Clippers find their groove in win over Lakers

Robert Covington went from an undrafted to a decade of service in the NBA due to his obsessive study skills. When scouting opponents, he watches entire games, not just clips.

“That says a lot,” said the Clippers forward on Wednesday morning. “I look at all the little things that people don’t pay attention to.”

And often it can reveal just as much about his own team as the one he plays against. Some teams find the moment when it clicks more and more after weeks of rhythm. Some only need one play, he said, for the flip to change.

It would be foolish to think his Clippers are anything but a work in progress as Kawhi Leonard is still injured and still wearing a New Balance sweatshirt instead of a uniform as of Wednesday. But while their ultimate form remains a mystery, they’ve found something that clicks. It lasted more than one night – but Wednesday night was all in, amid a 114-101 win that marked their fifth win in their last six games to improve to 7-5. It ended with substitute Norman Powell screaming after a dunk, Paul George scoring 29 points and Patrick Beverley’s robust defense tested his former teammates’ patience but never broke their game plan.

The Clippers have won 34 of their last 41 games against their fellow tenants at Arena and nine straight under coach Tyronn Lue since the start of the 2012-13 season, and their latest win felt all but certain after the Lakers’ LeBron James left midway through the fourth quarter with left leg pain — a potentially notable development given his history of groin injuries since his debut Lakers season in 2018.

James had 30 points with eight rebounds and five assists by that point, but the gap that opened up in the first quarter and was almost erased by halftime was widened again by the Clippers, and this time the Lakers had no reciprocation that could prevent them from falling to 2-9.

Lue, once a candidate to coach the Lakers and James’ title-winner in Cleveland, said any team with James would be fine given his ability, even in the 20th season of his career. And yet the Lakers fought on, making 10 of 32 three-pointers with 16 turnovers.

For a team with a slim margin between victory and loss, the Lakers have often quickly played their way into a corner, surpassed in nine of their first ten games after the first quarter, and finished third-bottom in the NBA with 4.7 points in the first quarter . The Clippers capitalized on that trend for the most lopsided first quarter of their season, leading by 17 points while shooting 61% from the field, with Luke Kennard smacking his chest after his three-pointer extended a 17-3 Clippers run.

These were the Clippers Covington described as “super scary” hours earlier on Wednesday in the team’s shootaround.

“Once we all find that rhythm, and once everyone finds their rhythm in the same order, you have to pick your poison,” Covington said.

Lakers forward LeBron James works the ball inside against Clippers guard John Wall.

Lakers forward LeBron James works the ball against Clippers guard John Wall in the second quarter at Arena Wednesday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Yet in another sign, the Clippers don’t have that rhythm and continuity, their own worst tendencies have also turned out to be true. They are the second-worst team in the league in terms of second-quarter point difference, a trend that has reduced their chances of winning so many times, including Wednesday.

When the Clippers finally scored their first field goal of the quarter after 6 minutes and 28 seconds, their lead had dwindled to 10. While the Lakers never attempted a free throw the rest of the half, Russell Westbrook began targeting Kennard’s defense and pushing past him for multiple baseline layups, and the Clippers returned almost everything by halftime, leading just 54-52, after they scored 16 points.

On what was technically a Clippers home game, cheers grew after former Clippers spark Patrick Beverley, who hadn’t budged an inch while defending George in the second quarter, yelled at his former teammate after George dropped the ball had fit. W

When George made a jump shot at a subsequent possession over Beverly, he returned the verbal fire to Beverley – a friend who was attending George’s July wedding in Italy.

They banged their fists and nodded to each other to call a time out, the game between the players and their teams finally started.

James shook his head after the Lakers allowed the Clippers seven unanswered points early in the third quarter. But after Troy Brown Jr. hit a layup with three minutes remaining in the third game, George bounced the ball off the brace’s padding in frustration.

At the end of the quarter, the injured Leonard nodded to his teammates in a scrum after they responded with a 16-4 run to lead into the fourth quarter at 12 – a stretch that overlapped with the substitution of substitute John Wall, who either scored or assisted on 11 points in the run, including four assists. Wall, one of the fastest guards in the league, scored at full speed. His team could be right behind him. Clippers find their groove in win over Lakers

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