With Norman Powell out, Clippers are edged at Sacramento for fifth loss in a row
Clippers guard Norman Powell arrived at Golden 1 Center before Friday’s tipoff with his left arm still in a sling, a day after injuring his shoulder while reaching to stop a would-be Golden State rebounder.
After a fifth consecutive loss, this a 128-127 defeat to the Kings decided in the final seven seconds, his team’s grand postseason aspirations are similarly battered.
In a reversal of last week’s double-overtime frenzy in which Sacramento mounted a 14-point comeback in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, the severely short-handed Clippers trailed by 13 with 7:41 to play, only to take the lead by one with 34 seconds left after a contested layup by Paul George.
The Kings had a final chance to win with 15 seconds left after a pass slipped through the hands of Russell Westbrook, who to that point had been a major reason the Clippers had remained in the game.
The Clippers are considered among the favorites for an NBA title, but Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have plenty of questions to answer over the next 21 games.
The Kings missed a jumper, but Domantas Sabonis drew a loose-ball foul with seven seconds left and made both free throws for a one-point lead.
Without a timeout, George dribbled upcourt and missed a three-pointer as time, and his protest for a foul, expired. The Clippers are 33-33 and eighth in the West.
Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists in his most encouraging performance since joining the Clippers, a performance marred in the final seconds when Westbrook said he took his eye off the ball while planning to drive for a layup.
“That’s on me,” he said.
“He looked great, looked like prime Russ,” said George, who had 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. “He was special tonight. Plays after plays, finishes after finishes, big timely baskets, rebounding, big stops, he gave us that energy and that juice and kept us in the game tonight.”
The Clippers are 4-12 when giving up 120 or more points, and 13-23 against teams with .500-or-better records, and have lost two games by one point amid their losing streak — and yet multiple players said the team had not lost belief it can still be dangerous.
Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points, but the Clippers saw their double-digit lead evaporate in the second half in the 115-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
“This ain’t going to be every game,” forward Robert Covington said. “It’s going to flip and it’s going to flip very soon.”
Flipping it figures to be more difficult without Powell, who had become a candidate for the league’s top reserve while averaging 16.6 points on 41% three-point accuracy, only to suffer a subluxation of the left shoulder on the play toward the end of Thursday’s third quarter in San Francisco. Powell will undergo treatment and the team expects to have a clearer picture of his recovery in one week.
Powell has endured shoulder injuries throughout his eight-year career, including a previous subluxation of his left shoulder in November 2018. He missed 21 games, over five weeks, then. One season later, in December 2020, another injury to Powell’s left shoulder cost him 11 games.
Kawhi Leonard finishes with 44 points and Russell Westbrook makes a solid debut for Clippers, but late mistakes send them to a 176-175 loss to the Kings.
Powell’s blend of speed, aggressive drives into the paint and ability to draw fouls makes him a uniquely difficult talent to replace. Powell shot an average of 8.4 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions, the second-highest rate among all of the team’s main contributors.
The prospect of a potentially lengthy absence comes at a time when the Clippers were expected to cut down their rotation in an attempt to create long-sought on-court chemistry. Coach Tyronn Lue didn’t know how removing Powell from the rotation would affect his decision-making on future lineups — whether Lue believed he could continue to give playing time to all three guards, including Terance Mann, Eric Gordon and Powell off the bench, was one lingering question — but said “we’re used to change.”
Covington, after seven minutes total in his last six games, had 15 points, four rebounds and Lue praised his deflections while pressed into duty with just nine players available. Kawhi Leonard did not play the second night of a back-to-back, while starting center Ivica Zubac (elbow contusion), starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. (calf strain) and four players in the G League also weren’t available.
Needing an offensive spark with Leonard out, especially after George took just four shots in the first half, meant more offensive latitude for Westbrook. After making seven of his first eight shots in the first half, and adding seven assists, he had a testy verbal exchange with Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox. His layups sparked the fourth-quarter comeback, just as his late turnover saw it stall.
“Unfortunately we’re not winning the games,” Westbrook said. “But I do have a lot of confidence in guys in the locker room and tonight was a good step in the right direction.”
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