Terance Mann hardly seemed like himself.
Mann played 32 minutes combined in a 3-game stretch in early November and seemed to be teetering on the fringe of Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation.
Norman Powell didn’t look like himself either.
Through the season’s first 10 games, Powell, who is the third highest paid player on the Clippers roster, seemingly missed everything that came out his hand. Turnovers, already a problem for the team, exacerbated Powell’s rocky three-week stretch.
As the weather continued to cool and the Clippers (13-10) injuries mounted, Mann and Powell helped the Clippers by helping themselves.
Powell regained a level of swagger that led to a 16.9 point-per-game average in November including shooting 45.3 percent from 3-point range. His turnaround from an early-season malaise netted outings of at least 17 points in eight of his last 12 games, capped with a remarkable 32 points (22 in the fourth quarter) on Tuesday in a come-from-behind victory in Portland.
“He’s been playing great for us the last three to four weeks as we’ve been able to find our flow, rhythm and rotations,” Lue said on Tuesday night. “The biggest thing for him is to continue being aggressive, getting to the paint, and making the right play.”
In his seventh season, and first full season in LA, Powell has more often than not, figured out how to fit in; how to make the right play. He was a sporadic contributor to the 2019 Raptors title team and was a breakout scorer the following year. He’s averaged at least 16 points per game every year since, across three different teams. The likelihood that Powell’s forgettable three weeks to start 2022-23 would dissipate, as he played his way through it, was quite probable.
For Mann, however, it was a bit more of an unknown.
Bogged down in a logjam of wings and capable rotation players, Mann was unusually tentative. And while he has also shown a penchant for performing when called upon, never more perfectly than his 39-point outburst in Game 6 of the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals, Mann’s struggles were more role-related than anything Powell was going through.
“For a young player to play so many positions, it can be tough,” Lue said on Nov. 12 prior to the Clippers afternoon loss to the Nets.
It was just then that Mann had started to find his way, something that as Lue alluded to, can be extensively more challenging for a young player.
“[Mann] plays the backup 5, he plays the backup point when John’s out in back-to-backs, he plays the 3, he started at the 2 the other night,” Lue continued. “It’s just tough for a young player to play so many positions. I talked to him a few games ago and said ‘just get back to being who he is. Don’t worry about the position you’re playing, get back to running the floor hard, attacking the basket, offensive rebounds, hard cuts, just do that. If you make mistakes, we’ll live with those mistakes because you played hard. What he’s been doing defensively, picking up full court, bothering other teams’ best players, just trying to be a pest. He’s been great.”
The switchiest member of the Clippers malleable roster seemed back, too. He was pushing the ball up the floor off of defensive rebounds, cutting baseline for easy baskets at the rim, guarding multiple positions, and shooting 3-pointers with confidence. He has become an ideal running mate for John Wall’s hyperdrive transition runs, whether coming off the bench with him or starting in place of Kawhi Leonard.
As the Clippers enter December just 3.0 games back from the West’s No. 1 seed, there is an odd sense of duality. On one hand, they’ve been fortunate to amass 13 wins with Leonard limited to five, minute-restricted games and Paul George resting a hamstring tendon injury of late. But on the other hand, the home-heavy schedule has been one of the league’s easiest thus far.
After Saturday’s one-off home game against the Kings, the Clippers begin an east-coast jaunt. Chances are that Leonard, George, and Luke Kennard (calf) could be available at some point in that stretch, if not on Saturday. Powell, too, could return from a one-game absence nursing a sore groin he suffered in the waning moments of his picturesque fourth quarter Tuesday.
The reinforcements will be a welcome site, especially with Mann and Powell finally looking a lot more like themselves again.