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Back on the court, Tyronn Lue ready to help Clippers ‘weather the storm’

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue pulls his mask down to direct his team in the first half.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue directs his players during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 18.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Tyronn Lue no longer needs a television to watch his team.

Having exited the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Clippers’ coach ran practice Wednesday at the team’s Playa Vista facility in person and will be on the sideline in Phoenix on Thursday when the Clippers and Suns meet in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals.

Not everything has returned to normal. Assistant coaches Dan Craig and Brendan O’Connor are still out, and several important contributors remain unlikely to play in Arizona. But at the very least, Lue can again be around his roster and observe without requiring an assistant general manager to provide play-by-play over the phone — as was the case during the final two minutes of a Jan. 1 win in Brooklyn, when the television in Lue’s hotel room cut to black just as the short-handed Clippers were closing out an unexpected victory.

“I called Mark Hughes and he didn’t answer,” Lue said. “I called him back and he answered and he said, ‘You see this?’ I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t see it! What’s going on?’

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“He said, ‘We’re up four.’ I said, ‘What?’ ”

Lue, who entered protocols Dec. 31 while the team was in Toronto, eventually left Canada by car and quarantined partly in New York before returning to Los Angeles. He spent some of his time apart from the team calling acting coach Brian Shaw to prepare him for rotations and other nuances, other times fretting about the lack of organization and spacing in the team’s offense.

The Clippers signed Xavier Moon to a second 10-day contract Tuesday because their second unit was woefully short of guards who could help organize the offense.

“It starts with our point guards,” Lue said. “It is the hardest position in the league but with [Eric Bledsoe] and [Reggie Jackson], we got to make sure we are organized every single time because our margin for error is very slim.”

In his down time, alone, Lue rewatched clips of the Cleveland Cavaliers teams he coached in 2016-17 and 2017-18, revisiting plays he hopes he can tweak to fit the Clippers’ personnel — at least some combination of them, anyway.

Though reserve wing Brandon Boston Jr. has exited the health and safety protocols and played in a pre-practice five-on-five game Wednesday, center Ivica Zubac and guard Luke Kennard are still waiting for their own clearances. Nicolas Batum took part in practice, but Lue was less optimistic he would be available against the Suns after sitting out five games because of an injured ankle. And Lue had no update on backup center Isaiah Hartenstein’s progress, after an ankle sprain has kept him out eight games.

“We just got to try to weather the storm as best as we can,” Lue said.

As the Clippers (19-19) wait out the day-to-day availability of much of their roster, the big picture absences remain the availability of leading scorer Paul George, who hasn’t played since Dec. 22 after tearing ligaments in his right elbow, and the even longer-term question of whether Kawhi Leonard can return to make the roster whole again, and boost the team’s playoff potential, come spring.

The Clippers have printed sweatshirts supporting George’s inclusion on February’s All-Star team and Jackson passionately lobbied for what would be his friend’s eighth All-Star nod — “He’s the guy that you want to see; he’s box office” — but before George can play on the regular season’s most publicized stage, he must first get back on the practice court, well away from the spotlight.

The Clippers bench reacts to a 3-point shot by guard Terance Mann against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Clippers bench reacts to a three-point shot by guard Terance Mann, left, against the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 1 in New York.
(Jessie Alcheh / Associated Press)

George is not yet even halfway through the team’s projected three-to-four-week timeline for rest before being reevaluated. When Jackson asked how George was feeling during their video-game session Tuesday, George responded with “rested, feeling good.”

“I appreciate hearing that, but I’m like, ‘Paul, just let your mind rest a little bit, good to hear your body is good, just continue to take it day and day,’” Jackson said.

“That’s the type of guy he is. He doesn’t want to leave us out here. Him, Kawhi, I don’t think they want this sense of abandoning us, and we don’t feel abandoned. We just know that they’re doing what they have to do to take care of their bodies and get right for the moment. But what we’re going to do here is we’re going to collectively continue to push. We’re going to find ways to win games. We’re going to find ways to make Clipper Nation proud with the way we compete. And we’re going to find a way to hold it afloat until our guys get back, because we know what we’re capable of when we’re at full capacity and full strength.”

They also have evidence of how they can play when not, their win in Brooklyn displaying what Jackson said has stayed constant amid so much turnover.

“We’re going to play hard, we’re going to scrap, we’re going to love each other and be about the next man up,” Jackson said.

Finishing last week’s trip with a 2-1 record despite being severely short-handed was “huge,” Lue said. He saw a team willing to fight — especially the two minutes he couldn’t even watch.

The absences of coach Tyronn Lue and key players because of COVID protocols and injuries were felt in the Clippers’ 122-104 loss to the Timberwolves.

UP NEXT

at Phoenix

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m. PDT

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

Update: Phoenix (29-8) has the league’s second-best record and is 3-2 in the last five games without center Deandre Ayton (health and safety protocols). The Clippers aren’t approaching it “as a personal grudge match,” after Phoenix’s six-game win in June’s conference finals, Jackson said. “… I think some guys in here would definitely love to match up with them at some point again in the playoffs, but I don’t think that’s necessarily our mind-set right now. I think it’s just about what 15 guys we have in this building.”


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