Marcus Morris scores 33 points, Clippers fight off Pistons

  • Detroit Pistons’ Hamidou Diallo, center left, drives to the basket under defense by Los Angeles Clippers’ Marcus Morris Sr. during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Detroit Pistons’ Josh Jackson, left, is defended by Los Angeles Clippers’ Marcus Morris Sr. during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, right, watches as Detroit Pistons’ Josh Jackson chases the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey makes a dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart, right, fouls Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart, right, fouls Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, center, is screened by Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart (28) as he pressures Pistons’ Josh Jackson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Marcus Morris Sr., left, shoots under defense by Detroit Pistons’ Josh Jackson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Detroit Pistons’ Josh Jackson, bottom, falls to the court while chasing the ball against Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Detroit Pistons’ Cory Joseph, right, goes up for a basket against Los Angeles Clippers’ Nicolas Batum during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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LOS ANGELES — “Nico for trois!” 

Nicolas Batum, the veteran, versatile forward from France, gave Clippers public address announcer Eric Smith ample opportunity to deliver the line Sunday with a trio of timely treys in the final period as the Clippers’ staved off an upset bid by Detroit, 131-124, for their fifth consecutive victory.

With a six-point advantage in the final period, a young, energized Pistons seemed poised to put a damper on the Clippers’ darn successful nine-game homestand.

Ultimately, the Clippers — including their self-proclaimed glue guy — decided not.

First, Batum and Terance Mann buried back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 20-8 Clippers’ run that tied the game 101-101 with 10:08 to play.

Batum’s next 3 made it 110-106 before he knocked down a third (upon review) 3 that made it 113-110.

Moments later, Paul George licked his chops and rose up, up, upward for a most resolute exclamation point, punctuating the momentum shift with a monster slam on rookie Isaiah Stewart that made it 115-110 with 4:55 to play.

“I’m looking to dunk that!” George said after the victory, via Zoom. “He’s way under the basket. I wasn’t getting no calls, so I knew I just had to go aggressive and finish at the rim.”

The Clippers — now 37-18 and guaranteed a better-than-.500 finish for the franchise-record-extending 10th consecutive season — never relinquished the lead thereafter, fending off the plucky Pistons who’d led for most of the game before that.

L.A. staggered their superstars in the final two games of their long homestand, which they finished 7-2. After George got the night off Friday in the Clippers’ victory over Houston, and on Sunday, and the team on Sunday played without star forward Kawhi Leonard, who had the game against a struggling Eastern Conference opponent off to rest.

So George — along with Marcus Morris Sr. — handled the bulk of the scoring Sunday. George finished with 32 points (shooting 12 for 25 from the field and, because he mentioned it, 7 for 7 from the free-throw line). Morris chipped in heartily too, with a season-high 33, 13 coming in the third period.

And throughout Sunday’s contest, as he has for much of the season, Batum proved a steadying presence. Off the bench, he finished with 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including making all four of his 3-point tries. He also had nine rebounds, three assists and a season-high three blocks.

“Nic Batum, on both ends of the floor, really was good for us,” Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue said. “And Marcus of course, scoring the basketball, PG too. But I thought Nic went in and changed the game, he and (Rajon) Rondo off the bench.”

Rondo’s 10 points and six assists helped steer the Clippers, as did Ivica Zubac’s effort encroaching on a triple double.

The 24-year-old center finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for his 11th double-double this season, the most of his young career. What’s more: Against Detroit, he added a career-best seven assists on a night the Clippers tallied a season-high 35 dimes — and shot a season-best 62.5% (50 for 80) from the field.

And yet, the Pistons (16-38) made sure Sunday’s game was no walk in the park for the hosts. Detroit did that with better-than-normal shooting, making 15 of their 32 attempts from long range and shooting 52.9% overall (46 for 87).

“I mean, they got everything they wanted,” Lue said. “I thought we were a little slow to the ball, on the 50-50 balls. But you gotta give them credit, they ran some good stuff. They made some tough shots. It wasn’t like we were just giving them shots. They earned, pretty much, a lot of the shots they made. They earned them. A lot of these young guys, they’re coming in, just having an opportunity to play when guys are out. And they make the most of it. I’m just proud that we were able to score the ball and try to keep the game close.”

For their part, the Clippers also helped make it interesting with 17 turnovers, two fewer than their season-high, a tally that Sunday led to 28 Pistons points.

L.A. went into halftime with a slim 63-62 advantage against Pistons team playing the second game of a back-to-back set, and licking its wounds a bit after being almost outrebounded by Enes Kanter alone — 38-30 — in their 118-103 loss Saturday in Portland.

In the end, the Clippers held a 37-31 rebounding advantage Sunday — when the teams combined to miss just 71 shots combined.

Detroit — which entered the game giving up the second fewest 3-point attempts in the NBA, with just 31.4 per game — kept the Clippers from getting going on the outside to start, limiting them to just 11 attempts (seven of which they made) from behind the arc in the first half, off their pace of 34.6 per game.

In the end, L.A. shot 15 for 26 (57.7%) from deep, including going 6 for 9 from 3-point range in their 37-point fourth quarter.

In starting roles against their former team, Reggie Jackson finished with 10 points, seven assists and five rebounds and Luke Kennard had 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting.

Center Serge Ibaka (back tightness) was again relegated to watching from the sideline, and will be watching from California for the Clippers’ forthcoming three-game road trip, Lue said. Starting guard Patrick Beverley will be out for at least another three or four weeks after suffering a fractured bone in his left hand last week.

