LOS ANGELES — After weeks and months of trials and experiments, Tyronn Lue finally rolled out what Los Angeles Clippers fans have been begging for. Tuesday night's win over the Dallas Mavericks featured the highly anticipated “Wingstop” lineup. Even without Paul George, the Kawhi Leonard-led Clippers finally looked like what many people thought they would.

Over the last two games against the Atlanta Hawks and Mavs, Lue and the Clippers employed a starting lineup of Terance Mann, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, and Ivica Zubac. No point guard in the starting five for two straight games has allowed the Clippers to get off to much better starts with an emphasis on pace and paint attacks. In 26 minutes over the last two games, the starting five has outscored their opponents by 12 points and boast a net rating of 18.7. It's not a big sample, but the stats and the eye test fully back the non-point guard lineup.

The tricky part over the last two games has been with the second unit. In the first half against the Hawks, Tyronn Lue went with a three-guard second-unit lineup of John Wall, Reggie Jackson, and Norman Powell alongside a combination of either Kawhi Leonard/Terance Mann and Ivica Zubac/Moses Brown. Those three-guard lineups got outscored by eight with Brown and by five with Zubac in a total of nine minutes. That's a -13 in nine minutes.

The seven first-half minutes for Reggie Jackson were the only ones he would get in the game, as Lue went away from the three-guard setup in the second half by only going with one or two guards on the second unit — John Wall and/or Norman Powell. Two-guard lineups in the second half against the Hawks were a +9 in approximately 10 minutes.

***Credit to Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) for help with finding specifics on a number of these stats. Make sure to subscribe to his Patreon***

Robert Covington and Amir Coffey both didn't see any playing time to many people's surprise, including mine.

That's what made Tuesday night's game against the Dallas Mavericks even more interesting. In the 113-101 victory, the Clippers completely avoided any units lineups featuring three guards. Terance Mann, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, and Ivica Zubac started for the second game in a row and vastly outplayed Dallas' starters.

Zubac got into early foul trouble, picking up three fouls five minutes into the game. Robert Covington checked into the game and went on to play 13 straight first-half minutes as both the small-ball center and the 4-man next to Moses Brown.

The second half saw much of the same as the Clippers opened a 23-point lead they wouldn't relinquish despite a number of Mavs runs. On the night, the Clippers ran two-guard lineups for only 15 of the 48 minutes. The majority of the minutes saw either Terance Mann playing as the de facto point guard or Norman Powell as the lone guard in a lineup with multiple wings and/or a center.

Mann played a season-high 41 minutes. Covington played a season-high 31 minutes.

Both the Hawks and the Mavs don't necessarily play big often, and they were already dealing with injuries to their big men. Clint Capela, who often has his way with the Clippers, was out with a foot injury, while Dwight Powell, who started for the Mavs, only played eight minutes before suffering an injury.

Bigger challenges await the Clippers with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets as well as Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, two teams with MVP-caliber centers that will punish you for going small. It will be intriguing to see what the Clippers do in these games, especially because we haven't even talked about Paul George or Luke Kennard.

George is dealing with right hamstring soreness, but if he can return Friday against the Nuggets, he'll retake his starting spot and send Nicolas Batum to the bench. Paul George's return and Batum coming the bench would obviously give the Clippers another wing combination to use. Reggie Jackson has been completely out of the rotation, although head coach Tyronn Lue says he still has plans to use him. John Wall is currently the only point guard seeing minutes, which makes sense since he's the more traditional point guard who's also putting pressure on the rim in transition. Reduce the amount of mid-range jumpers early in the shot clock, and Wall's role would be perfect. But who knows, that could all change as soon as Luke Kennard returns from his calf injury.

“We have a plan in place, but until Luke just gets healthy, we won't see it yet,” Lue said after the Hawks loss. “We're just gonna experiment with different guys. But I think the three-guard rotation, not their fault, but it's tough for us defensively to get stops every night. And, so, we just gotta see and just continue to keep playing with it and just kind of go from there.”

After the Mavs game, Tyronn Lue stated that he prefers to have at least one point guard active with the second unit, but even that doesn't seem feasible at the moment. Terance Mann may start at a so-called point guard position, but Lue sees him as more of a small forward-Swiss Army Knife type of guy.

“My role?” Mann reiterated the question back to the reporter postgame Tuesday. “I don’t know what – I don’t know. I mean, I've had 100 different roles already. So it could be anything. I mean, I’m ready for whatever. I’m not worried about a role. I’m just here to help – win.”

Two things are for sure: Mann needs to play and Luke Kennard needs to play, and that means at the expense of another guard. Whether that someone is Reggie Jackson, John Wall, or another player, the three-guard lineups with a traditional point guard simply don't work.

In 99 minutes with John Wall, Luke Kennard, and Norman Powell on the floor at the same time, the Clippers have been outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions. The 99 minutes aren't enough to pull much from, but it's especially tough to play these lineups without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, or Ivica Zubac.

In 51 minutes with Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Norman Powell on the floor, the Clippers have been outscored by 5.9 points per 100 possessions. Again, not much of a sample, but with the Clippers unable to stay healthy and not wanting to overwork Zubac, there's just very little room to play these three-guard lineups.

In 54 minutes with John Wall, Reggie Jackson, and Norman Powell on the floor, the Clippers have been outscored by 34.1 points per 100 possessions.

In 27 minutes with Reggie Jackson, John Wall, and Luke Kennard, the Clippers have been outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions.

You get the picture? The three-guard lineups just don't work.

Granted, some of the numbers could be different if both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were more available than they have been. After all, none of this lineup talk matters with regards to the ultimate goal of winning a championship if the Clippers' top two players can't stay healthy and put in game reps together.

