Losing three straight games and looking for a spark, the Clippers were hoping tonight would be a turning point.
In a way, that’s exactly what happened.
After four quarters of their most ineffective, uncompetitive basketball of the season, the Clippers were turned around so easily during a disastrous 122-91 show in Denver that, as the season halfway fast approaches, their season looks like it is now goes backwards.
For weeks, coach Tyronn Lue has been preaching the importance of patience as a squad rocked by injuries to the point where they’ve played four games at full strength and just 15 with both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George healthy , relies on the right combination of players and games style.
Of most concern Thursday was that nothing remotely worked against a Nuggets team that finished first in the Western Conference. Standings separate the Nuggets five games from the Clippers, but during a first half that saw the Clippers concede 19 unanswered points to Denver and trail as much as 38 — most devastating, even with two-time Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic making just three scored, and Michael Porter Jr., who contributed exactly zero – the gap between them was huge.
Jokic finished with 12 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Jamal Murray scored 13 points in the first quarter and finished with 18.
Just as he had done 12 months earlier when the Clippers were up to 35 points behind Washington, Lue benched his starters from halftime. It was true the Clippers were due to tip less than 24 hours later in Minnesota and that Paul George was already playing on a tender hamstring making the rest valuable.
But even the starters had shown little to justify more playing time. In the first half, they made nine of their 31 shots combined, including two of their 16 three-pointers. Overall, the Clippers made just three of their 28 shots outside of the paint in the first half.
Meanwhile, Denver was driving (25-13) and making as many three-pointers — 11 — as the Clippers made first-half field goals. At altitude it was a season low, which could be measured not only by statistics but also by the eye test. The Clippers (21-19) never led.
In the starting XI, Lue started with Luke Kennard, Norman Powell, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey and Moses Brown, but unlike a year ago against the Wizards there was no comeback in sight, just a loss with the biggest margin of the season.
Leonard finished with six points, George scored three after making one of his nine shots.
The performance will continue questions about the team’s direction and whether a step backwards in their future or their long-awaited breakthrough lies just five weeks before the NBA’s trade close.
Lue had already focused on the possibilities of a roster with eight forwards between 6-foot-5 and 6-9 in preseason when the coach attempted a lineup with five of them. However, as the regular season neared its halfway point, lineups with three smaller guards had become more common. When John Wall, Kennard and Powell played together, the Clippers were outperformed by an average of 17.8 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass, which tracks advanced stats.
And lineups built around Wall and fellow point guard Reggie Jackson, plus a third guard – whether Powell, Kennard or Mann – were also all-around beaten. Before the Clippers left Los Angeles for Denver on Wednesday, Lue was quick to take the blame and also seemed to acknowledge fan criticism of his rotation decisions that have accompanied the 21-18 start.
“It’s not because of those guys at all, it’s because of me,” Lue said. “But I have to see more. I know what I’m doing, but I need to see more of our entire team and then kind of judge it from there.”
Jackson is basically an optimist. As such, he said Wednesday he believes the consistent inconsistency “makes us a little more resilient and tests us.” He, too, acknowledged the impact of unsettled rotations, but also blamed a team whose core has been together for three seasons.
“We have to figure out who we are and shoot, the coach gets there by mistake or he does it on purpose to figure out a lot of lineups, so I think that gives us an advantage there,” Jackson said. “We know who we are and we kind of know what we’re doing, but it’s always up to us and that’s one thing we also understand is that a lot of our losses are self-inflicted wounds.”
This last one cut a mile deep.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2023-01-05/clippers-nuggets-nba-recap Clippers’ losing streak grows to four in blowout loss to Nuggets