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Clippers end trip 4-2 by beating Nets after failing to obtain Kyrie Irving from them

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard keeps the ball away from the long reach of Nets forward Royce O'Neale.
The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard keeps the ball away from the long reach of the Nets’ Royce O’Neale on Monday night in Brooklyn. Leonard scored 24 points in the Clippers’ 124-116 win.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)
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Kyrie Irving was the player Brooklyn no longer wanted, the guard the Clippers tried to get, the man who wasn’t there Monday night but had an inescapable presence.

Twenty-four hours after the Nets chose a trade offer from Dallas for Irving over interest from the Clippers, the Lakers and Phoenix, Irving remained the talk of Barclays Center.

The guard who had asked to be dealt twice since June and who was suspended in the fall no longer was Brooklyn’s problem. Instead, he now might be one for the Clippers and the rest of the crowded class of would-be Western Conference contenders tasked with defending the backcourt of Irving — a player who “doesn’t have an offensive weakness,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said — and fellow All-Star Luka Doncic.

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The Clippers likely will face Irving in his Mavericks debut Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena, but Doncic isn’t expected to play because of a bruised heel.

“Dallas has to be very ecstatic getting him and it puts another guy like Kyrie in our conference, so I don’t like that,” Lue said before the Clippers’ 124-116 win over Brooklyn. “But whatever is best for Ky, I’m happy for him.”

A survey of NBA sources Monday generated a common response: The move, the first big transaction ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, could cause internal problems for Dallas given Irving’s history of ill-fated endings to his time in Cleveland, Boston and Brooklyn, but it also could cause just as many problems for opponents trying to defend the Mavericks’ all-NBA backcourt.

Reserve guard Norman Powell has been with the Clippers for a year. He began developing a connection with coach Tyronn Lue last summer in Las Vegas.

Feb. 6, 2023

“Don’t make me think about it right now, please,” Lue said with a laugh. “… Kyrie’s a guy we’ve always blitzed in the past, Luka’s always a guy we’ve blitzed in the past, and now they got two of them, so like I said, it’s going to be a tough challenge for a lot of teams in the West. Like I said, he’s a bad dude.”

“They got to figure it out, of course, how to play and everything, but if they do, they got two hell of a players,” said center Ivica Zubac, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds. “Definitely the West is going to get stronger, and we got to lock in, we got to win as many games as possible. We got to try to make a little gap in between all those teams and just got to keep winning games and worry about ourselves.”

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Before the Clippers (31-26) could scheme for a Dallas backcourt that will have two All-Stars, they had to finish a six-game trip by closing out a Nets roster with none — Irving traded and Ben Simmons and Kevin Durant injured. Yet Brooklyn made eight of its first nine three-point tries and scored 10 points in 55 seconds at the end of the first half to nearly erase an 11-point Clippers lead.

With starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. ejected in the first half after an exchange with an official, the Clippers had to alter an already changed rotation. After not playing in two consecutive games because of Lue’s aversion to playing three-guard lineups off the bench, Luke Kennard got on the court in the first quarter and ultimately finished with 15 minutes and three points. He was paired with fellow guards Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell at times.

Clippers' Norman Powell during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Clippers’ Norman Powell goes to the basket during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

Kennard’s inclusion increased the rotation to nine players as a way to reduce the minutes of key contributors in the trip finale.

Lue managed his substitutions in part by looking at a card that helped him take players out to abide by their minute limits. In the shuffle, forward Robert Covington was the odd man out again and Kennard could be back out as well as the team continues to employ what Lue dubbed its “playoff mode” eight-man rotation. Lue said it was hard for him not to include Kennard or Covington consistently.

“We’re in a situation where we’ve got to win games now,” Lue said. “And so I can’t play 10 guys like I was doing early on and trying to keep everybody happy. I got to — we got to — win games. And so we got a good rotation.”

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In the second half, Jackson started in place of Morris. Jackson finished with 12 points, and the Clippers won his 27 minutes by 27 points on the night. The Clippers quickly led by 11 again early after halftime.

The Clippers have been exploring deals for a point guard that could involve trading John Wall, who says he might not be the best fit with the team.

Feb. 3, 2023

But Brooklyn (32-21) got a career-best 47 points from Cam Thomas and scored 14 unanswered points to lead 107-99 midway through the fourth quarter, forcing a Clippers timeout. It marked the third consecutive game in which the Clippers allowed an opposing player to score at least 40 points.

The Clippers scored the next nine points, including four from Kawhi Leonard (24 points) on a jumper and two free throws. The team’s pick and rolls between wings helped it take control, Lue said.

Who will take control in the Western Conference? The Clippers finished their trip 4-2 and have won eight of their last 10. But opponents including the Mavericks are loading up. Neither Paul George (29 points) nor Leonard wanted to predict the Doncic and Irving pairing, but George noted their history suggests “two elite stars both neck and neck when it comes to being able to take a game over, being able to score at all three levels and being playmakers.”

George added: “But again, we don’t know what it will look like, we haven’t seen it yet. And we’ll get a glimpse of it very soon.”

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