The Los Angeles Clippers, for their first few games with James Harden on the active roster, tried to make a Harden-Russell Westbrook pairing work in the backcourt. After all, these two players have experience playing with each other, most recently in 2020 with the Houston Rockets. However, the Clippers proceeded to lose consecutive games, and Westbrook brought up the idea that him coming off the bench may be what's best for the team.
Since moving Westbrook to a bench role, the Clippers have won seven of the past 10 games, with huge wins over the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors and, most recently, the Denver Nuggets during that span. Clearly, separating Harden and Westbrook's minutes have had a positive effect on the Clippers, thanks to Terance Mann's glue-guy stylings, and now Tyronn Lue is rolling with what's working.
Nevertheless, while Lue said that the Clippers do plan to separate James Harden and Russell Westbrook's minutes, he'll still be evaluating his lineups on a case-by-case basis.
“I mean that's the plan, but you never know. The game dictates kind of who plays and what unit plays with who, but we try to have our rotations going into the game, but the game always dictates how you play. So anything can happen,” Lue said, per ClutchPoints Clippers beat reporter Tomer Azarly.
“I mean that's the plan, but you never know. The game dictates kind of who plays and what unit plays with who, but we try to have our rotations going into the game, but the game always dictates how you play. So anything can happen.”
Tyronn Lue on not playing James Harden and… pic.twitter.com/2DMRgsBuM1
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) December 7, 2023
The new Clippers starting five with Terance Mann in place of Russell Westbrook has been incredible. In 167 minutes across 11 games, that five-man unit has posted a net rating of +11.4, with their specialty being on the defensive end, as they're only allowing 106.7 points during those minutes. That mark would rank second in the league.
There simply is a much better rhythm for James Harden, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard doing the majority of the offensive lifting in their minutes. And with Westbrook coming in to give Harden a breather, the Clippers can play a faster pace, and in his limited role, the 2017 NBA MVP can then pour more of his energy into pulling off hustle plays, making him a plus on the offensive glass and in transition.
The Clippers will be facing the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers in their next two games, so those should be golden opportunities for Tyronn Lue and company to learn more about what works and what doesn't in this new-look team.