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Still perfect: Team LeBron wins 2021 NBA All-Star Game

 

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James is presented the MVP award after his team defeated Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Stephen Curry #30 and Lebron James #23 of Team James react during the first half against Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Luka Doncic #77 of Team James is defended by Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • James Harden #13 of Team Durant and Chris Paul #3 of Team James battle for the ball during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • James Harden #13 of Team Durant handles the ball on offense against Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine #8 of Team Durant is defended by Chris Paul #3 of Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Nikola Vucevic #9 of Team Durant attempts a jump shot against Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 and Chris Paul #3 of Team James during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James attempts a jump shot against Team Durant during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of Team Durant looks on against Team James in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine #8 of Team Durant attempts a lay up against Team James during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Lebron James #23 of Team James reacts against Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 of Team James during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Chris Paul #3 of Team James is defended by Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Adam Silver Commissioner of the NBA looks on during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James drives to the basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Stephen Curry #30 of Team James attempts a three point basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry celebrates after scoring during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Head coach Doc Rivers of Team LeBron looks on against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James and Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant battle for the ball during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James and Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant battle for the ball during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry plays during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Damian Lillard #0 of Team James attempts a lay up against Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Bradley Beal (L) of Team Durant dunks the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game against team LeBron James at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Bradley Beal #3 of Team Durant reacts against Team James during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Paul George #13 of Team LeBron handles the ball on offense against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving guards Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • LeBron James of Team LeBron James attemps to dunk the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James smiles during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Head coach Doc Rivers of Team Durant speaks with his team during the second half against Team James in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving dunks during the second half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Rudy Gobert (C) of Team LeBron James dunks the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 and Nikola Jokic #15 of Team LeBron celebrate against Team Durant during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine of Team Durant drives to the basket during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Bradley Beal (R) of Team Durant drives to the basket as teammate Kawhi Leonard (L) and Nikola Jokic of Team LeBron James look on during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Damian Lillard #0 of Team James against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Damian Lillard #0 of Team James celebrates against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates during the first half of basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Kyrie Irving (L) of Team Durant drives to the basket during the 70th NBA All-Star Game against team LeBron James at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Damian Lillard of Team LeBron James dunks the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Damian Lillard #0 of Team James celebrates against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Zach LaVine (L) of Team Durant drives to the basket during the 70th NBA All-Star Game against team LeBron James at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Rudy Gobert (2nd R) of Team LeBron James attemps a shot against Team Durant during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Kawhi Leonard #2 of Team Durant handles the ball against Team LeBron during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Rudy Gobert (C) of Team LeBron James holds to the ball against Team Durant during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • Stephen Curry (R) of Team LeBron James is defended by Kyrie Irving (C) of Team Duncan during the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7, 2021. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Kawhi Leonard #2 of Team Durant is introduced prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: A general view of State Farm Arena during the 70th NBA All-Star Game between Team LeBron and Team Durant on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Gladys Knight performs the national anthem prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron stands for the national anthem prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron is introduced prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Jayson Tatum #0 of Team Durant is defended by Nikola Jokic #15 of Team LeBron during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron dunks the ball against Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron handles the ball on offense against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron celebrates a basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron celebrates a basket against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron celebrates against Team Durant during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 and Chris Paul #3 of Team LeBron during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant dunks the ball against Team LeBron during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Rudy Gobert #27 of Team LeBron attempts a lay up against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Luka Doncic #77 of Team LeBron attempts a jump shot against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Donovan Mitchell #45 of Team Durant is defended by Jaylen Brown #7 of Team LeBron during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Stephen Curry #30 of Team LeBron is defended by Kyrie Irving #11 of Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Stephen Curry #30 of Team James celebrates against Team Durant during the second half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 07: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team James is presented the MVP award after his team defeated Team Durant in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hols up the trophy after basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of Team LeBron plays with his son, Liam Charles Antetokounmpo, prior to the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • New York Knicks center Julius Randle gets a hug from his son Kyden during basketball’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

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ATLANTA — In the midst of a pandemic, this was assured of being an NBA All-Star Game like no other.

The stands were mostly empty. The crowd noise was largely piped in. There were no A-list celebrities sitting courtside. Two players had to sit out after getting haircuts.

But in the end, it had a familiar feel.

Team LeBron won again.

Knocking down shots from all over the court, LeBron James’ powerhouse squad closed the first half with a dominating run to set up a 170-150 romp over Team Durant in the league’s 70th midseason showcase Sunday night.

The top vote-getters in each conference have picked the teams the last four years, a duty that James has earned every season.

He’s now 4-0, having defeated Steph Curry’s squad in 2018 and teams selected by Milwaukee’s two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the previous two years.

This time, James drafted his two former adversaries and blew away Kevin Durant’s team.

“I think he’s got a future as a GM,” said Damian Lillard, another of James’ inspired selections. “He always gets it right.”

Antetokounmpo was the game’s MVP after shooting 16 of 16 for 35 points, even making all three of his attempts beyond the 3-point stripe. It was the most baskets without a miss in All-Star Game history.

“I’m just having fun,” the Greek star, who banked in several of his shots. “Sometimes when you’re having fun and not thinking about the outcome, you just let your instincts take over.”

“You know, usually it is closed (on Sundays),” Antetokounmpo said, smiling when asked about the bank-shots, “but for me, it was open extended hours.”

Curry chipped in with 28 points, while Lillard had 32.

James spent most of the night admiring his drafting skill from the bench. The Lakers star played less than 13 minutes, scored just four points, and didn’t return to the court in the second half.

Instead, he munched a snack on the bench.

“I know he was managing his minutes tonight,” Curry said. “We had a great time, representing him as captain. It was a memorable night for sure.”

It sure was for Curry, the Golden State star who won the 3-point competition beforehand, then went 8 for 16 from beyond the arc in the game.

Lillard matched him, also going 8 for 16 from beyond the arc.

This All-Star Game sure was different than the previous 69.

Determined to pull off an exhibition that is huge for TV revenue and the league’s worldwide brand, the league staged the game in a mostly empty downtown arena, a made-for-TV extravaganza that was symbolic of the coronavirus era.

Despite extensive safety protocols in place, two players didn’t even make it to tipoff. Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were ruled out because they got haircuts from a barber who tested positive for COVID-19.

The only good thing for Durant: He didn’t have to participate in this shellacking, sitting out the game with an ailing hamstring.

Washington’s Bradley Beal, the NBA’s leading scorer this season at 32.9 ppg, led Team Durant with 26 points.

On a night highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Team LeBron swept the first three quarters and cruised to the final target score, earning a total of $750,000 for its charity, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

The game got out of hand late in the second quarter.

