In stride and feeling good about the road ahead, especially early in a stretch of nine consecutive home games, the Los Angeles Clippers will run into the definition of a trap game Tuesday when they face the Orlando Magic.
The Clippers, coming off an impressive 129-105 home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, will play Thursday against the Denver Nuggets, who rode them out of last season’s playoffs.
In between, they will square off with the rebuilding Magic, who have lost 13 of their past 15.
Orlando is also 0-2 after Nikola Vucevic was traded to the Chicago Bulls and Evan Fournier was dealt to the Boston Celtics.
With the always-focused Kawhi Leonard leading the way, the chances of a Clippers letdown are slim. Leonard was at the heart of a balanced attack from the starters Monday as the Clippers defeated the Bucks without Serge Ibaka (back), Patrick Beverley (knee) and Paul George (foot).
Even newly acquired point guard Rajon Rondo was out with right adductor soreness, while scoring backup guard Lou Williams was shipped off to the Atlanta Hawks.
Four Clippers starters had at least 20 points in Monday’s victory, with Marcus Morris Sr. scoring 25, Leonard 23, Luke Kennard 21 and Reggie Jackson 20. Morris was making just his ninth start of the season while Kennard was starting for the eighth time.
“We need everybody engaged, even guys who are not getting minutes,” Leonard said after Monday’s victory. “They’re watching the game, seeing details of what (they) need to get better at or whoever is on the floor. Just listen to what they’re saying and if I’m seeing the same thing when I’m out there.”
It is a commitment to unity that has helped the Clippers to seven victories in eight games, all without Ibaka on the floor.
“Everything we have been working on and were frustrated about earlier in the season, we’re finally starting to see it come together,” first-year Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said.
The Magic are a long way from executing at a high level. They will be playing their second consecutive game at Los Angeles after falling 96-93 to the Lakers on Sunday.
Orlando will have to improve on the effort it gave against the Clippers on Jan. 29, when the Magic were dominated at home 116-90. Vucevic and Fournier were on the floor in that contest, but the duo scored only a combined 18 points on 7-of-26 shooting.
Now the Magic need to have faith in newcomers such as Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and R.J. Hampton, all three of whom made their team debut off the bench Sunday against the Lakers.
Hampton scored 10 points, Carter had eight points with eight rebounds and Porter had five points.
“Everybody came out and competed, (it’s) just fine-tuning some little things,” Hampton said. “We got a lot of new guys. We are a very young team. Down the stretch, those key plays that we got to make, I think over the course of (the rest of) the season, we will definitely do that.”
–Field Level Media