Injuries weigh on short-handed Clippers in loss to Kings

In falling to Sacramento, the Clippers looked worn out from their extended stretch of playing without four players from the top of their roster.

For the first time in the 24 games this season, the Clippers seemed noticeably affected by the limitations of a depleted roster, missing its top 3 scorers and the NBA’s top 3-point shooter from a season ago.

It was one thing in Utah on Wednesday, when the Clippers came out hot, and could not maintain it on night two of a hard-fought back-to-back. But it was something entirely different on Saturday afternoon when they trailed by as many as 31 points en route to a 123-96 defeat by the Sacramento Kings at Arena. 

It was the largest margin of defeat this season for the Clippers (13-11).

They shot 28.6 percent in the first half and committed nearly as many first-half turnovers (9) as made field goals (14). They also missed an unnerving number of shots at the rim throughout the afternoon, including starters Amir Coffey, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris, and Reggie Jackson combining to go 6-for-18 in the restricted area.

Jackson, who has been one of four Clippers to appear in every game this season and helped push the team to one of its grittiest wins of the season Tuesday in Portland, personified what was most certainly a frustrating afternoon. 

The affable guard missed 12 of his 13 field goals, and uncharacteristically missed two early free throws. After trying to summon the energy for yet another second-half push to get back in the game, Jackson stepped a few feet away from the foul line during a stoppage of play, looked skyward, inhaled then exhaled heavily a couple of times, and grimaced. He had just crashed to the floor for what seemed like the 100th time in the past week. If anyone needed a respite, it was Jackson. 

“[It’s] just bangs and bruises,” Jackson said about his health. “We are trying to hold it down until our big dogs get back.”

It seemed possible that could have happened Saturday. 

While Luke Kennard (calf) and Norman Powell (groin) were ruled out a day ago, Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue’s pregame announcement that Paul George (hamstring) and Kawhi Leonard (ankle) were both out as well deflated the contingent of media in the room. The duo practiced the day prior and there was a hope they’d be available Saturday. According to Lue, neither player experienced any type of setback. So it seems, the decision was made to continue exercising long-haul caution. 

“We’ve been in this position before,” Lue said. “I mean, maybe not down this many offensive guys, but it’s just something we’ve got to go through right now. I’m proud of the guys in the locker room. They fight every single night and they try to tough it out every night.” 

As the points piled up for the Kings, though, it became ever more apparent that for all of the energy and effort plays from their role players over the past few weeks, they simply might be reaching their breaking point. 

Jackson, Ivica Zubac, and Marcus Morris, in particular, have carried the offensive burden for the Clippers for the better part of a year and a half. It’s only December, but both of them look, for lack of a better description, exhausted. 

“It’s harder for sure, but everyone is playing more minutes now,” said Zubac, who had 13 points and 15 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season. “We can’t wait to get those guys back. It’s definitely going to help us take some pressure off of some guys. It’s all about getting everyone back and building that chemistry on the court and figuring out the way we want to play.”

Lue added: “I know it’s tough when every night you have to play at a high, high level and it’s something that you haven’t had to do in certain positions. It’s no excuse. Guys are hurt, guys are injured and we have to play through it. What we need to do is try to steal wins when guys are out.”

All of this, most recently Powell’s injury, came at an unfortunate time for the Clippers. They were ascending. And seemed poised to push towards the top of the Western Conference standings. At one point, they were within 1.5 games of the No.1 seed. They took down Detroit in a disjointed, low-scoring victory, hammered San Antonio,and outdueled Utah to start a stretch of five wins in seven games before Powell went down. 

“I think when guys are so close [to returning] and they’re right there and you don’t know exactly when, it can kind of weigh on you a little bit,” Lue said. “It is what it is right now. We can’t hang our heads and just continue to stay together like we have been, cheering for each other, and hopefully we can get some reinforcements back soon.”

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