With scant defense being played, Team LeBron took turns dunking off alley-oop passes. Chris Paul delivered back-to-back lobs that Lillard and Curry slammed through. Then, it was Paul on the receiving end of a payback pass from Curry.

After showing it could handle shots up close, Team LeBron headed outside in the final seconds of the half.

Lillard pulled up for a 3-pointer from the midcourt line. Not to be outdone, Curry knocked down one from virtually the same spot.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lillard said. “Me and Steph shoot a lot of 3s. We shoot deep 3s. It was 3, 3, 3, 3, 3.”

The Clippers’ Paul George had 17 points for Team LeBron, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range in 26 minutes. His Clippers teammate, Kawhi Leonard, had eight points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 20 minutes for Team Durant.

Amid the joyful moments, the atmosphere at State Farm Arena was downright eerie compared to a normal All-Star Game.

Instead of a packed house, with A-list celebrities crammed into prime courtside seats, this game was attended by a smattering of hand-picked guests. They had plenty of room to spread out in a 17,000-seat venue that was essentially transformed into a giant television studio, with socially distanced spectators kept far from the court.

Towering video screens were set up behind the benches. Vegas-style lights flashed around the arena. Recorded crowd noise blared over the sound system. The entertainment was provided by the host Atlanta Hawks, who didn’t have any players in the game but were represented by their cheerleaders, drum line and DJ.

To address fears that one of its biggest events would become a super-spreader for a virus that has killed more than a half-million Americans, the NBA pared down its usual weekend-long ritual of extravagant parties, gridlocked streets and people watching

This All-Star Game was a one-night-only event, with a pair of skill competitions held shortly before the game and the Dunk Contest squeezed into the halftime break. The players flew in Saturday afternoon and were largely confined to a nearby hotel except for their time on the court.

“This is when everyone in basketball all over the world comes to one city,” James said before the game. “We’re able to sit back and go, ‘Wow, this is the game we have built.’ It’s a beautiful weekend for all walks of life, on the floor and off the floor.

“But I’m sitting here in my hotel room, isolated. My family’s not here. I’m by myself. It’s just different, to say the least, compared to previous years.”

TIP-INS

Team Durant: Zion Williamson of New Orleans started the game in place of Embiid. The Pelicans forward had 10 points. … Durant’s team heaved up 72 3-pointers, but made only 27 (37.5%).

Team LeBron: Paul had 16 assists, passing Magic Johnson’s record for most career All-Star assists with 128. … Lillard ended the game with another long 3-pointer. Curry was waving to the spectators before it even went in. … James’ team shot 63.6% from the field, including 31 for 61 from 3-point range.

UP NEXT

The 71st All-Star Game will be held on Feb. 20, 2022 in Cleveland. The 2023 game is set for Salt Lake City, followed by Indianapolis in 2024.

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Clippers match Wizards’ resolve, ride depth to win

  • The Clippers’ Reggie Jackson drives to the basket during the first half of Tuesday’s game against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center. Jakcson had 17 points in the 135-116 win as the Clipper reserves outscored the Wizards’ subs, 58-29. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • The Clippers’ Patrick Beverley passes through the Wizards defense during the first half of Tuesday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards passes against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards passes against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards drives to he basket against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Raul Neto #19 of the Washington Wizards drives to the basket against Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head Coach Tyronn Lue looks on with Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head Coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers reacts against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards looks toward the video board during a video review of a play against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 standing next to Head Coach Scott Brooks of the Washington Wizards has a technical foul fouled called on him in the first half of a NBA basketball game against the LA Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 standing next to Head Coach Scott Brooks of the Washington Wizards has a technical foul fouled called on him in the first half of a NBA basketball game against the LA Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards walks back to the bench after having a technical foul called on him in the first half of a NBA basketball game against the LA Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers passes against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers passes against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards drives tot he basket against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards drives tot he basket against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Paul George #13 high fives teammate Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers after a time out against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers passes against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket past Davis Bertans #42 of the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • LA Clippers player on the bench reacts after a 3-pointer against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard shoots over the Wizards’ Robin Lopez during the first half of Tuesday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard shoots over the Wizards’ Robin Lopez during the first half of Tuesday’s game at Staples Center. Leonard hade a game-high 32 points in a 135-116 win. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard shoots over the Wizards’ Robin Lopez during the first half of Tuesday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head Coach Scott Brooks of the Washington Wizards reacts against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers passes against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers passes against the Washington Wizards in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards drives to the basket against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Robin Lopez #15 of the Washington Wizards drives to the basket against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers shoots a three point shot against the Washington Wizardsvin the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards drives to the basket against Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Moritz Wagner #21 of the Washington Wizards in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards fouls Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers slam dunks over Davis Bertans #42 of the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers slam dunks over Davis Bertans #42 of the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers slam dunks over Davis Bertans #42 of the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head Coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers reacts against the Washington Wizards in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers passes against Deni Avdija #9 of the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers controls the ball against the Washington Wizards in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Terance Mann #14 of the LA Clippers slam dunks past Robin Lopez #15 of the Washington Wizards in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers fights for the ball against Moritz Wagner #21 of the Washington Wizards in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards reacts from the bench as Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers controls the ball in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, right, shoots as Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson dunks during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook, right, is stripped of the ball by Los Angeles Clippers guard Luke Kennard during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac celebrates a 3-point shot by forward Mfiondu Kabengele during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 135-116. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • LA Clippers bench reacts after scoring against the Washington Wizards late in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. LA Clippers won 135-116. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr., left, hugs guard Reggie Jackson in the closing seconds of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 135-116. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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LOS ANGELES — The Washington Wizards have been flexing their resolve of late, but they met their match Tuesday against the Clippers, who won this will-wrestling match, 135-116.

The Wizards, a woeful 3-12 not so long ago, came into the game having won five consecutive games and pulled within six games of .500.

For their latest victory Monday night, they’d rallied from a 17-point third-quarter deficit at Staples Center against the Lakers.

Returning to the scene of the comeback 24 hours later, the Wizards tried to conjure similar magic against the Clippers, chopping their 24-point second-quarter advantage to five points entering the fourth quarter – a final period that belonged entirely to the Clippers.

