The Clippers did something unusual this week. More precisely twice.
Amid three games in four days, they trained on Monday. On Saturday, just 14 hours after the team played in San Antonio, they held another.
The alternative would have been to take the days off, and more often than not, a franchise that has shown a conservative approach to limiting player workloads has opted for rest and recovery over practice. But more than halfway through a season, the Clippers’ preferred lineups have rarely been on the court together, and given the sobering realization that a team with championship ambitions “isn’t where we want to be right now,” center Ivica Zubac said. The team donned training jerseys and got to work.
The unusual move led to something equally rare on Sunday afternoon — the start of a Clippers winning streak born of attention to detail rather than sheer talent as they ran away from Dallas in a 112-98 win.
“We were all on the same page about these practices,” Warden Terance Mann said.
When the Clippers met at the Dallas training facility on Saturday morning, they clinched a mouth-watering victory in San Antonio – having lost nine of their previous 12 games – that also left a bitter taste in their mouths. Before facing the Spurs, the Clippers coaches laid out a game plan that specifically warned against pushing up the center and back cuts. As the defense kept being slashed by everyone, the frustration grew with every avoidable mistake.
“We have to be a lot smarter on the ground,” said Zubac. “We’ve learned that the boys are too smart players not to play like that.”
It wasn’t the first time the Clippers have been held back by their own failure to heed what forward Robert Covington called “getting involved with the little things.”
The Clippers celebrated forward Moussa Diabate’s 21st birthday by forcing the rookie to sing “Happy Birthday” in front of the group on Saturday, but beneath the laughter was a serious tone stemming from the game plan against San Antonio had not implemented.
Coach Tyronn Lue urged players to focus on a few key issues ahead of the Mavericks’ matchup. For one, the primary defender needed to be more physically on the ball before being hit by a pick and roll screen to ease Zubac’s responsibilities as a helping defender. They discussed how to get the ball out of the hands of Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic while preventing Dallas from getting an instant shot on his first pass. And they continued to build Paul George into the role of de facto primary point guard.
The next day, Lue liked the physicality. Defensive rotations, with few exceptions, have been crisp in keeping Doncic — who owns nine career 40+ point games against the Clippers, the most active player against an opponent — to 29 points but limited to 21 shots.
And George, after being pinned on four shots in the first half – tying his season low for shot attempts in each half – was aggressive in finding shots for himself and others after half-time. Of George’s 21 points, 14 came after halftime.
With Kawhi Leonard adding 30 points, his seventh straight game with at least 24 points, the Clippers surpassed Dallas by 19 points in the second half. A team that started that three-game journey listless ended it with teammates jumping off the bench after Leonard shared two defenders with a spin move for a layup.
“I like where we are, I like our spirit and when this team is healthy we’re a tough team,” said Lue.
After giving 72 points to the Spurs at halftime, Dallas only managed 79 at three quarters, which has been described as a step forward for a defense that has been one of the NBA’s worst at halftime for the last month.
After zero turnovers on Friday, George signed five against Dallas but none after halftime. While Dallas made just 15 of his 26 free throws, the Clippers made 30 of 31, with George, Leonard and Norman Powell, who scored 19 points off the bench in his third razor-sharp offensive game, making it 20-20 combined.
“We obviously want to be fresh for games, but if we can find time to get together and go through things and be on the same page before a game, the better,” George said. “That’s how we approached it. I definitely think it’s definitely a reason why we’ve won the last two games and we’re playing better because the continuity comes through training and just getting a rhythm as a team.
Practice is an everyday part of NBA life. But this season, many of the Clippers’ problems have come from not doing the mundane consistently — from boxing to knowing where to be on offense, to limiting their turnovers from the simple pass to building from momentum. Leonard said he’s still waiting for the team to show consistency. Zubac said the team is still messing up too many off-time games and defensive reads.
Practice hasn’t made the Clippers (25-24) perfect. But on Saturday, it made them better in a way they hope they can sustain.
“We’re going to be training a lot more than we have in the past, no matter the minutes and weights and all that,” Lue said. “We have to do our things right and time is running out. The players understand that, they’re okay with that and we just have to get better.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2023-01-22/kawhi-leonard-paul-george-clippers-mavericks-recap Kawhi Leonard and Paul George lead Clippers past Mavericks