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Rebounding woes, lack of physicality hamper Clippers again in loss to Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies forward Killian Tillie, left, defends against Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr.
Memphis Grizzlies forward Killian Tillie, left, defends against Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. during the first half of the Clippers’ loss Saturday at Crypto.com Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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A basketball-hockey doubleheader at Crypto.com Arena on Saturday led the Clippers to hold their postgame remarks in a different setting than usual, a switch to a downstairs dining room that would have been unremarkable if not for the humming frozen-yogurt machine in the corner.

Stationed only feet from the temporary dais, the machine’s churning muffled much of what was said. But after a 123-108 loss to Memphis that marked the Clippers’ third consecutive defeat by at least 15 points, the Clippers’ ire came through as clear as it has all season.

Hands in his sweatshirt’s pocket, his voice nearly monotone, coach Tyronn Lue rattled off the same themes that have doomed so many losses: inconsistent transition play, anemic rebounding, an absence of physicality.

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“We lose the same way, every time,” forward Nicolas Batum said.

Forty games in, the Clippers (19-21) can point to the same caveats as so many teams across the NBA: injuries, COVID, jumbled lineups. With progress fleeting, Lue acknowledged that he is often repeating himself when describing what is holding his team back.

“It’s frustrating,” he said.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue discussed a report that star player Kawhi Leonard is optimistic about returning this season after knee surgery in July.

On a day when Memphis played without their coach, All-Star-caliber guard and starting center, then saw their nastiest defender carried off the court only seven minutes into the game without putting weight on his injured ankle, the Clippers’ host of issues remarkably ran even longer than their depleted opponent’s.

For a league-leading sixth time they allowed at least 100 shots, the extra opportunities born from Memphis’ rebounding and Clippers mistakes. Memphis turned 13 Clippers turnovers into 23 points and 16 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points. Fans inside the arena audibly groaned in the second half after Memphis extended a possession twice with offensive rebounds.

“Getting pushed around, that’s not anything that deals with talent, that’s not anything that deals with continuity, that’s just going out here and giving your body, giving your effort, having pride, going out there and just enjoying competing,” said guard Reggie Jackson, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter. “We just have to go out here and fight. Offensive boards, we continue to beat up.

“We got to start getting chippy, whether it’s pushing guys — not doing anything malicious to hurt anybody but we’re going to have to get physical. We’re going to have to find ways to screen guys harder, run through screens harder. Do anything to keep guys off the offensive glass.”

Outside of a season-high 36 first-quarter points, and a season-high 29 points from Marcus Morris Sr. in just three quarters, there were no other reliable options for offense. After making eight of their first 12 three-pointers to lead by 12, the Clippers made just two of their final 20 from deep and trailed by as many as 25.

Breaking bad habits midway through a season is possible, said Batum, a 14-year veteran. But it will take practice, which the Clippers have little time for, together with focus and togetherness, both of which he believed the team still has.

“We’re 450 of the best players in the world in this league, so we all know the basics of basketball,” Batum said. “Sometimes, you just go out there and want it more. And right now, the last couple of games … I mean, we showed that in Brooklyn. That we’re capable of doing it.”

Clippers guard Terance Mann, left, passes the ball in front of Memphis Grizzlies forward Santi Aldama.
Clippers guard Terance Mann, left, passes the ball in front of Memphis Grizzlies forward Santi Aldama during the first half Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Memphis assistant coach Brad Jones awoke to a text message at 7:15 a.m. alerting him he was the team’s acting coach after Taylor Jenkins became the NBA’s 14th coach to enter its COVID-related protocols. Five hours later, the Grizzlies took the court for tipoff without electric guard Ja Morant, who had a sore thigh, and they soon lost Dillon Brooks to an ankle injury.

But when the Clippers’ man-to-man defense lost track of guard Desmond Bane, he took advantage. A personal 8-0 scoring run in fewer than 48 seconds to open the third quarter burst what had been a four-point Grizzlies lead to 12, and out of the next timeout, Batum threw a pass that was intercepted and turned into another three-pointer off an assist by Bane.

Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 26 to lead the Grizzlies (27-14), while Bane finished with 23 points. Lue removed his main contributors with eight minutes to play in a bid to reserve energy before another matinee game Sunday against Atlanta.

Four weeks before the league’s trade deadline, the Clippers remain in one of the West’s most interesting positions. Should both Paul George (elbow) and Kawhi Leonard (knee) return from injury recoveries to play this season, they would all but vault into contender status again, with each capable of covering up what currently ails the Clippers.

Team president Lawrence Frank said during the game’s broadcast that the plan for Leonard’s recovery remains to “proceed with caution and continue to support him, but there’s no timeline for his return.” In the interim, missing two stars and key role players Luke Kennard (health and safety protocols) and Isaiah Hartenstein (ankle), too, the roster has what Lue called “a lot of guys who can eat but can’t cook.”

There are no easy fixes, just a mandate to recapture what Jackson called “that grittiness that we had grown accustomed to playing with, but has gotten away from us.”

“We just have to play as a team and get back to having fun,” Batum said. “And the crowd’s gonna get into it too, because we miss that too. I mean, the fans I don’t think are having fun watching us play.”

The Clippers struggle to contain Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul and Devin Booker as they fall below .500 with a 106-89 loss to the NBA’s top team.

UP NEXT

VS. ATLANTA

When: 12:30 p.m., Sunday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal; Radio: 570, 1220

Update: Three-time sixth-man award winner Lou Williams returns to play the Clippers in Los Angeles for the first time since being traded in March. Williams is playing 14 minutes per game, his fewest since his second season. Williams made 44% of his three-pointers after joining the Hawks during the regular season and 43% of his postseason three-pointers, but this season is shooting just 30% from deep.


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