“They can score the basketball,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said of the Wizards. “Coming in on a five-game win streak, they went small, had a lot of shooters on the floor and they made plays. That’s going to happen. It is a game of runs. We came back and made a run of our own and we went back up 20 again and won the game.

“Just staying resilient.”

L.A. – so hot in the first half, when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined to shoot 16 for 22 for 41 points between them – cooled after the break.

The Clippers shot a respectable 10 for 22 in the third period, but Washington went 15 for 20 – with Moe Wagner leading the charge: The former Laker went 5 for 7 for 13 of his team’s 39 points in the frame.

But, as the Clippers’ All-Stars set the tone to start, their young teammates helped bring home the win.

Ivica Zubac – the Clippers’ 23-year-old recent center – sent a surge through Staples Center with a grown-man, serious slam dunk on Davis Bertans that extended what had been a withering lead to 113-102 with 7:52 to play.

Sandwiched around that play? An array of grown-Mann highlights.

Terance Mann, the back of his untucked jersey flying behind him, launched the Clippers on a trajectory to victory, scoring his side’s first seven points in the fourth quarter.

The 24-year-old former Florida State standout also fought on defense and for rebounds and flung a pass to an open Reggie Jackson for a 3-pointer that pushed the margin back to 116-102. He fouled out with 1:03 left, having contributed 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 20 effort-filled minutes that his coach characterized as “very important.”

“When they cut it to (five), Terance came out of the timeout, he had a big 3, he had a backdoor cut for a dunk, and he had a drive for a layup over the top of Lopez, which kind of got us going late in the game,” Lue said. “The work is paying off.”

His play helped energize and elevate the hosts when they needed the boost most, as the Clippers closed out a challenging homestand 4-2.

Leonard led L.A. with 32 points on 13-for-20 shooting, and on the day he learned he was an All-Star for the seventh time, Paul George had 30 points – 25 coming in the opening half.

“Paul and Kawhi did a great job of taking on the blitz and then getting the ball to our bigs, really to Zu,” said Jackson, who had 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting off the bench. “(Zubac) made great decisions, whether it was kicking out, getting the ball to swing again or whether it was him finishing if the big went over the top. We played tremendous tonight, and hopefully, we can keep going.”

Zubac finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds off the bench – his sixth double-double in reserve this season, second-most in the NBA.

Marcus Morris Sr. added another 11 points and four assists off the bench for the Clippers, who outrebounded Washington 46-36, a difference that led to a 17-2 advantage in second-chance points.

For Washington, Bradley Beal, the NBA’s leading scorer, entered Tuesday’s game averaging 32.9 points per game. He finished with 28 (and 10 assists) on 12-of-24 shooting.

Wagner finished with 21 points, Russell Westbrook added 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds and Raul Neto had 11 points.

The Clippers (23-10) initially took control with a 26-6 run across the first and second quarters, in which the Clippers scored 36 points apiece. Not much went Washington’s way early, in the second quarter alone the Wizards were assessed three technical fouls – two defensive three-second calls and another on Westbrook.

And though L.A. had a 17-point advantage at halftime, the Wizards (11-18) used a 16-4 run to get within 99-94 going into the fourth quarter before the Clippers blew it open, making eight of their 19 3-pointers during a 36-22 final frame.

The Clippers held on without Lou Williams, their professional scorer off the bench. The veteran guard – who scored just five points Sunday and wasn’t on the bench Tuesday – was a healthy scratch.

32 for Kawhi. 30 for PG.#NBAAllStar duo powers the @LAClippers. pic.twitter.com/H1ChwT0vbs

— NBA (@NBA) February 24, 2021

Hear from #NBAAllStar @Yg_Trece after a huge night and another win for #ClipperNation!@LAClippers pic.twitter.com/jHjoRO521q

— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) February 24, 2021

Ty Lue was pleased with the @LAClippers effort in their win over the #Wizards!#ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/7PDH34BzOM

— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) February 24, 2021

The @LAClippers are playing hard-nosed hoops at Staples Center!!! 🦾#ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/a09hksLDrp

— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) February 24, 2021

A Mann and the rim.

We’ll take royalties on @terance_mann‘s biography title! 📘@LAClippers | #ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/VNpInHPkBv

— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) February 24, 2021

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Short-handed Clippers can’t slow sizzling Jazz

  • The Clippers’ Lou Williams reacts toward an official during the first half of Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Utah’s Donovan Mitchell goes for a rebound during the first half of Wednesday’s game against the Clippers at Staples Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers wins the tip off against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Terance Mann #14 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Terance Mann #14 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Terance Mann #14 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Bojan Bogdanovic #44 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers slam dunks against Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers slam dunks against Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers shoots against the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers controls the ball in front of head coach Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers passes against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz reacts against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers blocks a shot by Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers blocks a shot by Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers fights for the rebound against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz passes against Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers steals a pass from Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz passes against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers shoots over Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz rebounds against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz rebounds against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers shoots over Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers fights for the rebound against Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers reacts against the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball over Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers fights for the rebound against Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert blocks a shot by the Clippers’ Ivica Zubac during the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball against the LA Clippers in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against the LA Clippers in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers fights for the ball against Miye Oni #81 of the Utah Jazz in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers fights for the ball against Miye Oni #81 of the Utah Jazz in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz slam dunks against the LA Clippers in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers reacts toward an official after a foul in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers passes against Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers passes against Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers passes against Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers reacts in front of public address announcer Eric Smith in the second half of a NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against the LA Clippers in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz slam dunks against the LA Clippers in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz shoots agains Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Tyronn Lue talks with Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers against the Utah Jazz Head coach in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against the LA Clippers in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball agains the LA Clippers in the second half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) goes around a screen set by Serge Ibaka (9) on Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, vies for a loose ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, shoots over Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, center, and Serge Ibaka (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers reacts against the Utah Jazz in the first half of a NBA basketball game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, shoots over Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Serge Ibaka, left, grabs a rebound next to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots past Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, right, dribbles next to Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) shoots as Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert grabs a rebound against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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LOS ANGELES — Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he left his measuring stick at home before his team tipped off Wednesday against Western Conference-leading Utah at Staples Center.

