The Los Angeles Clippers confirmed that Kawhi Leonard will be sitting against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second time this week, so what do they need to do to get a win without their star man?
With a 2-2 record to start the season and some early season teething issues to contend with, the Clippers not being able to call on their star man and continue to ramp up his minutes will feel like a further red flag to fans already having their expectations dampened with every Kawhi-less, losing minute that has passed over the last two games.
Despite the absence of Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr. and Paul George – who is questionable for Thursday as he continues to recover from a non-Covid illness – most fans would’ve still expected to win against a team who was 0-3 on the season, has the extra incentive to tank for generational talent Victor Wembanyama this year and were missing some of their own best players.
However, it wasn’t to be and the Clippers conspired to lose a really winnable matchup. So how do they avoid making the same mistake twice?
First of all, they need to crash the defensive glass. Ivica Zubac is enjoying a great start to the season but, especially when he’s not on the court, his teammates are getting killed on their own glass. The Thunder beat the defense to 21 boards on Tuesday night, while the Clippers’ opponent offensive rebound stat ranks 24th in the NBA. If they’re going to commit to going small in the non-Zubac minutes long term, they’re going to need to make a more concerted effort to at least box their opponents out properly.
Secondly, they need more from Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell. While it’s understandable that John Wall is continuing to come off the bench as he gets back into the rhythm of NBA basketball, the team’s other two options at the one haven’t done their own cases of starting much good so far. Both are yet to break into double figures for average points, while only Jackson has managed to creep into the teens for scoring on his one hot night against the Sacramento Kings. Now would be a good time for them to rediscover that scoring touch.
Finally, they need to move the ball better and with more fluidity. The offense has looked lackluster through the first four games, so it’s no surprise that the Clippers’ assist percentage is in the bottom five of the league. They need to get back to their ‘drive, kick, swing’ mentality that has helped them get so many good quality shots in the past and prevented their offense from stagnating in the way it has this season.
It would be good to see the Clippers bounce back with a big win on Thursday night so that they are full of confidence heading into a huge matchup with a fellow Western Conference contender in the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday afternoon.
Give Kawhi something to celebrate from the sidelines, Clips.