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Clippers crushed by 76ers’ stars as Paul George moves closer to return

Clippers guard Terance Mann drives between Philadelphia 76ers forward DeAndre Jordan and guard James Harden.
Clippers guard Terance Mann drives between Philadelphia 76ers forward DeAndre Jordan, left, and guard James Harden during the Clippers’ 122-97 loss Friday at Crypto.com Arena.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
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The 76ers boasted a former most valuable player and a dominant center in contention for the top individual accolade this year.

The best the Clippers had to counter on Friday was Amir Coffey.

Buoyed by superstar duo James Harden and Joel Embiid, the 76ers crushed the Clippers 122-97 at Crypto.com Arena on Friday, handing the home team its fifth consecutive loss.

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After clawing into comfortable play-in tournament position despite not having star forwards Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for most of the season, the Clippers are limping toward the finish line.

All-Star wing Paul George participated in Clippers practice Thursday for the first time since injuring his shooting elbow in December.

March 24, 2022

When asked whether the overachieving team was running out of gas with seven regular-season games remaining, coach Tyronn Lue said, “Look like it, don’t it?”

“Because being so short-handed all season and the way we’ve played and the way we’ve competed every single night, some nights you’re just going to be
overmatched,” Lue said. “And tonight, I thought we were overmatched.”

Despite their season-high losing streak, the Clippers remain nearly cemented in the eighth place in the Western Conference. They dropped seven games behind seventh-place Minnesota with Friday’s loss and remain four games ahead of the Pelicans and Lakers, who were ninth and 10th, respectively.

Harden led Philadelphia (46-26) with 29 points, a season-high 15 rebounds and seven assists.

Despite the best booing efforts from Clippers fans, Embiid heard M-V-P chants from the Sixers faithful when he toed the free throw line. The 28-year-old had 27 points and 10 rebounds and walked through the tunnel after the game with his arms raised as fans showered him with final MVP cheers.

Coffey, who is playing on his third two-way contract in as many seasons, led the Clippers (36-39) with 21 points. The next highest scorer for the Clippers was Isaiah Hartenstein with 16 points.

“I think some of the guys are a little fatigued,” Hartenstein said.

The star duo that was supposed to carry the Clippers remained sidelined. The hopeful returns of Leonard and George, who are out with knee and elbow injuries, respectively, seem to be the only silver linings for the team’s late-season slump.

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Clippers guard Paul George practices before Friday's game against the 76ers.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

George got a step closer as he returned to the practice court Thursday for the first time since injuring his shooting elbow in December. He followed it with an energetic pregame warmup Friday, working around screens and hitting shots from all areas of the court.

It turned out to be a highlight of the night for the Clippers, who are desperate for a lift in any form.

“Hope is stronger than fear, you know?” Lue said before the game. “Just having that hope that he has a chance to come back, that gives you a lot of hope. … The job the team has done this year, it’s phenomenal. But we could use an extra little bump right now.”

Warming up 30 minutes before a game is still the closest George will get to a full-time return for now.

Clippers assistant coach Jay Larrañaga has spent his life watching his father, current Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, succeed during March Madness.

March 23, 2022

Lue demurred when asked whether George had any limitations on the court and balked at the suggestion that the team’s lighter schedule in the coming days could open the door for his quick return. The Clippers have three days before their next game against the Jazz at home on Tuesday night.

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The break should give the Clippers time to lick the wounds from their recent slide.

The recovery process began almost immediately Friday night. After fans filed out of the arena, Luke Kennard, who had six points Friday on one-of-five shooting, remained on the court shooting threes. He is seven-for-24 from three-point range during the skid.

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