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Clippers try to put it all together against lowly Rockets

January 13, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dunks against Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji (22) during the second half at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers appeared to be on the verge of putting their fractured pieces together.

After claiming both games of a back-to-back in Detroit and Toronto just after Christmas, the Clippers – who host the struggling Houston Rockets on Sunday — climbed to six games over .500 by capping a stretch of seven wins in nine games. They had labored as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard worked their way back from injuries in pursuit of cohesion, and that span of success appeared to portend more wins down the road.

The stability the Clippers thought they captured has proven elusive. With their 115-103 home loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday, the Clippers fell to .500 (22-22) with their seventh loss in eight games.

George has missed four consecutive games with a bothersome hamstring and, while Leonard has found his form by averaging 28.7 points, eight rebounds, four assists and 2.3 steals over his last three games, the Clippers have been unable to sustain a healthy roster.

“We can’t have 11 turnovers for 19 points (in the second half),” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And then just the discipline of playing faster in the half-court. I thought we walked around, we walked to our spots. Got into our offense late. It’s hard to score when you’re doing that.”

Lue turned to Terance Mann as the starting point guard, moving former starter Reggie Jackson completely out of the rotation. The results have been mixed, with Mann – previously a shooting guard previously — working through the difficult transition on a roster that can’t quite get whole.

“I thought just a little hesitant,” Lue said of Mann. “Just knowing what to run and the pace we want him to play at. That’s to be expected, a young player switching positions. It was a learning experience.

“It’s something we’ve got to get used to. It’s a new style we’re getting used to playing with as well. Just things we’ve got to work on, keep showing film and keep getting better.”

The Rockets’ defensive woes remain pronounced. In their 139-114 road loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday, the Rockets allowed Sacramento to shoot 57.1 percent in the second half, including 13 of 23 from behind the arc. The Kings’ breakaway 43-point third quarter featured 65.2 percent shooting overall with 6-of-12 proficiency from deep and 7-of-7 shooting from the free-throw line.

The Rockets have dropped nine consecutive games and 14 of 15 overall. During their skid, their 122.6 defensive rating ranks last in the NBA. Houston is 28th overall in defensive rating at 116.7, ranking ahead of only the Pistons and San Antonio Spurs.

At this point, the Rockets’ defensive issues are myriad. Against the Kings, their problems were specific and endemic simultaneously, and with the losses mounting so too has the frustration.

“It was the transition (defense), it was the rebounding and it was the fouls in the first half,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “And in the second half, it was the 3s. Shoot, they ended up 20 for 40 from 3s. We’re a help team and we’re going to give up some but (that’s) too many.”

–Field Level Media