The Clippers might have been fully staffed for Friday’s big game against Utah – their full-bodied effort helped snap the Jazz’s nine-game winning streak – but still, they weren’t fully themselves, they said.
They should, however, be a step closer when the next superb, surging team meets them Sunday at Staples Center; the Brooklyn Nets have won five consecutive games, a span in which their plus-10.3 net rating is second to only Utah’s plus-10.7.
After the Nets and Clippers put on a tantalizing show in their first meeting – Brooklyn won that one, 124-120, early this month – an encore could be in the making, especially if the stars come out.
Kevin Durant has missed Brooklyn’s past three games with a hamstring strain, but Kyrie Irving was in the lineup in a win against the Lakers on Thursday and Harden has been on a tear as he’s acclimated to his role as the team’s new point guard, averaging 24.2 points and 11.7 assists per game in the Nets’ past nine outings.
The host Clippers welcomed back their big two for their 116-112 over the Jazz on Friday, just in time for the rematch. And although Coach Tyronn Lue characterized Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s play as “rusty” in their first action together in seven games, L.A. managed to overcome Donovan Mitchell’s late heroics and hand the Jazz just their sixth loss of the season.
“I thought they were pretty rusty handling the basketball, timing, that is always going to happen when you sit out,” Lue said. “I loved the way they competed, I thought their competitive spirit was great, but overall, just as far as the floor game, I thought it was a little rusty as far as the speed of the game and making plays and ball-handling.
“But that is going to come back, for sure.”
Rusty, dusty, syncing still – whatever polish they lacked Friday, Leonard and George contributed 29 and 15 valuable points apiece in a victory over the NBA’s hottest team.
Leonard – who’d missed three games with a left leg bruise – was cleared by Clippers medical personnel to play as many minutes as Lue needed him, and so he logged 38, shot 10 for 24 and 9 for 10 from the free-throw line and contributed five rebounds, four assists and a block while turning over the ball just twice.
George, though, acknowledged there were some cobwebs to knock down after seven games away, dealing with painful swelling in a right toe bone.
“I feel good, I feel good,” George said after Friday’s victory, in which he played 27 minutes, shot 6 for 14 and chipped in with six rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block. “Moreso just getting back into the swing of things and basketball conditioning and just getting the timing back down.
“I wasn’t ready to play 30-plus minutes today,” he added. “Gotta get back to that basketball conditioning and get that wind back to where it was. As much as I would’ve loved to play, I probably would’ve hurt the team being on the floor past the minutes I played tonight.”
George said a tough back-to-back to end the Clippers’ recent road trip – in Brooklyn and the next day in Cleveland – took a toll on his toe.
“I had a stretch where we were playing every other day so I had time to kind of recover going into the games,” he said. “And if you recall, we played Brooklyn and then we played Cleveland, two tough games that really caused me to have to dig down and push and plant and play off those toes. Just that back-to-back kind of tipped me overboard and I couldn’t recover, I needed some time off because it was swelled up.
“I tried to keep it rolling for the team and it wound up creeping up on me.”
For his part, Leonard expressed a healthy perspective on the state of the Clippers, considering the way injuries – Patrick Bevereley, Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard all recently missed time, too – have affected lineups of late.
“We were able to be healthy and get our starting five out there and that’s what it’s about,” Leonard said. “We want to get better, obviously, but we haven’t got a chance to really play with a full healthy roster the last two weeks or so. So hopefully we can have some blessings and be able to stay healthy to finish till the All-Star trip is started.”
NETS (19-12) at CLIPPERS (22-9)
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Staples Center
TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, ESPN
This content was originally published here.