After coach Tyronn Lue shook up the Clippers’ lineup on Sunday, and a month before the NBA’s trade deadline, suggested more changes are on the way in the team’s crowded guard rotation.
“We have a plan, but until Luke [Kennard] just getting well, we won’t see it yet,” Lue said.
What the team’s ambitious plan hasn’t achieved is a 21-21 Clippers midseason record that put them seventh in the Western Conference rankings on Sunday, 6 1/2 games behind first place, with games against Dallas and Denver – who have each won eight of their last 10 games – later this week.
After a six-game losing streak, those in the locker room late Sunday were talking about another plan – how to weather a season that has seen the franchise’s longest losing streak since November 2017.
“We have to stick together,” said striker Nicolas Batum, the team’s oldest statesman after a 15-year career. “Watch movie practice, look at what happened, get better, get better. I mean there are still a lot of games left but at the same time not a lot of game left.
After forty-one games, Lue felt it was time to make a dramatic lineup move, benching point guard Reggie Jackson, a 2021 postseason starter, against Atlanta and eventually playing just eight minutes against Jackson.
Jackson is the Clipper’s fastest conversation starter, a player who smashes his fists at arena security as heartily as his teammates. But on Sunday night, he quickly exited the locker room at Crypto.com Arena and politely declined an interview request.
When asked if he was concerned that the losing streak might “lose” some players in the locker room, Lue called the moves that have been made and those still to come as something that “just tests your character and tests who you are, as a person and as a basketball player,” Lue said. “So I’m pretty sure everyone in that locker room has been through worse.”
He added that although Jackson wasn’t in the rotation on Sunday, “then tomorrow it could be someone else. Just try different things. When you lose five games in a row you want to try different things.”
“This is where you see if you’re really enjoying the game and if we’re a team,” said star Kawhi Leonard. “We have to dig this hole. It’s fun, it’s a good challenge for us.”
Against the Hawks, Jackson played primarily in a three-man formation off the bench alongside Norman Powell and John Wall, but when that line-up was beaten by 13 points in eight minutes, Lue broke it up after halftime, playing only Powell and Wall. Lue has often given smaller lineups more chances, but this three guard combo has now played 54 minutes together and has been topped with 38 points, with 24 assists against 20 turnovers on top of defensive deficiencies. Opponents made 48% of their shots and 45% of their three-pointers against lineups with this trio.
The minute crunch will only continue when Kennard returns after watching in street clothes on Sunday because of a sore ankle.
“It’s not easy for some players in games like this and we know that’s why we have to stick together and keep talking to Reggie,” said Batum. “I mean, how many times has Reggie saved us? I mean, that’s why people love him. That’s why they sing his name because he’s a great player. He’s a great player. So sometimes on a night like this, yeah it’s tough because we want Reggie on the pitch, we want to see Reggie, but tonight the coach made some decisions.
These decisions led to Lue, Batum and Leonard being universally encouraged by how much faster the Clippers played from misses and on offense at half court. The team allowed 110 points per 100 possessions, the lowest defensive rating since December 21, and the new starting lineup’s defensive rating was even lower at 97.2. Overall, the new starters outperformed Atlanta by eight points.
But sentiment was quickly dampened when the 11-point lead was lost midway through the fourth quarter.
“There is no joy there,” said Batum.
“I can’t really come up with a reason for that,” Mann said. “I think just picking and choosing if we play hard. We have to be a team that plays hard in all four quarters and is physical in all four.”
Several players rated the team’s internal chemistry as still “positive,” as Leonard said, and Mann added that the teammates still encouraged each other. As Mann snapped and made his first shot on Sunday, Jackson was the first teammate to get up from his sideline seat and celebrate.
“I mean everyone’s down, they don’t want to lose a game but you know they’re just beginning to prepare [Sunday], everyone was still pretty level headed,” Leonard said. “We have to keep digging.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2023-01-09/we-got-to-stick-together-clippers-trying-to-find-a-solution-after-losing-six-straight-games How do Clippers turn things around after six-game losing streak?