LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers dressed 10 players for Saturday night’s scrimmage against the Washington Wizards. With Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, Ivica Zubac, and Landry Shamet all unavailable, the Clippers saw their third-stringers get some much-needed run, and boy did they impress.
Seven Clippers reached double-figure scoring in the 105-100 victory, led by Patrick Patterson’s 16 points off the bench. Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, Rodney McGruder, and Marcus Morris all finished with 13 points. Every reserve finished with at least 13 points aside from Joakim Noah, who had one of his signature, all-around lines with one point, six rebounds, five assists, one steal, and five blocked shots.
“They played great, they played hard,” head coach Doc Rivers said of the younger players after the win. “They’ve done that in our scrimmages in practice as well. Whatever lack of skill or talent they have, they make up for it with their effort, their execution, so very, very happy for those guys.”
The Clippers are expecting their five missing players back soon. Zubac, Williams, and Shamet all arrived on Saturday. Beverley and Harrell aren’t too far behind.
Zubac and Shamet will be subject to a two-day quarantine period before they can leave their rooms and begin activities with the team.
As long as Beverley and Harrell are being tested every day, and continuing to test negative, they’ll be subject to a four-day quarantine period before they can resume activities.
Lou Williams, on the other hand, is facing a 10-day quarantine. The NBA investigated Williams’ activities during his team-excused absence, and he admitted to going to an Atlanta staple, Magic City, for dinner. This means Williams will miss the Clippers’ first two games of the restart, including the July 30 tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite their 2-0 scrimmage record, the Clippers have a problem they’ve got to find a way to deal with.
Sure, it has been difficult for the Clippers to play shorthanded, but Rivers admitted it has been even harder to practice and properly prepare for the postseason run without five key rotation guys.
“It’s a challenge because we only have 10 guys. That makes it really challenging. There’s no breaks in practice, so you tend to not go as long. You feel like you don’t get half the stuff in that you want to get in. It’s been a challenge. I’d love to say it hasn’t been, but it’s been a definite challenge.”
With guys tending to family matters and other excused absences, Rivers has taken what he can get. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are able to work off any rust as they prepare for the seeding games. This bubble training camp, however, is turning into the exact same camp the Clippers held at the beginning of the season, when guys like Leonard and George were unable to participate.
“We’re right back [to that]. It’s a little frustrating because you came into [this] camp thinking the exact opposite. Like a week before this all started, we had everybody accounted for, and you know, stuff happens, so you can’t worry about it.”
When the seeding games begin, the Clippers will have the benefit of a 1.5-game lead on the Denver Nuggets for the second seed and a three-game lead on the Utah Jazz. For the remainder of this season, home-court advantage is nonexistent. Seeding games will only matter toward playoff matchups, and the Clippers feel confident in their chances against any team in the Western Conference.
The issue with the absences becomes more about chemistry and proper game shape, or the lack of both.
By now, everyone knows the Clippers did their best to keep players in shape during the hiatus, but nothing can replicate game action. Rivers acknowledged that players appear to be in shape now, but the first couple of games really helps them get back to where they were.
The Clippers really began to figure each other out after the All-Star break, when Reggie Jackson entered the rotation and George returned from his hamstring injury. The chemistry that team had doesn’t just disappear after four months, but there will absolutely be things they’ll need to brush up on. The playbook is one of the more significant things, according to Rivers.
“The guys who are here, especially our key guys, they can get their rhythm now, for sure,” Rivers explained.
“It’s funny, I’m putting in our stuff, backing in all our stuff, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad and I won’t know because the guys who aren’t here don’t know it even though they’ve run it, but they haven’t run it in so long. So when they get here, I don’t know, that’s going to be a tough one. I know that, because you can see today JaMychal came in late, got a couple of the plays that we’ve run, so I can’t imagine when those other five guys get on the floor.”
One of the things the Clippers have done to keep guys like Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet as engaged and up to date as possible is include them in their daily live practice Zoom calls.
“Zu and Sham, in particular, have watched every practice on Zoom. We Zoom our practices — I don’t know what you call it — but they’re watching every practice and they’re watching it with our coaches that are back. So I’m hoping you can learn a little bit by watching.
“It’s live. I speak to them, I say hi, but I don’t speak to them much more than that. But it’s live. They can hear everything. Zu asked if I would wear a mic during practice. I told him no. But he did ask. It’s just been really good for them. They wanted to feel like they’re a part of the team and involved. The first couple days was when they were actually in isolation still, and then once they came out of that, then they were able to watch it with a couple of our coaches, which was good.”
All of this is not to say the Clippers won’t win the NBA title because of these setbacks. They’re arguably the most talented group in today’s NBA, and sometimes, that’s enough to get you to the top. LA could easily come together and pick up right where they left off. The odds of that happening after a four-month hiatus and a lot of mouths to feed? That remains to be seen.
Either way, LA still has time to catch up to the other championship contenders in Orlando if necessary. For the next few weeks, catch-up might be all they’re doing as guys trickle back into the bubble and the playoffs begin.