If this Los Angeles Clippers season goes to plan, the season will have two distinct parts, veteran Marcus Morris says.
The first phase is building Kawhi Leonard back into form after the five-time NBA All-Star missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
The second begins when Leonard becomes fully integrated into the rotation without a minutes restriction.
The Clippers are still firmly in the former stage as they head into Tuesday’s game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Leonard has coming off the bench and has a tight leash as he works to regain the explosiveness that made him one of the NBA’s best players before his injury.
“We’re not really nervous. We’re not really stressing,” Morris said. “But to have a top-five player to enter your team and be able to play full strength, obviously we’re going to get better.”
Leonard has played in two of the Clippers’ three games so far, averaging nearly 21 minutes per game with 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He’s made just 1 of 6 from beyond the arc.
Leonard isn’t the only one struggling from beyond the 3-point line so far for the Clippers. Norman Powell, typically a strong shooter from downtown, is just 1 for 7 on such shots through the first three games and is shooting just 25.9% from the floor overall.
The Clippers have made nine 3-pointers in each of their three games so far this season – 27 for 83. Only the Lakers (8.3) are averaging fewer.
“We’re still working through stuff,” Paul George said. “Still working on playing with small lineups, still working on chemistry, continuity.
“We’ll get through it. We’re three games in.”
The Clippers are coming off their first loss of the season, a 112-95 defeat by Phoenix in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Four of the Clippers’ next five games are against either the Thunder or the Houston Rockets, the two teams that finished at the bottom of the Western Conference last season and are expected to be in the same vicinity this season.
Tuesday’s game is the first of two-games-in-three-nights stretch between the teams in Oklahoma City.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said he liked the format, saying it was easier to evaluate his team’s progress from game to game.
Oklahoma City is still looking for its first win of the season, while allowing an average of more than 117 points a game.
The Thunder could be without two of their top scorers Tuesday. Leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed Sunday’s game with a hip contusion, and Josh Giddey left the game in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain.
One of the few bright spots in the Thunder in Sunday’s 116-106 loss to Minnesota — was the play of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who was 5 of 6 from the floor with 15 points.
“In the preseason he wasn’t in great rhythm, and I thought it affected his overall game,” Daigneault said of Robinson-Earl. “He’s got himself on track.”
Though it’s a small sample size so far, Robinson-Earl is shooting 73.3% from the floor (11 of 15) and is 7 of 11 (63.6%) from beyond the arc.
Robinson-Earl credited his improved shooting to new Thunder shooting coach Chip Engelland, who is in his first season with Oklahoma City after 17 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
–Field Level Media