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Well-adjusted Clippers hit road to face new-look Raptors

Jan 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard James Harden (1) reacts after forward Kawhi Leonard (2) scores three point basket against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers will take aim at their fourth consecutive victory Friday night when they open a seven-game road trip against the Toronto Raptors.

The Clippers have won 11 of their past 13 games and are 20-4 since the start of December to signal they will be a formidable opponent for the revamped Raptors, who have lost three straight and eight of their past 10.

The Clippers defeated the Raptors 126-120 at Los Angeles on Jan. 10.

The Clippers are coming off a 127-116 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. The Raptors lost at home 108-100 to the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.

Kawhi Leonard, who led the Raptors to their only NBA championship in 2019, had 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for the Clippers on Tuesday for his second career triple-double and first since January 2020. James Harden added 23 points.

The Clippers felt that they could have played better against the Lakers, who were without LeBron James.

“Just overall we didn’t play a good mental game and we didn’t do a good job with our coverages, especially defensively,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We were all over the place. We’ve just got to continue to keep getting better.”

Said Leonard: “(The Lakers) are a good transition team and we allowed them to play to their strengths. They got out in transition, made layups, open 3s, and I think those are the things (Lue is) talking about. Obviously, some of (it was) our game plan slippage, so we’ve just got to be better at that and be locked in to what we got to do coming into the game.”

The Clippers feel that a change in mindset, along with Harden’s familiarity with his new teammates since his November arrival, has led to their surge.

“I think the most encouraging thing is our mentality,” said Terance Mann, whose 17 points Tuesday were one off his season high. “We go into every game really feeling like we’re going to win. And I feel like that’s the best thing for us.”

Said Lue: “What (Harden has) brought to us is just keeping everybody happy. Being able to run pick and roll and get 10, 11 assists, get guys easy shots and easy baskets and that’s what’s allowed us to be really good.”

The Raptors are undergoing changes after trading OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Toronto’s Jakob Poeltl (ankle) is nearing a return to action but is not expected to play on Friday.

Poeltl said that he misses Siakam as a teammate.

“(The trade) was tough because he was the guy I was closest to on this team,” Poeltl said. “I guess I was mentally prepared for it a little bit already because there were so many rumors, but it’s still really sad for me to basically lose my best friend on the team.”

The Raptors will try to rebound from a poor effort against the Grizzlies, giving up 30 points in the first quarter and 32 in the third.

“We were not connected offensively or defensively. Everybody was kind of like walking on eggshells,” Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic said. “Start of the game, all the turnovers that we had (eight in the first eight minutes) is a question of focus, and a question of bringing that effort to the game. That was lacking from the start of the game.”

Toronto’s Scottie Barnes had 22 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and six blocked shots.

–Field Level Media

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