November 28, 2023

Why isn’t it clicking with James Harden and the LA Clippers?

ON WHAT OTHERWISE could be a time without work following a weeklong street journey, Ty Lue gathered his group Saturday to look at a debacle at the LA Clippers apply facility.

The evening earlier than in Dallas, the Clippers had unraveled after a promising begin, falling to the Mavericks 144-126.

The loss dropped the Clippers to 0-3 since buying James Harden from the Philadelphia 76ers on Halloween morning. After the rout, Clippers star ahead Paul George mentioned he tried to vary his strategy and undertake a “glue guy” mentality to assist the struggling Clippers get rebounds and stops.

The outcome was George, who scored eight factors on 3-of-12 taking pictures towards the Mavs, trying passive on offense. The coach had seen sufficient movie earlier than firing again some phrases of encouragement to his two-way star.

“You’re not a glue guy!” Lue instructed George, in entrance of the group. “You’re a f—ing bad motherf—er!”

The beginnings of the Clippers’ Harden experiment have produced extra questions and frustrations than spotlight reels and wins. George has alternated between aggressive All-Star scorer to attempting to be a playmaking connector who does the soiled work. Kawhi Leonard has struggled offensively in current fourth quarters. Russell Westbrook continues to begin video games however isn’t a lock to complete them, one thing that might spoil the seen pleasure he began the season with.

The Clippers’ shedding streak is six straight — 5 with Harden — coming into Friday’s sport towards one in every of his previous groups, the Houston Rockets. But regardless of the disappointing begin, Lue stays assured he can unlock the newest tremendous group’s potential.

“Not even [just to] make it work, make them happy,” Lue mentioned of the Clippers’ problem. “That’s the biggest thing. … Just keeping everybody engaged, keeping everybody happy, it’ll be the hardest thing. But that’s alright.

“I really feel assured. I do know we’re going to be good.”

Lue coached a star trio to the title with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland. But making this Clippers’ quartet of future Hall of Famers work just might be his most demanding task yet. Lue speaks regularly with Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whom he bonded with helping guide Team USA at the FIBA World Cup this summer.

Like Lue, Kerr and Spoelstra know what it is like to pilot super teams to a championship — and the growing pains to get there.

“When [the Harden trade] first occurred, Steve mentioned, ‘Oh my God, going to be loopy,'” Lue told ESPN. “But he mentioned if any coach can deal with it, you are the one man that may deal with it.”

HARDEN CONTINUES TO rediscover his MVP-caliber game and not be “too well mannered” and deferential to his star teammates as Lue has pointed out. Lue also told Harden during Saturday’s team meeting that he had “free rein” to play his style.

Harden is forced to rewire his offensive game as a Clipper when it comes to the open looks he’s getting. In his first two appearances, losses to the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets last week, Harden passed on open catch-and-shoot opportunities, sometimes side stepping his way into a contested shot.

Early in the second quarter in Brooklyn, George made a spectacular block on Dorian Finney-Smith to stop a fast break. As George stared down Finney-Smith, the Clippers had a 3-on-2 break, and Norman Powell found Harden alone in the left corner.

Harden caught the pass with the nearest defender, Royce O’Neale, sprinting over from the paint. Harden, though, didn’t pull the trigger on the open catch-and-shoot. Instead, Harden pump-faked before flinging the ball high toward the opposite wing, sailing it straight into the lap of broadcasters sitting courtside.

Through five games, Harden is averaging 15 points on 10.2 shots per game, both his lowest since he averaged 16.8 points and 10.1 shots as the sixth man in his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder throughout the 2011-12 season.

Harden admitted he has spent much of the past decade getting used to creating his own offense.

“I have not actually had catch-and-shoots for actual, since like the OKC days,” Harden said. “You received so many nice ball handlers that may draw double-teams and draw consideration, after I get these alternatives, [I need to] shoot ’em.”

Since the Clippers traded for Harden and P.J. Tucker, Lue has employed 59 different lineup combinations, according to ESPN Stats & Information. While that is only eight more than Lue used in the first five games of the season, Lue’s substitution pattern is under a microscope.

Lue has started all four stars, who have been outscored by 20 points during their 76 minutes together, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also staggers them out in pairs, often teaming Westbrook with George to take advantage of their familiarity during their Thunder days while pairing Leonard with Harden.

Lue has started fourth quarters with Westbrook, George, Terance Mann, Powell and Tucker, but his substitution pattern also requires plenty of juggling. Against the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, the shuffling nearly worked. The four stars were a plus-3 in 11 minutes together and the team was minutes away from pulling off their biggest win of the season before losing 111-108.

When the team needs more offense and shooting, Lue subs Harden in for Westbrook and goes with a small lineup of Harden, George, Powell, Mann and Leonard. When he needs defense, Lue will sub in Tucker or Westbrook — but that takes a shooter like Powell or Harden off the floor.

Against the Nuggets, Leonard and George found themselves unsuccessfully having to combat Nikola Jokic in the paint. The two-time MVP carved the Clippers up, either drawing a foul inside on Leonard, or rebounding his own miss for a basket over the smaller Clippers when he didn’t beat double-teams by finding Aaron Gordon at the rim repeatedly.

Despite all the shuffling, George still had a chance to tie the score with 7.6 seconds left but his shot over Reggie Jackson lodged in between the side of the rim and the backboard.

Lue saw flashes of why he has been so steadfast in his lineup decisions. He went with the hot hand in George, who was aggressive and scored 35 points against Denver. And perhaps soon, it will be Harden’s turn. He looked more like himself, scoring in one-on-one situations and taking advantage of mismatches.