He insisted he was less concerned with how the scoreboard read at the end of this regular-season game between his undermanned squad and the fire-breathing Jazz than what his players’ effort told him: “We just want to go out and compete and play as hard as we can.”

Utah, understand, arrived in L.A. having won 19 of its last 20 games. The Jazz’s steamrolling, barnstorming, waste-laying tour through the NBA seemed likely to continue Wednesday at Staples Center, where the Clippers entered the fight without superstars Kawhi Leonard (leg contusion), Paul George (bone edema), plus starting forward Nicolas Batum (concussion) and then Luke Kennard, the 3-point specialist who was a late scratch with a sore right knee.

On Monday, Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. insisted that – even short-handed – the Clippers relished the opportunity to test themselves against the team with the conference’s best record. Before the game, Lue was game but realistic: “We know they’re the best team record-wise, but you know that’s not gonna stop us from playing … and we’ll see what happens tonight.”

What happened: The Clippers kept it interesting for a while, but they couldn’t keep Utah in check, falling, 114-96. It’s just the fourth time this season Lue’s squad scored fewer than 100 points – and the fourth time they made fewer than 10 3-pointers, finishing this one with just nine.

That’s in character for the Jazz, who are allowing the fewest 3-pointers (11 per game) in the NBA – while making the most (16.6).

On Wednesday, they finished 13 for 40 from behind the arc – with eight of their makes coming in the second half.

The Clippers (21-9) flexed their depth early, coming out with defensive bite and offensive confidence, and taking a 51-46 lead into halftime. The Jazz shot just 38.8% (19 for 49) in the opening half, as Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic combined to shoot 9 for 31.

But Utah (24-5) found its footing after that, and the Clippers ran out of gas, outpaced 68-45 in the final two periods as they dropped their first game in five tries. The Jazz took control with a 14-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, followed by a 16-3 run to put it away.

“Our guys, they played and they competed,” Lue said afterward, via Zoom video conference. “I just thought Lou (Williams) was a little out of gas tonight. He’s the guy who’s been making it go for us but can’t fault our effort or our competing.”

Williams – who averaged 24 points and 10 assists in the past two games, his first two starts of the season – again led his team Wednesday with 16 points, but only two points and two assists came in the second half.

Jackson scored just five of his 15 points after halftime, when, as a team, the Clippers shot just 4 for 17 from deep – two of those baskets belonging to Amir Coffey, whose consecutive 3s in the third quarter gave the Clippers a short-lived 76-75 lead.

Coffey finished with 13 points off the bench (on 5-of-6 shooting) in his second game back from the G League bubble, and starting center Serge Ibaka finished with 10 points. The Clippers’ other center, Ivica Zubac, finished with eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench – eight of those boards coming in the first half.

The slippage began right out of halftime, when the Jazz outscored the Clippers 14-8 to take a 60-59 lead before outscoring their hosts, 35-24, in the quarter to pull ahead by six points going into the fourth period. Center Rudy Gobert had 12 points in the frame and Utah outrebounded the Clippers 13-7, including pulling down five offensive rebounds.

The Clippers – who were plagued by 18 turnovers, which Utah turned into 21 points – didn’t help themselves by committing six fouls in the third quarter, sending Utah to the free-throw line seven times (resulting in six points).

Mitchell finished with 24 points, Gobert scored 17 of his 23 in the second half (to go with 20 rebounds) and Clarkson added 18 points off the bench.

“We don’t have everybody, so it’s hard to gauge,” said Terance Mann, who had eight points on 3-for-6 shooting for L.A. “It’s kind of like last game, work on our team, work on everybody’s confidence, see where we’re at at the end of the game. At the end of the day, just be happy with our efforts.”

The Clippers won’t have to wait long for another opportunity to test themselves against the best in the West: The teams will clash again Friday night at Staples Center.

“I’m happy to get a chance to play this team again,” Jackson said. “Best team in the West right now, so we really want to test ourselves and see where we’re at. Being depleted is always tough, you want to have your main guys out there. Missing everybody who’s out, missing Paul, missing Nic, missing Kawhi for sure … (it’s) always tough to play without, but next man up. We have to step up and we have to continue to figure out a way to do this.”

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Clippers shoot their way past short-handed Pelicans

  • Clippers center Serge Ibaka blocks a shot by the Pelicans’ Nickeil Alexander-Walker during the second half of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans battles Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers for a rebound during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives past Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans lays up a shot past the defense of Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans pushes Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans attempts to dribble past the defense of Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles into the defense of Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles into the defense of Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers defends against a shot by Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers defends against a shot by Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Nicolo Melli #20 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots past the defense of Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots past the defense of Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers passes past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles past Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against a dribbling Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers pushes back on the defense of Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers attempts to dunk over the defense of Nicolo Melli #20 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends against a shot by Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 and Luke Kennard #5 of the LA Clippers defend against a pass by JJ Redick #4 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2, Ivica Zubac #40 and Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers defend against Jaxson Hayes #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers defends against a shot by Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers makes a shot past the defense of Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers dribbles into the defense of Steven Adams #12 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers battles JJ Redick #4 of the New Orleans Pelicans for a rebound during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Steven Adams #12 and Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans attempt to stop Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
    (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends against New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) shoots next to Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka (9) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum (33) defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Sindarius Thornwell (15) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) shoots against Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) blocks a shot by New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes, center, during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) defends. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac, rear, defends against New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) makes a 3-pointer against New Orleans Pelicans guard Sindarius Thornwell (15) at the end of the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, top right, is congratulated after his 3-pointer at the end of the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) shoots past Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka (9) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots between New Orleans Pelicans guard Josh Hart (3) and center Steven Adams (12) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) defends against Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) defends against Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes (10) defends against Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka, top right, defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots as New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) defends during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick (4) passes the ball over Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) and guard Luke Kennard (5) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) dunks during the fourth quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Sindarius Thornwell (15) defends against Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Pelicans center Steven Adams, rear, hugs Clippers guard Paul George after Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. The two used to be teammates in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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LOS ANGELES — The Staples Center stage was set up for a clash of styles and, on Wednesday night, a stark difference of fortunes.

