Mired in a season-long five-game losing streak despite the long-awaited return of their full roster, the Los Angeles Clippers get another chance to take a step forward Sunday against the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
After Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Luke Kennard and Norman Powell all missed stretches of time over the first half of the season, the productive foursome is back but is still working through residual bumps, bruises and required days off.
Their on-again, off-again statuses have prevented a game plan from taking hold.
The Clippers went just 2-6 over a difficult stretch where they played seven of eight games on the road. While they earned consecutive victories at Detroit and Toronto immediately after Christmas, the current five-game slide started with a 116-110 loss at Boston on Dec. 29.
The eight-game stretch ended Friday with a 128-115 road defeat against the Minnesota Timberwolves where neither Leonard nor George played because of precautionary rest on the second night of a back-to-back that included a 122-91 loss at Denver on Thursday.
Kennard did not play in the fourth quarter Friday with continued soreness from his injured calf, while Nicolas Batum was out with an ankle injury. George tweaked his previously injured hamstring Monday. All are day-to-day.
The Clippers are just 21-20 in a season where they had NBA Finals aspirations after Leonard’s return from knee surgery.
“A lot of people talk about continuity and stuff like that, but we’ve been together for three years so the continuity is there, it’s just the playing (together) is not there,” said Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, who is on a losing streak that matches his longest as Clippers head coach. “So we just have to get healthy and figure it out from there.
“But I have no doubt that once we get healthy and understand our rotations, we’re going to be fine. It’s been a tough year for us getting everybody healthy and playing at the same time.”
The Hawks know the Clippers’ frustrations well. An Eastern Conference finals participant in 2021, Atlanta is 18-21, with the midway point of its schedule arriving Wednesday.
The Hawks have lost five of their past six games, including a 130-114 defeat at Los Angeles against the Lakers on Friday where they trailed 70-49 at halftime. A run of four consecutive games in California ends Sunday.
Trae Young paced the way for the Hawks on Friday with 21 of his 32 points in the second half. He also added nine assists. John Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Dejounte Murray all had 16 points each. Collins and Hunter each had eight rebounds, but Atlanta was crushed on the boards 51-39.
“We had some good shots, some open looks in that first half and those shots didn’t fall for us,” Hawks head coach Nate McMillan said. “You got to get back (on defense) and change ends and stop the transition. We didn’t do that. I thought we dropped our heads a couple times. Basically, 42 points (allowed in the paint) in the first half … I don’t know what to say about that.”
Out with a calf injury Friday, Hawks big man Clint Capela has missed nine of the past 10 games.
–Field Level Media