Playing without three key players, Clippers lose to Nuggets

During a training camp that feels a lot longer now than it did two months ago, the Clippers, then perfectly healthy, believed the sheer depth of their full roster could stem the ebb and flow that comes with the inevitable injuries of a long season.

But Friday’s absences of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and last season’s leading three-pointer Luke Kennard don’t create a mere dent in a lineup. All three will also miss Sunday’s game against Indiana and coach Tyronn Lue has acknowledged the “very small” margin of error without them.

The Clippers then set out to prove their coach right.

In what was in some ways their best first half at the Arena, the Clippers made 62.5% of their shots — their best first-half accuracy this season, 24 minutes in which Terance Mann saw the Denver guard Jamal Murray passed for a layup, then scored on the rim, splitting defense between Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown, en route to making six of his first seven shots for 13 points. He graduated at 16.

Yet even with such shooting, the Clippers trailed the Nuggets by a dozen at halftime and ended up losing 114-104. And even as backup guard John Wall scored his first seven field goals for a season-high 23 points, the Clippers saw their deficit grow to 17 in the third quarter, although they barely cooled offensively.

Their margin of error went from small to zero, as the errors could not be fixed while shooting. Lue called turnovers her “Achilles’ heel,” and it lasted just 58 seconds for the first of the night, a miss from Reggie Jackson that turned into a three-pointer for subsequent possession.

By halftime, they had committed 11 turnovers for 18 Denver points — nearly a third of the Nuggets’ halftime scoring total comes from the Clippers, who lost back-to-back to fall to 11-9.

“If we can get it [turnovers] Miraculously eight to ten, then I like our chances,” Lue said before the tip. “But when they have 18, 20, 22 turnovers, it’s hard to win a game.”

Even when the Clippers went all of the third quarter without a turnover and then blew up an 11-2 run in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, they were still down by eight — a reflection of trends that saw them failing not only against Denver have condemned , but the whole season.

Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets shoots over Ivica Zubac of the Clippers in the first half on November 25, 2022.

Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic shoots over Clippers’ Ivica Zubac. Jokic had 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Clippers rank fourth worst for the percentage of properties that end in sales. Ultimately, they signed 14, eight more than the Nuggets (12-7).

The Clippers rank fourth-worst in terms of offensive rebound percentage. They snagged just four, and because of that, the league’s worst team at scoring second chance points – just 8.8 per game – stayed three and a half quarters without scoring a point on a second chance opportunity. Denver, meanwhile, snagged six more offensive rebounds and scored 17 more second-chance points.

And the Clippers’ 74.8% free-throw rate, the fifth-worst mark this season? They only made 19 of their 34 chances.

Which of these ominous trends can the Clippers reverse the fastest?

“Rebounds and free throws,” said guard Norman Powell, who scored 11 points. “Rebounding is exertion, boxing, rushing, competitions for the loose ball. Free throws in concentration.”

Jackson, who scored nine points, had his eyes widening when he heard where the Clippers ranked in such categories. He named turnovers and second chance points as the easiest to avoid.

“You can unpack any play and do the easy pass,” Jackson said. “Sometimes we make it too difficult and too difficult for ourselves with our talent. We attack gaps that teams close.”

Unlike last season, when Lue was able to change offense knowing Leonard and George were out for weeks and months, this year he has yet to make sweeping changes to an offense tailored to their strengths as he didn’t expect their stars to be on the alert “Long term,” he said.

“I’m feeling pretty good about the situation at the moment and how the guys are progressing,” he said.

Lue added that he has faith in “great leadership in the dressing room and our coaching staff have great leaders too, but sometimes it’s just difficult to win games when you build your offense around two key figures and them.” Out.” Playing without three key players, Clippers lose to Nuggets

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