LOS ANGELES — The Clippers were back home Tuesday after the two day holiday break and got all they could handle against the Charlotte Hornets. James Harden poured in 29, Paul George had 25, and Russell Westbrook scored 14 off the bench to seal a back and forth victory against one of the league’s worst teams record wise.
The Clippers are now 18-12 and tied for 4th in the Western Conference.
Here are my three takeaways:
This was one of those games where the Clippers absolutely needed a guy like Russell Westbrook. Ever since he went to the bench, the team has gone on a historic run and put themselves back into the contenders conversation. Rotations have ironed themselves out (until the return of Kawhi Leonard) and Westbrook has thrived in his role as the backup point guard behind James Harden. Russ had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists on an efficient shooting against the Hornets, but the biggest part of his success in this role has been on defense.
With his 2 steals and a block, Westbrook continued his campaign to be on the all-defensive team at guard. He is metrically rated as one of the best defending guards in all of basketball, and continuously out-rebounds some forwards and centers in his minutes. Many thought that he would become dissatisfied with his new role, but Russ is happy, playing well, and mentoring the younger players as the voice of the team.
It was a rocky start between the starting point guard and center, but as of late they have been smooth as silk. As with any new player, there is time for adjustment, and in Zubac’s case, it took a bit longer to find his stride alongside James Harden. Zubac had 18 points, 14 rebounds, and a block and a steal, while Harden finished with 29 points 6 rebounds and 8 assists to go along with his 2 steals. Harden has unlocked the best version of Ivica Zubac that we have seen in his career, while also rolling into a good flow on the offensive end for himself. These two have upped their game on both ends of the floor, which makes for a dangerous tandem against opposing defenses.
It has been a mysterious injury for Leonard after taking a fall to the hip against the Mavericks last week. While he initially made it seem that he wouldn’t be out for more than a game, Leonard has now missed three consecutive games. Ty Lue has described this injury as day-to-day since the game that Kawhi injured it, but now the timeline seems to keep being pushed back.
Obviously Clipper fans have flashbacks of the playoffs from last year where the team hid the injury status of Leonard’s knee, which ultimately ended up being a season ending torn meniscus. So, yes there is concern here, just due to what history tells us. However, if it is indeed the hip contusion (or bruise) that was diagnosed, then I do believe the staff is taking the precautionary route in this recovery. Those types of injuries can linger, but are not structural and usually just need shorter periods of time to heal.
The Clippers will have two more days off before taking on the Memphis Grizzlies at home Friday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM PST.