With Paul George out at least 10 games, Doc Rivers expects Clippers to continue scrimmaging in practice to catch up
LOS ANGELES – Doc Rivers and the LA Clippers held practice again on Saturday afternoon, closing out with three minute scrimmages to replicate situations during the game. Kawhi Leonard fully participated in practice and the scrimmages while Paul George was off to the side doing shooting drills with assistant coaches.
Leonard’s return to the lineup was the first positive step for the Clippers in what’s expected to be a lengthy season, but the team won’t fully know what it’s capable of until George makes his return and works his way into the rotation.
Doc Rivers says his Boston Celtics team from 2008 came together almost instantly.
“The Boston team came together before the season started,” admitted Rivers. “They really did. I didn’t even know what our record was but it was unbelievable. I know we never lost two games in a row. That was just an aberration. That doesn’t happen very often. But that team did that. I’m all for this team doing that, as well.”
The Celtics came into training camp healthy and quickly found their stride, winning eight straight games to start the season and 29 of their first 32 games. Those Celtics finished with a 66-16 record, the first seed in the Eastern conference, and won the 2008 NBA Championship.
This year’s Clippers are bringing Leonard along slower than they normally would, and George is out for all six October games and, at the very least, the first four games in November.
“There’s no number,” said Rivers. “I think it’s a little different because Paul George is not going to be here for the first 10, so that’s going to be a little harder to do.”
Because of George’s absence early on in the season, Rivers says the Clippers will running scrimmages in practice for the first few weeks of the NBA season.
“Early on, [it’ll be] a lot,” responded Rivers on how much scrimmaging the team will be doing. “I was just telling our coaching staff this, you looked at Denver, they have 200 games under their belt. We have nine days. The more we scrimmage and play, that’s the only way we can try to catch up and gain minutes. There’s no way you can catchup in game minutes. You try to do it through scrimmaging and in situational stuff because there’s no way we can catch up on teams like that. The more we put our teams in those situations, I think as the year goes on, they will grow.”
Clippers forward Moe Harkless says the team’s approach to practice hasn’t changed throughout, knowing full well the importance of training camp.
“It’s been intense,” Harkless said. “We’re trying to get ready for the regular season. So we approach practice every day with a seriousness and competitiveness that pushes everybody.
“It’s important. We’ve got to play. You can’t drill everything. Sometimes you just have to play. Scrimmaging is going to be huge for us. It’ll only make us better out there on the court.”
Rivers says from that aspect, the Clippers and 2008 Celtics are similar. Both teams are facing opponents in their conference who will have been together far longer than they have. This season, teams like the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets have a lot of continuity and familiarity with one another. In 2008, Doc’s Celtics faced the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons teams that had the same core together for years.
“[We had] lots of scrimmage,” said Rivers. “Same thing. Especially that year I think Cleveland had been together for two years, Detroit — those were our targets — Detroit had been together for like five years and my concern was six minutes left in the game, they know everything and we don’t so we scrimmaged every day with that team.”
At least until George returns, the Clippers will be playing catch-up. Catching up with practices and catching up with game reps.
Even without being able to play alongside George and Leonard yet, guys like Harkless, who play similar positions, are excited for the opportunities to work with the two so far in this very young season.
“Those two guys are probably the best two-way wings in the league,” said Harkless. “I’ve watched them closely my whole career. To have them here and play with them now instead of being on the opposite side, it’s exciting for me. I get to learn every day and get to play with them every day on this side of the floor and actually suit up.”
The Clippers’ next chance to build some chemistry on the court will be Sunday, when Melbourne United comes into town. Doc Rivers said he’s not sure if Kawhi Leonard will play at all in that game. Terance Mann is dealing with a hip/hamstring injury, but it’s considered minor. Rodney McGruder continues to nurse a high ankle sprain which will hold him out throughout the final two preseason games.