Things are coming together for the Clippers.
The team has won three games in a row to get back to .500, shots are starting to fall, and veterans such as Eric Bledsoe and Ivica Zubac look far more competent in recent games than they did to start the year. Now, the Clippers also get to welcome back one of their key players: Serge Ibaka, who was left off the injury report for the first time in 2021-22.
Ibaka has played only 54 minutes over the course of four games (regular season and playoffs) since he went down with his back injury on March 14, but the Clippers projected positivity throughout his rehab and were confident that he would be back sooner than later to rejoin the team. Less than three weeks after the season began, here he is.
The role Ibaka will play in this current Clippers rotation is unclear. The team has two centers already in Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein, and Ty Lue has shown a willingness to go small even with those two available for every game thus far. That doesn’t leave a ton of minutes for Ibaka at the 5; however, there are some minutes in the frontcourt, however.
Nicolas Batum is the lone 4 healthy on the roster, depending on how one characterizes Justise Winslow. And since Winslow hasn’t exactly been blowing the doors off with his performances in Clipper blue — he didn’t even surface until garbage time of Friday’s win over the Timberwolves — there is an opportunity for Lue to get creative with Ibaka as a power forward. However, Ibaka hasn’t played more than six percent of his minutes at that position since 2017-18, so those days are likely gone.
When: Sunday, November 7 at 6 p.m. PT
Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
How to watch/listen: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN
Opposing perspective: At the Hive
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, Ivica Zubac
Hornets: LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, Mason Plumlee
Clippers: Marcus Morris Sr., Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Hornets: Mason Plumlee — PROBABLE; Vernon Carey, JT Thor, PJ Washington — OUT
It would be especially strange for the Clippers to employ a jumbo lineup against this particular opponent, as Charlotte has one of the thinnest frontcourts in the NBA. After starting center Mason Plumlee, the only available Hornets taller than 6’8 are rookie Kai Jones and sophomore Jalen McDaniels. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because the Clips played against his brother Jaden twice this past week in Minnesota.
Even without size up front, Charlotte has put an all-out assault on the basket to start the year, taking 37 percent of the team’s shots at the rim, and the Hornets have also been shooting lights out from three. Combine that with the league’s fifth-best transition offense — do not let Charlotte get in the open court after a steal — and it’s easy to see why there’s a buzz around the Hornets.
But Charlotte has had tremendous struggles defending this year. The Hornets rank 29th in defensive rating and just surrendered 140 points to the Kings on Friday. The Clippers will have opportunities to score, and score easily, which makes it the perfect day for Ibaka to make his season debut.