Fully staffed at the outset, the favored Clippers avoided the trappings of life against an undermanned underdog, getting past a pesky New Orleans Pelicans team that was down three starters, including superstar sophomore Zion Williamson.

“When you have a lot of talent sometimes, you can fall victim to that, but we just got to make sure we’re just taking advantage of every day, every game, every practice and trying to get better,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before his team’s 111-106 victory.

“Our main focus,” Lue insisted, “is us getting better each night, not about the opponent.”

That “professional focus,” as Lue termed it, has been a willed skill that’s required nurturing, to hear Ivica Zubac tell it.

“We come out with the same mindset,” the center said, before revising that statement slightly: “We try to come out with the same mindset – ever since that Dallas game (a franchise-worst 51-point loss).

“We know we’re going to get the best shot from every team, every night and we’re prepared for it. … I think we got better at that from last year, but we can still be better at that.”

It won’t hurt to lodge victories such as Wednesday’s against the Pelicans, who, despite being shorthanded, played their part admirably.

Coach Stan Van Gundy’s squad dominated the boards, 48-36 – fully in character for the team that showed up Wednesday with a league-best rebounding percentage of 54.1 percent.

The Pelicans also did their requisite damage in the paint, outscoring their hosts down low, 52-20.

And they got a boost from second-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who flourished in his first start of the season, leading the Pelicans with 37 points (on 15-for-23 shooting) and eight rebounds, both career highs.

But those areas of success weren’t enough against the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team (L.A. is shooting 42.9 percent from deep), which continued to drive, kick and connect from distance – going 18 for 37 against New Orleans.

“I just think taking the right 3s, playing the right way, is the biggest thing for us,” said Lue, whose players excelled at setting up one another Wednesday, assisting on 26 of their 35 made baskets. “We really had the ball hopping tonight early on and we still had some possessions in the second half where the ball was moving as well. We just got to continue to play in the right way through the game.”

While the Pelicans (4-6) shot 10 for 28 from deep, half of the Clippers’ shots originated from behind the arc, and six Clippers connected on multiple 3s. George was responsible for five of them – the ninth time this season he’s hit four or more in a game and the seventh time he made at least five.

“Just shooting it with confidence and really just knowing the shots I’ma get, so I knew what to look for, I know what to expect, I know how the shots are coming,” George said.

Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 28 points and nine assists, and George weaved his way through New Orleans’ defense for a typically pretty assortment of baskets, scoring 27 points on shot-making that included a fourth-quarter layup, flipped off the top of the backboard, as well as the 3-pointer as time expired in the first half.

That first-half-finishing trey punctuated a 21-4 run and ended with George falling backward into the arms of Serge Ibaka, who wrapped him in a bear hug and carried him off the court, their lead 18 points.

With the Clippers feeling thinner in the second half, when Lou Williams sat with a sore hip, the Pelicans closed to within 89-85 with 8:11 to go – but L.A. used its long-range skills to nudge the door closed.

Patrick Beverley’s third 3-pointer recreated some distance and Leonard’s first 3-pointer (of two) shortly thereafter made it 97-87, and had team owner Steve Ballmer whipping his right arm in the air from his seat next to the basket.

The Clippers ran a rotation of defenders at Brandon Ingram, last season’s Most Improved Player awardee, and he finished with 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting.

In addition to Williamson (ruled out because of inconclusive coronavirus test results), the Pelicans were missing Lonzo Ball (bilateral knee tendinopathy) and Eric Bledsoe (right eye irritation). Together, the trio accounts for 46.1 points and 15.6 rebounds per game.

The victory was the Clippers’ second in a row, breaking a seven-game, win-one-lose-one pattern they’d been mired in since their 128-105 victory over Portland on Dec. 30.

“Games like this are dangerous, when key guys are out,” Lue said. “Sometimes, you let your guard down. I thought the first half we really didn’t, I thought we really did a good job of coming out with a professional focus.”

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Kawhi Leonard returns as Clippers cruise past Blazers

  • The Clippers’ Nicolas Batum grabs a rebound in front of the Blazers’ Carmelo Anthony during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, center, has his shot blocked by Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, center, drives between Portland Trail Blazers’ Derrick Jones Jr., right, and Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives to the basket on Patrick Patterson #54 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Nicolas Batum, center, dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Carmelo Anthony #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers attempts a shot in front of Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • The Blazers’ Damian Lillard, left, grabs the arm of the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard points to a teammate during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Carmelo Anthony, center, is defended by Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac, left, and Paul George during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, center, and Paul George are greeted by teammates during a timeout in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Anfernee Simons #1 of the Portland Trail Blazers passes between Paul George #13, Serge Ibaka #9 and Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Luke Kennard, right, drives under pressure from Portland Trail Blazers’ Rodney Hood during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers watches as Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers makes a move during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, center, passes the ball under pressure from Portland Trail Blazers’ Derrick Jones Jr., left, and Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Lou Williams dribbles the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers is fouled on a layup by Enes Kanter #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers attempts a layup in front of Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, center, goes up for a basket as Portland Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Jusuf Nurkic #27 of the Portland Trail Blazers blocks the shot of Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard passes the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 and CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers react as Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers takes a shot during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers guards Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers backs in on Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles in front of Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers passes between Patrick Beverley #21, Serge Ibaka #9 and Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers guards Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives between Patrick Beverley #21, Serge Ibaka #9 and Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers wears a face guard during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers steals the ball from Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers blocks the shot of Carmelo Anthony #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers celebrates and his basket with Lou Williams #23 and Patrick Beverley #21 during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers attempts to steal the ball from Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers scores past Jusuf Nurkic #27 of the Portland Trail Blazers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Carmelo Anthony, left, looks to pass under pressure from Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 128-105. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers, calls out from the bench during a 128-105 Clippers win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Derrick Jones Jr. #55 of the Portland Trail Blazers and Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers reach for a loose ball during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Anfernee Simons, center, passes the ball to Enes Kanter, right, while being defended by Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 128-105. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, left, is fouled by Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard passes the ball around Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Derrick Jones Jr., left, looks to shoot under pressure from Los Angeles Clippers’ Reggie Jackson during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 128-105. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard shoots over Portland Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers watches during a 128-105 LA Clippers win over the Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers celebrates the basket with a foul from Ivica Zubac #40 during a 128-105 Clippers win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES — Coach Tyronn Lue is in the habit of stressing the importance of good habits.

