“Veteran players, they always try to ease into it,” the Clippers’ coach said Sunday, before their first preseason game at Stan Sheriff Center. “And I wanted to try to change that mind-set of just establishing who we are from Day One.”
It has become the Clippers’ theme of training camp, that no matter the setting, the Clippers say they expect an urgency they lacked at times last season.
“I know it doesn’t count, but we still can establish … offensively pushing the pace, attacking the basket, having great spacing defensively and being physical one through five, just bringing our physicality,” Lue said.
As training camp opened in Hawaii last week, the Clippers had one recurring theme: They intend to run more this season and score quicker.
Oct. 8, 2023
The Clippers did not unveil a full preview of who they could be during a 101-96 loss in Sunday’s preseason opener against the Utah Jazz. Starting point guard Russell Westbrook and forward Nicolas Batum didn’t play, the team citing rest. Backup point guard Bones Hyland took Westbrook’s place and Terance Mann joined him in the starting lineup.
Forward Marcus Morris Sr. didn’t play after injuring his left groin in practice Saturday and will miss Tuesday’s next preseason game in Seattle, also against Utah. But the game wasn’t without its revealing stretches, and questions left unanswered still. Here are five takeaways from the first game of the Clippers’ season:
High marks for Bones Hyland
Westbrook is entrenched as the starting ball-handler. If the Clippers make a trade, perhaps for a Philadelphia guard who led the NBA in assists last season, opportunities for the ball will be even more scarce. It makes moments like Sunday’s minutes pairing Hyland with stars Leonard and George potentially rare, and Hyland earned praise for scoring a team-high 18 points and for his activity on defense.
He gambled defensively going for one steal but quickly recovered and tipped away a pass. The ball could stick with him, and he passed up an open three-pointer, but he also set up teammates and burrowed into the paint for quick shots.
“I just love Bones’ aggression,” George said. “I thought off the bounce, him getting to his shots, getting to his points on the floor, his playmaking, his creativity. And I know he’s not a defensive guy, but he gives great effort on the defensive end and he’s long, he’s quick, he makes plays on both ends.
The Clippers opened training camp in Hawaii with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George healthy for first time since 2020 and they’re getting back to basics.
Oct. 7, 2023
“We appreciate that from the guard spot so he’ll tie in well with what we’re doing.”
Lue, who only knew Hyland as a scorer when the Clippers traded for him last February, remains encouraged by his potential as a setup man, even though his advice to Hyland remains the same — don’t stop looking for your own shot. Hyland said his ability to create for teammates has been a fixture of his style for years and doesn’t doubt how he can mesh with teammates.
“I feel like nobody was in the wrong spot,” Hyland said. “Every time we run a play, we called it a play, I feel like it was ran right whether it was a miss or make. So that’s the biggest thing, execution-wise.”
Lue wanted to see physicality and pace. He said he got it
The major points of emphasis during the first week of practice was to look to push the ball in transition at every opportunity, to be the more physical team defensively and to be ready to play from the very start of the season. Lue believed his starters set the “tone” he wanted defensively. Their attempts to be more physical were overpowered on Jazz center Walker Kessler’s five blocks, but before halftime with the Clippers’ starters playing, they forced 12 turnovers and scored 16 points off them.
Leonard turned misses by Utah into transition opportunities by pushing the ball faster than in recent memory. Lue, who called the team’s transition execution “not good” Saturday, also felt the pace was up-and-down against Utah, but saw an intent to run before their conditioning caught up to the Clippers.
Lue’s biggest-picture priority also appeared to be met. Leonard’s pace, the way he tailed a Jazz ballhandler out to the midcourt logo to tip away his dribble and George’s behind-the-back dribble to free him for one three-pointer, a spin to get him an open jumper later and three steals were examples of the veterans playing with intensity from the opening moments of the season.
“I thought we played like we practiced,” George said.
Brandon Boston Jr. can’t leave a first impression…
Brandon Boston Jr. isn’t one of the roster’s big names, but he is one of its most intriguing players. Allowed to develop at his pace, largely in the G League, for his first two NBA seasons, the forward who turns 22 in November is now in his third season and firmly in the stage of his career where team executives want to see clearer evidence of who he can be.
Such progress was impossible to gauge in the opener. Entering as a substitution for George late in the first quarter, Boston played only 39 seconds before his night was done, a left knee contusion leaving him hobbling to the locker room. Asked if he was all right after the game, he shook his head and appears doubtful to play Tuesday.
…but KJ Martin does
Consider the case of KJ Martin, the 22-year-old forward acquired in a July trade from Houston. Nearly all of his Clippers teammates entered camp with a deep understanding of what the coaching staff wanted. Martin is still learning a “new system, learning both sides of the basketball but also having to play multiple positions, which is going to be tough, only being four or five days [into] camp,” Lue said before tipoff Sunday.
Only first-year draft picks Kobe Brown and Jordan Miller find themselves in a similar learn-on-the-fly situation, but unlike the rookies, Martin carries immediate expectations as a consistent piece of the rotation for a championship contender.
Martin showed flashes Sunday of why the Clippers saw him as the ideal player through which to address their dearth of youth and athleticism. He grabbed a defensive rebound off a miss by Xavier Moon and scored a put-back layup above the rim, the kind of basket that was a rarity last season.
What was more intriguing was the catch-and-shoot corner three-pointer he made early in the second quarter. Martin shot 28% on corner three-pointers his first two NBA seasons before taking slightly fewer of them last season but shooting 35%. If he can not only improve the Clippers’ athleticism but also act as a viable option in the corner, his potential usage will increase.
Russell Westbrook will make his debut Tuesday
Westbrook will start, as will forward Robert Covington, in Tuesday’s rematch against the Jazz at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Lue said postgame. Covington played just five minutes off the bench Sunday.
Andrew Greif is the Clippers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times. He joined The Times after covering college football and sports enterprise at the Oregonian. A University of Oregon graduate, he grew up on the Oregon coast.