Grizzlies spoil Harden’s home debut, 105-101

Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports
Clippers now searching for answers after fifth straight loss.

LOS ANGELES — In what looked like the best performance the Clippers have put forth since acquiring James Harden, it still was not enough to trump the fight of the Grizzlies. An abysmal first quarter for the Clippers resulted in a hole that the Clippers could not fight out of.

Paul George led the way with 26 points while Norm Powell had a hot fourth quarter to finish with 20 points and get the Clippers back in the game in that same quarter. Unfortunately, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden both once again could not find the rhythm from the field and had off nights. They each finished with negative plus/minus on the scorecard. 

The Clippers are now 3-6 and have lost five straight games.

Here are my three takeaways:

Ty Lue has expressed to the media that he wants to see a ten game sample size before making any changes to the rotations, but I completely disagree. It is time to make a significant change in the rotations and it has to happen now. I have mentioned it time and time again, but there is no time to play with your food in a stacked Western Conference. Every team 1-15 in each conference has the ability to win games in 2023 and using early games to figure things out is not the recipe for success.

I think anyone that follows the Clippers closely knows there has to be sacrifice and an adjustment in who is playing quality rotation minutes. I believe the lineup that is best suited for this team to win while Mason Plumlee is out is as follows. Westbrook, Mann, George, Leonard, and Zubac should be the starting five while Harden, Hyland, Powell, Kobe Brown and Diabate should be the second unit. 

Yes, that means that James Harden would be moved to the bench. The current starting lineup for the Clippers was a -13 in Sunday’s game and had been in the negative in every single game so far. Harden is the one that should have to sacrifice considering the original starting lineup without Harden played extremely well against Memphis and in the games before the trade. 

As someone who has been following the Clippers for over a decade, I have seen all of the worst and best times for this franchise in that period. This is the most disjointed and confusing team I have seen in the last 5 years. Kawhi Leonard and Ivica Zubac had a heated discussion on the bench Sunday and it was the first incident that raised an eyebrow for me in a while. Although I understand that teams do go through these types of arguments and usually it is for the best, I am starting to see more dropped shoulders and bad body language than I have seen since the Bubble in Orlando in 2020. 

Even Ty Lue postgame let out a cuss word while describing the team’s play after their loss to the Grizzlies, which is something that we don’t see often. Lue has his hands full and a lot of decisions to make, but at times throughout this losing streak I have actually felt bad for him. I have been very critical of Lue but for a team that had everything going and then a blockbuster trade happens early in the season? I too would be frustrated…

This current Clipper losing streak got me thinking (for a variety of reasons). Back when the Clippers made a questionable move to sign Russell Westbrook shortly after being traded by the Lakers and bought out by the Jazz, it was met with much criticism. Not only that, but the team lost the first five games that Russell Westbrook started in. 

The questions immediately arose as to if the experiment would ever work, if the stars and Westbrook could ever coexist, and if the Clippers had made their own deathbed signing Westbrook. The Clippers then won their next 5 games after that and immediately looked dangerous before Paul George went down with a season-ending knee injury. 

Russell Westbrook turned into a fan favorite and became the leader of the team in the playoffs. James Harden’s situation with the Clippers is eerily similar. Harden was seen as a team cancer much like Westbrook, was not seen as a team leader or good teammate, and everybody doubted his abilities after this off-season.

Harden has that ability to turn his image around, turn the teams fortunes around, and compete for a championship. While things look bleak now, much like they did in March, we have to remember that when Westbrook came to the Clippers, there was less than half of a season left. Now, there are 73 games for this team to come together and for Harden to understand his role.

The Clippers now head to Denver on Tuesday to face the defending champion Denver Nuggets. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM PST.