His Clippers seem to be making a habit of the blowout, welcoming a masked Kawhi Leonard back to the lineup on Wednesday night by rocking another Western Conference foe by 20-plus points at Staples Center.

With Leonard back in action – and being subjected to his teammates’ teasing nicknames such as “Leatherface” after he missed two games following a mouth laceration that required eight stitches on Christmas – the Clippers routed Portland, 128-105.

It was a tidy, no-doubt-about-it win even more to their new coach’s liking than their 23-point victory over Minnesota on Tuesday: He’d put in an order Wednesday for some early pop and some disruptive defense on Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard.

And the Clippers got it right. So, so right.

After starting sluggishly in their past two games – a franchise-worst blowout loss to Dallas on Sunday followed by Tuesday’s redeeming blowout victory against Minnesota – the Clippers’ starters came to play Wednesday.

After their coach insisted that “our first unit’s got to get off to better starts,” the Clippers (4-1) bolted to a 14-point first-quarter lead, assisting on 11 of their first 13 field goals and draining eight of their first 12 3-point attempts to set the tone to their liking.

“The last game, the starters came out slow, our bench brought our energy, and from there they picked it up,” Leonard said. “Pretty much tonight we tried to come out and bring that energy and intensity and just communicate, share the ball and we end up getting the win.”

Leonard sported a specially constructed mask protecting his jaw and adhered with two wide, white straps – a reminder of the Christmas collision between him and his friend Serge Ibaka, who accidentally struck Leonard with his elbow while pursuing a rebound.

The Clippers’ star joked Wednesday that there could be further ramifications for Ibaka stemming from the incident: “We got him on the trading block right now,” Leonard deadpanned. “So, whoever wants him, let us know, we trying to trade Serge.”

Lue said Leonard had noticeable trouble catching his breath early in his first game back, but that he showed admirable grit pushing through.

“Early on, especially in the first half, he was a little tired, a little winded,” Lue said, noting that Leonard stepped on the gas with 16 third-period points. “In the third quarter, he really pushed himself and started attacking the paint, started playing with force and playing with pace. He really took over that third quarter and built the lead for us.”

Darn straight he had trouble breathing, Leonard said: “(Shoot), it’s hard to breathe in that mask.”

Even so, Leonard was an active participant in the Clippers’ pretty passing display, which helped put the game out of reach. They finished with 30 assists (the third time this young season they’ve notched at least 30), including seven apiece Wednesday by George and Leonard – the latter of whom had six by halftime, his career-best for a half.

The ball movement uncorked another impressive offensive showing: Led by Leonard’s 28 points and George’s 23 (to go with 10 rebounds), six Clippers scored in double figures. As a team, they shot 49.5 percent (47 for 95) from the field and scored more than 30 points in all but the final period.

Defensively, the Clippers made it hard on Lillard by showing a variety of looks to the five-time All-Star who traded barbs with Clippers players in the bubble, but on Tuesday dismissed talk of a rivalry between the teams, telling Portland’s digital content producer Casey Holdahl: “I thought a rivalry was built on the court, you know what I’m saying?”

This time, the Clippers had the final word: Lillard finished with 20 points on 3-for-14 shooting (0 for 8 from 3-point range).

“If you watch Dame play, he’s ready to destroy any team that he plays against, it’s just not from trash-talking or what happened last year in the bubble,” Lue sid. “He is a very aggressive scorer and we know he can score 50 points on any given night. We just want to try to come out and set the tone early and try to blitz him to start the game, and he made some good passes and they got some good shots. But we were able to just kind of keep him off balance and the coaching staff did a great job of that.”

Lillard’s backcourt mate CJ McCollum went 8 for 17 and scored 25 points, Carmelo Anthony chipped in with 15, and Anfernee Simons added 10 but otherwise, no one had more than eight points for the Trail Blazers (2-2) as the Clippers held them to 42.1 percent shooting (32 for 76).

Ivica Zubac continued to cause opponents problems at the rim; the 7-foot center came off the bench to block three shots for the second consecutive game.

The @LAClippers improve to 4-1 behind Kawhi Leonard’s 28 PTS, 7 AST! #KiaTipOff20 pic.twitter.com/lsjMqs6nlU

— NBA (@NBA) December 31, 2020

“I thought a rivalry was built on the court, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think this is a rivalry.” — @Dame_Lillard on tonight’s game vs. Clippers

— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) December 30, 2020

Serge Ibaka recovers to pin it against the glass on @NBATV! #KiaTipOff20 pic.twitter.com/NOGEfDGus6

— NBA (@NBA) December 31, 2020

Kawhi gets his Klaw on it! 🖐#KiaTipOff20 on @NBATV pic.twitter.com/NmGf7lDnEI

— NBA (@NBA) December 31, 2020

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Clippers reassert themselves with rout of Timberwolves