But he missed driving layups he normally makes. And there are moments like in the 105-101 loss at home to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday when Harden wiped the soles of his shoes with his fingers as he dribbled and sized up Santi Aldama only to badly misfire a 3. After Tucker grabbed the rebound and gave the ball back to Harden, the point guard drove baseline only to have his shot rejected by Bismack Biyombo.

“I preserve reiterating that I did not have a coaching camp actually or preseason,” Harden said after the Denver loss. “So type of studying on the fly for a brand new group and additionally getting myself into James Harden form and sport form may be very, essential.

“… I wasn’t really playing 5-on-5. We don’t really [have time to] practice. So these are my practices in games.”

NOT EVEN THE METHODICAL Leonard has been proof against the Clippers’ rising pains with Harden. Outside of a dominant 38-point effort in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Leonard has regarded out of sync this month. His midrange sport and clutch shot-making have surprisingly dipped. He has shot 10-for-37 (27%) from midrange this season, third-worse amongst 38 gamers with 25 or extra makes an attempt, in accordance with ESPN Stats & Information.

Last season, Leonard made 49.2% from midrange, the fifth-best proportion amongst gamers with 175 or extra makes an attempt. Leonard displayed frustration towards heart Ivica Zubac and pointed to the place he believed Zubac ought to have been on the flooring when the Clippers trailed the Grizzlies by 13 in the third quarter on Sunday.

“Just figuring each other out,” Leonard mentioned about that loss. “There’s no magic to it.”

The franchise star hasn’t been in a position to get the Clippers out of this slide, uncharacteristically averaging 3.3 factors on 39% taking pictures in fourth quarters this season in comparison with the 5.4 factors and 51% taking pictures final season. Lue defined that defenses are blitzing and sending double-teams at Leonard.

In his previous two fourth quarters, towards Memphis and Denver, Leonard has shot 1-for-6 mixed — not practically sufficient makes an attempt for Leonard to get right into a rhythm.

“It takes the ball out of Kawhi’s hands, which is great for us,” Nuggets ahead Gordon instructed reporters of the new-look Clippers. Jokic even gave the Clippers one tip on how they’ll enhance earlier than stopping wanting additional helping Lue.

“I think Zubac is going to be a big factor for them,” Jokic mentioned. “Because I think the [stars] are going to be into pick-and-rolls and trying to get rid of the ball. So he’s going to be [a factor], if they find him, of course.

“To be sincere, that is their drawback, how they will determine it out. Maybe I understand how to assist, however it’s not my job.”

Lue has to navigate other obstacles with his star-studded lineup, according to one assistant coach on a Western Conference team that recently defeated the Clippers.

“They haven’t any fast-break factors,” the assistant coach told ESPN. “There’s no early baskets. It’s like, ‘OK, it’s your flip. I received an iso, now it’s my flip.’ How do you get a rhythm?

“Russell’s not that player that he used to be, but he’s still Russell Westbrook and he’s still a former MVP. He wants touches and he wants to make things happen. I don’t know, it just sort of seems like a bad mix to me.”

ON OPENING NIGHT, the Clippers dunked seven instances on their first eight baskets towards the Portland Trail Blazers. Westbrook threw down two of the slams in classic Westbrook style, attempting to tear the rim down whereas scowling and screaming.

Westbrook’s rediscovered pleasure following his depressing Lakers tenure may very well be felt on the different sideline by his former head coach in Oklahoma City and the Washington Wizards.

“He’s very happy,” Scott Brooks, now a Blazers assistant coach, instructed ESPN final month. “And they seem to enjoy his game and leadership. … I know [his tenure with the Lakers] wasn’t a good situation. Sometimes these things don’t fit. We’ve all had relationships and it just doesn’t fit. … But you can see that it’s a perfect fit right now.”

That match is being challenged. Westbrook has needed to adapt to popping out of video games simply over 4 minutes into the first quarter and return with George and the second unit. And whereas Lue likes what he has seen beginning fourth quarters with that group, he finally opts for a smaller lineup that sends Westbrook to the bench.

Lue has to stability how and when he makes use of his two former MVP level guards in Westbrook and Harden. When the two are on the flooring collectively, Harden has the ball much less with Westbrook working the level. Harden averages 3.8 seconds of contact size and 2.6 dribbles per contact when taking part in with Westbrook in comparison with 5.7 seconds and 4.8 with out him, in accordance with Second Spectrum monitoring.

Lue mentioned he has not thought-about any lineup modifications when requested particularly about Westbrook, who has the most up-to-date expertise of the Clippers stars as a sixth man when he got here off the bench for the Lakers final season.

“The only team I can think of that is similar was the Brooklyn team with [Kevin] Durant, Kyrie [Irving] and James,” mentioned one other assistant coach on a group that lately beat the Clippers. “All those guys needed the ball. I could remember Kyrie sacrificing and saying let James handle the ball. I’ll play off the ball.

“I have not heard [any Clipper] say, ‘Alright James, you simply be the level. I’ll do that.’ I have not heard one in every of the [stars] say, ‘You know what? I’m going to come back off the bench for the advantage of the guys. I’ll run the second unit.'”

Lue, though, knows it will be hard to keep everyone happy. That progress he saw in Denver also came with Westbrook playing 24 minutes, his fewest of the season.

“Every evening it may very well be totally different,” Lue said of Westbrook’s usage. “But we want his management each single evening. We want the means he performs each single evening, his ardour on the flooring. … He understands that. And [we have] a relentless dialogue and speaking.”

While George isn’t a glue guy, the star repeatedly said the Clippers will stick together and make this work with Harden.

“If we do get this factor rolling,” George said of what he has learned after five games with the new Big Four. “It’ll be a tricky group to beat in seven video games.”