Clippers need to catch fire before season is extinguished

For too long, the Clippers have had a “wait until next year” mindset. Waiting for a player’s injury to heal, someone’s slump to pass, a young player to flourish.

This should be so elusive next year that the Championship is at stake when Kawhi Leonard returned from knee surgery to work again with Paul George as the tent poles of a deep, productive offense and a well-trained defense.

The Clippers were a popular preseason pick to finish at the Top of the West. Imagining them fighting for a championship ring didn’t seem ridiculous at all when they could avoid injury.

Yet Leonard’s stiff knee has kept him out of the lineup more times than before, a situation that is expected to continue indefinitely. George, who recently battled an upper respiratory ailment and is admittedly slow to catch his breath, was a shadow of his former self. Both tent poles faltered, taking the Clippers circus with him.

Their 112-91 submission against the energetic New Orleans Pelicans at the Arena on Sunday was the Clippers’ fourth straight loss in a season that’s getting uglier by the day. They plummeted to season lows in scoring and shot rate (41.9%). They made just 11 of 39 three-point attempts and scored just 15 points in the third quarter, while Zion Williamson (21 points, 12 rebounds) and New Orleans walked away with a game tied at halftime.

Last season, knowing that Leonard likely wouldn’t be able to contribute much, if anything, the Clippers made up for his absence by creating a variety of offensive options. They were shabby. They fought consistently.

That fire was missing this season. They desperately need to get it working again, stop playing humbly on defense and timid on offense, and play to the level they claim they can achieve.

“Blind eyes could see we were being outplayed,” said forward Marcus Morris Sr., who scored 12 points on Sunday after missing two games following a death in his family.

“It has nothing to do with ability. This has nothing to do with defense. We’re being dubbed. she [opponents] play harder.”

The Clippers will be without Leonard for the fourth straight season and fifth in seven games when they end back-to-back games at home to Houston on Monday. His absence on Sunday didn’t explain the Clippers’ poor shooting, mental flaws or 15 turnovers.

“We still have work to do. As one of the leaders of this team, I still have a job to do no matter who’s playing or not,” George said. “We’re just not doing what we have to do. pointless. Period.

“They are a team that came in and shot the ball well from the three general field goals around the pitch. There are teams who simply shoot the ball well against us. We don’t play defense that we need to play and I think it carries over to offense. We don’t benefit from it on the offensive either.”

It wasn’t so much that New Orleans shot well or that Williamson was a force or that CJ McCollum had a game high with 22 points.

“It’s just too easy,” George said. “The games are too easy for the other team, that’s where we have to start.”

Clippers guard John Wall collides with Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado on a drive to the basket.

Clippers guard John Wall collides with Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado during the first half of Sunday at Arena.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

where to start

“I think we just have to up the intensity. Again, identity matters who we will be. And with that, we need to up the intensity on both sides,” George said. “And it starts with me. I was poor tonight I’ve been bad for the last few games.”

George, who wore a cough as a lasting memento of his illness, scored 14 points in five-for-19 shooting, including two for eight from three-point range. He scored just 10 points in the final of the Clippers’ two-game visit to Oklahoma City after missing the first of those games while he was ill.

“I’ll bring it together. I am committed to my work. I’m committed to the success of this team,” said George. “It starts with me. I need to get better. I need to get better. But after that we need to be a better team together and have an identity again when we are on that pitch.”

Leonard’s limitations when his knee allows him to play and the need to recalibrate the game plan when he sits out are issues coach Tyronn Lue will be juggling for a while. And those aren’t the only problems. “We’re not a very good basketball team right now,” Lue said, “and we need to change that.”

It’s early in the season, but they’re forming bad habits and have no identity to rally around. “We’ve never had a team that was that well placed, I think never in history, a team that was stacked as far as veterans and a lot of young guys who can play significant minutes. And played significant minutes,” Morris said.

“We’re trying to do something special here. At the end of the day we all have to make sacrifices. We all have to get better. We all need to hold each other accountable. The kind of team we got, I know, I keep saying it, we’re stacked, man. We have to buy into the goal and that is trying to win the championship.

“There is no way we should lose against these teams. Regardless of how many games we play, who’s out, who’s not playing, there’s no excuse.”

This is a time when simply waiting until next year is not enough. Clippers need to catch fire before season is extinguished

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