Clippers lose to Warriors as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George out

For a franchise that has gone all-in on its NBA title aspirations, this clash against the reigning champions could have been a litmus test.

Instead, Wednesday turned into another night where the Clippers’ current and future plans depended on medical tests.

With their roster battered and incomplete for the better part of two seasons, the Clippers continued their short-handed start in a 124-107 loss to Golden State, without injured All-Star wings Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and sniper Luke Kennard.

Marcus Morris Sr. posted a team-high 19 points, and Terance Mann and Norman Powell each had 17 as the Clippers fell to 11-8 and couldn’t rein in Andrew Wiggins’ season-high 31 points and 19 Golden State three-pointers .

“I wish we were at full strength against everyone,” said coach Tyronn Lue. “Just to find our rhythm and set out how we want to play. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case this year, but it’s coming.”

Leonard had expressed little concern after twisting his right ankle in Monday’s win against Utah, but Lue said Leonard woke up in pain Tuesday and while he’s “feeling better,” according to the coach, Leonard has no timetable for a return .

Neither George, who hasn’t played since November 19 with a torn hamstring, nor Kennard, who has been sidelined for the fourth straight year with a torn calf.

“I’m sure they’re really keen to get whole and when they get whole you look at this roster, it’s pretty impressive,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “They’re one of those teams that you have to think will be there at the end.”

The Clippers have been on the minds of the Warriors since the earliest days of their reign. During a podcast appearance in July, just weeks after the Warriors won their fourth championship in eight seasons, defensive star Draymond called Green Lue’s team “a threat and a problem.”

Even if the Clippers’ potential at full strength commands the respect of their opponents, almost a quarter of the way into the schedule it was impossible to reach it as they haven’t had a significant break from injuries since the end of training camp.

The Clippers thrived last season and missed parts of their rotation. This grain has not yet been completely erased. Although Klay Thompson conceded 15 points in the first quarter and only scored 18 points himself in the second quarter while largely avoiding shots in the paint and trailing at 19 after the Warriors ended the half on an 18-4 run, the Clippers shortened their deficit to 11 in the third quarter.

When Golden State responded by using a miscommunication for a back-cut layup and a three-pointer to extend their lead to 16, the Clippers went on, cutting it again to 11 and then to nine with three minutes left in the game third game. Then a pair of threes from Stephen Curry, who scored 22 points, again added the Warriors’ cushion, which was 16 after three quarters.

Clippers forward Norman Powell takes a shot at Golden State Warriors forward Anthony Lamb and guard Donte DiVincenzo.

Clippers forward Norman Powell (24) takes a shot at Golden State Warriors’ Anthony Lamb (foreground right) and guard Donte DiVincenzo in the first half on Wednesday in San Francisco.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

“I liked how we kept fighting,” said Lue.

Even with the caveat that the Clippers’ most impressive names were absent, Wednesday revealed mishaps they can’t afford even with Leonard and George back.

The Clippers emphasized transition defense in their pregame preparation, but gave up 14 fast break points in the first half, highlighted by Thompson hitting the defense back for an easy dunk in the first quarter. There were other schedule errors as well, as evidenced by the frequent sight of a player asking another where they were on a broken game.

When Curry checked back in the fourth quarter with seven minutes remaining, the Warriors led by 21 points. Just 50 seconds later, that lead was 26.

Mann started for George in place of Leonard and Amir Coffey, just as Lue turned to Coffey last season during George’s month-long absence following his elbow injury. Coffey had 13 points in 36 minutes with seven assists.

And with the Clippers suddenly having less versatile wings, Robert Covington played more than 20 minutes for the third time in 11 games after losing his rotational spot in recent weeks while Lue Mann’s role expanded. Covington made one of seven shots and also hit an elbow by Jordan Poole in his jaw. Covington said he understood when Lue told him this month the team wanted to try a different direction.

“He just told me stay with him,” Covington said.

Even with just 10 healthy players, Lue made decisions with his minutes. A game after committing eight turnovers and not playing in the fourth quarter, guard John Wall sat the final 10 minutes. The Clippers were outscored by 25 points in his 21 minutes.

“We just have to take into account that he hasn’t played in two years and as good as he’s been for us all year, it’s only his 13th or 14th game in two years,” Lue said.

“It will take a while for that. We understood that and he’s actually playing a lot better than I expected so early in the season.” Clippers lose to Warriors as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George out

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