Norman Powell drove the length of the floor for a high-speed reverse layup in Oklahoma City Tuesday. It seemed like just the burst Powell needed. He has been off to an unexpectedly poor start to the new season, and sometimes it just takes something as minor as making a shot a few inches from the rim to restore order.
Powell’s layup came with nearly 24 minutes left in the game. He would proceed to miss his next shot, an open 3-pointer from the corner, and finish with just one more basket, a layup with under 5 minutes left in a game that was the most disjointed effort yet in the Clippers’ roller coaster opening week.
“I thought we tried to do the right thing,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said following his team’s 108-94 loss to the Thunder, a team they face again Thursday. “We tried to get in the paint. We tried to make the right play. We just have to keep working on it.”
Powell’s start to the season, which has included just 28 total points and 14 total turnovers, is surprising, especially after dropping 34 points in the team’s preseason finale. But it may be a microcosm of the Clippers’ current state: a work in progress.
The numerous lineup disruptions, including the absence of stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and starter Marcus Morris on Tuesday, have not helped; nor has attempting to balance minutes restrictions for point guards John Wall and Reggie Jackson, the latter due to a nagging groin injury; or tinkering with lineups, including going small and ultra-small at times.
“We’ve got a lot of guys, a lot of veterans, and everybody wants to play,” Morris said following Sunday’s loss to the Suns. “It’s a tough job on [Lue], trying to find minutes for everybody. There’s only one basketball and we’ve got a lot of guys who can score it, so it might take some time, but I think we’ll figure it out.”
To some extent, the Clippers (2-2) have plenty of time. The fifth game of an 82-game season is Thursday. They are abound with veterans and scorers and should find a rhythm. Powell, who has essentially been the spot starter while Leonard continues to come off the bench as he works his way back from a surgically repaired right ACL, may benefit from a more permanently defined role. Jackson will certainly benefit from a return to health. And the team as a whole will benefit from time on the court together.
Still, in a Western Conference that includes surprising 4-1 starts from Portland and Utah, and a group of at least six teams who are legitimate conference finals contenders, time is more of an essence than you’d wish. The softest part of the Clippers’ schedule is late October and early November, including the next two weeks where the Pelicans are the only opponent who reached the playoffs last season.
The time for the Clippers to get right, whether or not they look like they expect to come winter time, might need to start on Thursday’s reprieve in OKC.