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Clippings: Nicolas Batum’s absence made the Clippers’ hearts grow fonder for him

It’s also a reminder of the continued impact of Covid on the 2021-22 season.

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA hasn’t had to postpone any games due to Covid so far in the 2021-22 after postponing 31 in 2020-21, but the specter of the virus is ever present. The league has had at least 34 breakthrough cases of vaccinated players testing positive, and that was before Dillon Brooks of the Grizzlies entered the health and safety protocols Thursday.

The Clippers have had Covid creep into their locker room in recent weeks. Nicolas Batum tested positive on Nov. 21, and then the team canceled its shootaround for precautionary reasons on Nov. 23 as players were in the process of arriving — Paul George said he was already at the facility.

Batum ended up missing nine games. He told the media Wednesday that when he first started feeling sick, Covid was the last thing on his mind, but a flurry of positive tests quickly disabused that notion. The Clippers forward had to isolate for over two weeks, not even leaving his house for the first time until 12 days later.

“That Sunday against the Mavs, didn’t feel pretty well the night before,” Batum said. “I didn’t think about Covid. When I came in, I was still sick, did a quick test just to be sure and I test positive and I find out about 45 minutes before the game. And then I did another one and then I went back to the practice facility to get another test and I got three positives in one day. And the next day was three positives. And then the next four, five days, I was pretty sick. I was stuck in my room, didn’t move for like 10-12 days.”

Batum said he got to go the practice facility for the first time on Friday before the Clippers played the Lakers. The Clippers went on the road after that game, so Batum did two 35-minute individual workouts on Saturday and Sunday before joining Agua Caliente for practice on Monday. He was back at shootaround like normal on Wednesday, suiting up later that night against the Celtics, albeit on a minutes restriction.

The Clippers had a 106.0 offensive rating and 108.8 defensive rating without Batum, compared to 105.4 and 102.1, respectively, before his absence. Marcus Morris Sr.’s return has helped juice up the offense, but the Clippers clearly missed Batum on the other end of the floor, where his versatility allows him to guard 1 to 5.

“His defensive disruption, I think he had one or two blocks, some deflections,” Terance Mann said about Batum’s impact against. “Just him being out there helped us tremendously that we were missing in the past few games that he missed.”

The Clippers finally won back-to-back games for the first time in nearly a month. They’ve been doing their best to stay afloat amid the injuries and absences, and hopefully, Batum’s return will help turn the tide for them to start another run of consistent play.

We are not the only team going through it,” Lue said. “Last year and this year, teams are going through the same thing. Just something we got to get used to. It is not normal but we understand that. Last year our whole thing was just needing to adapt. I think we have done a good job of that.”

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