Here's what the Clippers looked like in 2020-21, when Leonard and George played 43 of a possible 72 games together. There are 39 games remaining in this season, and they're currently on pace to play fewer games together this year than they did in the 2020-21 COVID-shortened campaign.

2020-21 Clippers record Kawhi Leonard Paul George
2020-21 Clippers records with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George's availabilities
2022-23 Clippers record Kawhi Leonard Paul George
2022-23 Clippers records with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George's availabilities

The Clippers came into the season as one of the deepest, if not the deepest, team in the entire NBA. Their depth surrounding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George was supposed to make injury management feasible. Whether lineups featured both stars or if they were staggered throughout games, the thought was those lineups would continue to dominate as they have been in the past.

Through 43 games, the team hasn't been able to stay healthy, which has contributed heavily towards Tyronn Lue not running lineups he probably really wants to throw out there. Through 43 games, the Clippers have been fully healthy for just four total games.


And the inability to play even two games in a row fully healthy has hurt them. Of the four games where they've been fully healthy, two of those saw Kawhi Leonard come off the bench. And if you need a reminder, head coach Tyronn Lue called that experiment “nasty” and Leonard said it was “killed” immediately.

“It’s been too inconsistent as far as health-wise, but we understand that no matter who’s on the floor, we’re going to play hard and try to compete,” Lue said of the team's identity halfway through the season. “That’s what you have to do as a professional, but when we get guys healthy and like I said, hopefully [we get a] 15 games [sample size], so maybe we should say six games of everyone being healthy and just start building something. There's nothing you can do about it. Guys are hurt. It’s unfortunate for us that it happens all the time for us. Just trying to get past that hurdle and stay above board until we get everybody back and we can do that. We will do that.”

Kawhi Leonard missed over three weeks with inflammation in his surgically repaired knee, and another 10 days with an ankle sprain — a total of 18 games due to injury. Paul George has been relatively healthy, but did miss seven games with a hamstring strain in November, which he re-aggravated in Monday's loss to the Heat. Norman Powell missed 10 games in December with a groin strain. Luke Kennard missed nine games with a calf strain as well.

On top of that, the team has alternated rest days for Leonard and John Wall on back-to-back sets when they are available. If Kawhi Leonard sits out the first game and plays in the second, Wall will play the first and sit out the second. There go another two games where they're likely not 100 percent.

Clippers, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George

Despite the injuries, however, this Clippers team has other concerns. For starters, they elected to enter the season without a backup center, believing small ball could fill in for the minutes that Zubac is off the court.

Through 43 games, Zubac is playing a career-high 30 minutes per game, blowing past his previous high of 24.4 minutes per game last season. Five of the top six games in his career as far as minutes played have come so far this season, including a career-high 41 minutes against the Detroit Pistons in December. The Clippers can't keep working Zubac into the ground, and their alternatives don't seem to be great if they don't play Robert Covington. Moses Brown has provided a good boost for this team in limited minutes, but his play and defense drop off the more he plays. Moussa Diabate, while providing mobility and activity, is getting reps in the G League as a developing 20-year-old.

Tyronn Lue and the Clippers have to play bigger with their “Wingstop” lineups with Terance Mann at the point guard position and Nicolas Batum or Robert Covington at the center spot. They need to play bigger in general, even if that unfortunately means minutes are no longer there for one or both of their point guards.

Lastly, this just needs to be put out there.

Remember when Serge Ibaka started 39 games for the Clippers when Ivica Zubac was very clearly the better, starting-caliber center?

Remember when Patrick Beverley returned from injury and started two playoff games before Lue permanently started Reggie Jackson?

Remember when Rajon Rondo was given a long leash to play through his turnovers in the playoffs, but was eventually benched?

Do you think the 2016 championship coach who got the Clippers two games away from a Finals appearance with his unique coaching style doesn't see what everyone else is seeing? Do you think the coach deemed by players and coaches as one of the best in the NBA at in-game adjustments just blindly continues to make decisions that burn his own team?

Is criticism warranted for putting lineups out there that arguably lost the Clippers a handful of games over the last month? 100 percent! Let's just also not act like a guy in Lue's position has it easy or suddenly doesn't know what he's doing.

Tyronn Lue and the Clippers are well aware of what is and what is not working. They know the three-guard lineups were getting killed defensively and in the rebounding department. They know that Terance Mann needs to play more, that John Wall plays better with a big man, that more shots need to find Luke Kennard, and that the defensive woes aren't going anywhere if they continue to play über small.

From the coaching staff to video coordinators, there are hundreds upon hundreds of hours being put into film work and breakdowns. They have all the data in the world available to them — some that fans have no clue about. It's also worth mentioning that none of the data or film or tinkering matters if the team can't stay healthy and string together consecutive games to build any semblance of rhythm heading into the playoffs.

A lot goes into managing a locker room as an NBA head coach. There might be promises or agreements made in the offseason. Egos are never an easy thing to manage given every player approaches the day with a chip on their shoulder, genuinely believing they should be playing and can contribute to winning when they see the court. While sacrifice is an easy word to throw around at the start of the year, you can never truly know how things will transpire once adversity hits and changes are made.

The Clippers have 39 games to build on their 22-21 record midway through the season. Lue knows the first half hasn't been easy, but his message is simple: the season isn't over yet and their goals are very much in reach.

“We still have 41 games to understand who we want to be and our goals,” Tyronn Lue said entering the five-game home stand. “They are not over yet. I know losing five games in a row is tough. It’s tough on me, it’s tough on the fans, it’s tough on our team, but you got to dig yourself out of the hole. We’ve been through worse. I’m prepared for the fight, so those guys got to get in the fight with me.”