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Los Angeles Clippers Still ‘Learning On The Fly,’ Lose 0-3 With Harden

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Friday night, the Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue called his team’s first nine minutes of play “a work of art.”

What about the remaining minutes of the Dallas Mavericks’ 144-126 loss? A few games after James Harden joined the Clippers in a stunning trade that released him from the Philadelphia 76ers, well, consider it evidence that the team is still a work in progress.

After Harden joined Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard—all probable future Hall of Famers—in the starting lineup, the Clippers fell to 3-5 on the season, including 0-3 against them. In four games, LA has lost by a total of 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets, Mavericks, and New York Knicks.

In the first and second quarters, Dallas rallied from an early 12-point disadvantage with a 35–4 run that spanned over seven minutes. Thanks to a stellar effort by Luka Doncic, who finished with 44 points on 17 of 21 shooting, six rebounds, and six assists, the Mavericks led by as much as 32 points.

The Mavericks led the Clippers by 26 points at the start of the fourth quarter, which saw none of the team’s stars play. Because of the need to build on-court chemistry, Lue said he thought about playing his starters despite the lopsided score. However, he ultimately decided against it, in part because of an early Sunday afternoon tip against the Memphis Grizzlies in their next game.

While he was trying to force a trade out of Philadelphia, Harden did not participate in the preseason. He scored all 14 of his points in the opening quarter of play on Friday night. In the first quarter, he was 3-of-3 from the floor; the remainder of the game, he was 0-of-3. In his three games with the Clippers, Harden, a three-time NBA scoring champion, has attempted an average of just eight field goals.

George had a very difficult game versus the Mavericks, scoring just eight points on three of twelve shots. He regretted not playing more aggressively offensively, preferring to focus on being the “glue guy” when he first entered the game.

The Clippers are trying to quickly learn how to highlight each other’s skills and find out how to space each other out. Harden admitted that eventually figuring out how to distribute touches among guys who are used to being the center of attention for the offense would be a part of that process.

While Leonard acknowledged that the Clippers are having difficulty adjusting to the arrival of a second player who can dominate the ball, he claimed he is “seeing more of the downside early” than he had anticipated.

Lue kept playing around with the rotation, trying to find combinations that might work. He started the second half by starting guard/forward Terance Mann in place of center Ivica Zubac, but he stated that he thought Harden should be regularly partnered with a big man as his pick-and-roll partner.

The Mavericks shot 52% from the field, including 19 of 42 from 3-point range, and Lue was more appalled by LA’s defensive shortcomings than his team’s offensive shortcomings.

After acquiring Irving in a blockbuster trade with the Nets prior to the trade deadline last season, Dallas faced comparable difficulties, finishing 5-11 in games when Irving and Doncic started together, dropping from fourth to eleventh place in the Western Conference and into the lottery.

Irving, who led the Mavericks to a 7-2 record this season with 27 points, understands the frustration and bewilderment the Clippers are feeling as they go through their adjustment period.

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