LOS ANGELES – It was a happy New Year’s day for the Clippers as they took down an undermanned and pesky Miami Heat team. Kawhi Leonard returned with a team high 24 points and Mason Plumlee was active for the first time in 8 weeks. Supplemented by the balanced scoring of five Clippers in double figures, the defense locked down Miami in the second half to pull away and come out with their first victory in 2024.
The Clippers are now 20-12 and the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
Here are my three takeaways:
There were some concerns as Kawhi Leonard remained out after a weeks long absence from a rather pedestrian looking injury. He finally returned to the lineup Monday with a vengeance. It was expected for Leonard to have a slow start, and he did, but after that, he looked like the same guy that was causing havoc on both ends before the injury.
Kawhi finished with 24 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and some excellent wing defense that was hurting the Clippers in his absence. This team is so much more lethal when he is in the lineup, both offensively and defensively, which goes to show why the team won by double digits with James Harden only putting up 15 points. Leonard’s presence alone is enough to help his teammates get open shots, and he looked spry and healthy in his first game back.
It seems that Powell scores baskets 24/7 with the way he can dynamically create his own shot but also play around the stars. No matter what role Norm Powell has been put into this year, he has thrived in it. Powell had 22 points Monday against the Heat and got those efficiently and with ease. Powell’s shift off the bench helps the team immensely, especially when Ty Lue staggers some of the stars in the starting lineup.
But, the most impressive attribute for Powell is his ability to be brought back late in the fourth quarter to provide some spark and scoring for a Clipper team that gets into those kinds of lulls. He is absolutely critical to the offensive side of this run the Clippers have been on, and to have him under contract for years after this is a huge plus for a team that needs to keep its core intact.
It has been 8 weeks since Mason Plumlee went down in James Harden’s Clippers debut in New York. After the injury was diagnosed as a sprain and he avoided major time, the Clippers knew they had to make a move to supplement his productivity. Signing Daniel Theis has been one of the best decisions the front office made, but now they have to figure out the backup center duo between the two. With Plumlee back, could the Clippers run them both out in the same minutes, but switch Theis to the power forward spot? I believe that is on the table, but for now, Plumlee seems to still be working his way into the rotation.
What this means is that the Clippers roster is now even more deep, with the ability to mix and match bigs based on the matchups. Plumlee’s ability to handle the ball, pass like a point guard, and be a lob threat can be pivotal in a matchup against a contender. Using Theis alongside Plumlee seems like a logical option when Mason gets back into game shape, so there could be a new look soon off the bench.
The Clippers travel to Phoenix Wednesday to take on their rival Suns in the first matchup of the year between the two. Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM PST.