said. Jackson entered Dec. 22 and Lue said late Monday there was a possibility that Jackson could miss the entire trip in Boston, Toronto and Brooklyn.
Jackson is one of three Clippers in protocols, joining two-way guard Jay Scrubb and Moses Wright, a center on a 10-day contract who entered Monday after briefly taking part in a pregame workout. Instead of signing another center to bolster that position, the Clippers (17-17) were nearing a 10-day deal with wing James Ennis late Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the situation said, with a signing expected Wednesday. Ennis should be familiar with the Clippers — he played one minute against them Monday as a Brooklyn Net.
The Celtics have their own COVID-related void with leading scorer Jayson Tatum out.
Promoting guard Eric Bledsoe from the second unit to the starting lineup has continued some of Bledsoe‘s strongest play this season, a switch that occurred when he initially moved to the bench and his role was clarified as the clear ballhandler for that unit.
“You kind of find that flow and rhythm as a point guard having a basketball in your hands,” Lue said.
Even with Marcus Morris Sr. back for the Clippers, James Harden and the Nets proved to be too much in Brooklyn’s 124-108 victory on Monday at Crypto.com Arena.
Bledsoe’s battlefield promotion has in turn led to a dearth of ballhandling and “organization,“ as Lue put it, on the second unit, particularly given an ankle injury that has sidelined center Isaiah Hartenstein, who served as one of the bench’s de facto ballhandlers because of his excellent passing.
Hartenstein won’t play Wednesday; neither will forward Nicolas Batum (ankle).
The Clippers struggled to keep pace with Brooklyn’s offense because the Nets’ defense played more physically.
“With no point guard it’s just tough, you can’t call a play so I’ve just got to come up with just a couple of sets that they can just kind of run outside of delay the whole game and just make them comfortable,” Lue said after the 124-108 loss to Brooklyn. “We haven’t figured that part of it out yet. With teams switching that second unit it’s going to be tough.”
The Clippers could turn to Xavier Moon, who recently signed a 10-day contract and whose two months with the franchise’s G League affiliate has afforded him experience running the same sets used by the Clippers. That also might be a tall order: Moon just made his NBA debut Monday.
“Give me a three- or four-game sample and I’ll be able to figure something out,” Lue said of finding the best lineup combinations. “Right now without having a backup point guard, I don’t want to run Bled into the ground too much … so we just got to find ways to settle that second unit down, and just you know, make them comfortable to kind of play through guys.
“It put Serge [Ibaka] in a tough spot as well because he don’t have a guy who can make a play for him. Isaiah was good for that second unit because he can make plays for guys, so we’re struggling with that right now. So we just got to figure that part out because with Reggie out when we had [Paul George], we could put PG on the basketball — but now with both of those guys out, you know, it makes a little tough.”
NBA players who test positive for COVID-19 now have a quicker path to return after the league completed an update to its health and safety protocols .
Guards Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, both promoted to starters because of absences, each said Monday they must be more aggressive and efficient for the Clippers to remain in the playoff hunt. Kennard missed the previous game because of a sore hip.
“I mean it’s not 100% right now, but I mean, it’s all right,” Kennard said. “It’s not going to hold me back, not going to keep me out. So I’m doing everything I can to get it right but I mean, it’s no excuse. I’m still able to cut hard to get my shots off and do what I need to do.”
When: 4:30 p.m. PST, Wednesday
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal; Radio: 570, 1220
Update: The Celtics have lost two straight and are 16-18 after a loss to Minnesota on Monday that Boston coach Ime Udoka called “one of the poorest losses of the year” and “very undisciplined.” More will be asked of Jaylen Brown with Tatum’s absence. Brown is scoring 22.8 points per game. Payton Pritchard has played at least 21 minutes in his last five games because of the short-handed backcourt and has averaged 15.4 points in that span.
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