  • The Clippers’ Lou Williams wraps a pass around the defense of the Timberwolves’ Ed Davis during the first half of Tuesday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers blocks a shot by Jake Layman #10 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) dunks against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, left, and center Ivica Zubac (40) and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Ed Davis (17) reach for a rebound during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Clippers forward Serge Ibaka dunks during the second quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Timberwolves at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Jordan McLaughlin #6 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives past the defense of Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers defends against Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell, left, shoots against Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers shoots past the defense of Naz Reid #11 and Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Ed Davis #17 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots past the defense of Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell, left, shoots against Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers dunks past the defense of Ricky Rubio #9 and Naz Reid #11 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, center, high-fives forward Serge Ibaka (9) during a timeout in the second quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. Leonard did not play due to injury. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) dunks during the second quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid, right, dunks against Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley, right, goes up for a shot against Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) and guard Reggie Jackson (1) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid (11) dunks the ball during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Juancho Hernangomez #41 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against Daniel Oturu #10 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Jarred Vanderbilt #8 of the Minnesota Timberwolves dunks over the defense of Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Mfiondu Kabengele #25 of the LA Clippers battles Juancho Hernangomez #41 of the Minnesota Timberwolves for a loose ball during the second half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Amir Coffey #7 of the LA Clippers passes past the defense of Juancho Hernangomez #41 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves dribbles into the defense of Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Jake Layman #10 and D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves battle for a rebound against Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Naz Reid #11 of the Minnesota Timberwolves tips off against Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Ed Davis #17 of the Minnesota Timberwolves passes past the defense of Serge Ibaka #9 of the LA Clippers during the first half of a game at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots a jumpshot during the first half of a game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 29, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt, left, blocks a shot by Los Angeles Clippers forward Mfiondu Kabengele during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell, left, shoots against Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann, left, blocks a shot a shot by Minnesota Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Serge Ibaka (9) celebrates after scoring on an alley-oop against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Serge Ibaka celebrates a dunk during the third quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, left, defends against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) shoots next to Minnesota Timberwolves center Ed Davis (17) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt, left, goes up for a shot against Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, left, on Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jake Layman during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guards Paul George, left, and Luke Kennard celebrate a point during the third quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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LOS ANGELES — With a lighthearted, music-filled practice on Monday, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue guided his veteran Clippers team out of whatever Bizarro dimension it had stumbled into in its last outing.

They emerged Tuesday looking the part of an NBA team.

An NBA-title-contending team, even.

Seven Clippers scored in double figures as they dominated just about every facet of their 124-101 victory over Minnesota – including those areas where they struggled so badly on Sunday, when they suffered a franchise-worst 51-point loss to Dallas.

“The game wasn’t a show of how we’ve been working as far as practices and our preparation and the things we’ve been doing to get better,” Lue said. “Yesterday we came in for the morale of the team, got a lot of shooting up, a lot of competitive shooting with the music going.”

The message: “‘Just get this behind us, let’s move forward.’”

The Clippers (2-2) advanced in the right direction on Tuesday, despite playing again without star Kawhi Leonard (mouth laceration) and starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. (knee soreness) – and despite coming out of the gates again with more fizzle than the pop requested by Lue, quickly falling behind by nine points.

But Lou Williams’ spicy nine points in five first-quarter minutes off the bench woke up the Clippers, who surged ahead in the second quarter and stayed there, outscoring Minnesota 37-21 en route to a 70-50 halftime advantage.

“Our first unit’s got to get off to better starts, but I thought our bench came in and did a great job,” Lue said. “Lou and Big Zu (Ivica Zubac), Terance Mann, Reggie (Jackson), they all gave us a big lift off the bench, and we needed those guys tonight.”

Williams “was really good at scoring the basketball like he always does,” Lue said of the three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year, who finished with 20 points and five assists in 20 minutes, going 7 for 11 from the floor and 5 for 6 from the free-throw line.

Zubac played with his native Croatia in his thoughts after a destructive 6.4 magnitude earthquake killed at least seven people south of the capital of Zagreb; the 7-foot center scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots.

And Jackson contributed 10 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block – saying afterward that Lue employed the perfect approach to righting the ship after Sunday’s “atrocious loss.”

“He has an understanding of our team and what we need at the time, so I think guys needed just a little pick-me-up,” Jackson said. “We’re a team that really wants to win, so I don’t think anybody can be harder on us than ourselves as players.

“T-Lue did a great job of freshening it up. We had fun, listened to music, shot together, chatted it up. We knew that wasn’t necessarily who we were; it was an ugly showing, it wasn’t our best version of ourselves, we got to take that L, but we reflected, we had a good day, we moved on from it and we were fortunate enough to get a win today, and we’re gonna have to move on from this win and try to get another one tomorrow.”

The Clippers won’t have much time to relish Tuesday’s outcome, not with Portland (2-1 and fresh off a victory over the Lakers) on deck Wednesday.

But even if they don’t get to revel in the result, the Clippers will try to keep it going after they shot 47 for 88 (53.8 percent) overall against the T’Wolves, including going 16 for 31 from 3-point range. Patrick Beverley and Paul George knocked down four 3-pointers apiece, by themselves equaling the team’s anomalous output Sunday.

And after collectively pulling down only 36 rebounds against Dallas, the Clippers outrebounded the undersized Timberwolves, 46-39. L.A. also finished with 52 points in the paint (compared with just 36 on Sunday), with 56 points off the bench (32 on Sunday), with 32 assists (after a paltry 13), and with plenty of reason to smile beneath their face coverings on the bench.

The T’wolves (2-2) got roughed up for the second straight game at Staples Center. A few hours after the Clippers were bludgeoned on their home court on Sunday, the Lakers put a 36-point licking on Minnesota, which is missing injured star center Karl-Anthony Towns.

In the loss on Tuesday, D’Angelo Russell led Minnesota with 22 points and Malik Beasley contributed 19.

For the Clippers, George finished with a cool 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and two of the Clippers’ 10 blocks. Serge Ibaka had 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Luke Kennard had his best game yet as a Clipper, subbing into the starting lineup for Leonard and finishing with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including making 3 for 4 from 3-point range. Beverley totaled 12 points, all on those 3-pointers.

And, for the second consecutive game, the Clippers youngsters got to show their stuff in garbage time – albeit under much more preferable circumstances.

“It’s still early in the season,” George said, reflecting on the considerable, bizarre swing between Sunday and Tuesday, as well as some of the other early blowouts around the league. “I think it’s a crazy turnaround coming into this season. If you think about it, it’s like Game 4 … this would primarily be like preseason a little bit, with this only being Game 4 under our belt but playing seven games altogether counting preseason. So it’s just different, teams are still working through stuff, still kinks to iron out. No team is in their perfect form or close to it right now.”

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Kawhi Leonard leaves bloodied, but Clippers knock down shots and Nuggets for win

  • Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is helped off the court after suffering a cut in his mouth during the second half of the team’s game against the Nuggets on Friday night in Denver. The laceration, caused by a collision with teammate Serge Ibaka, required eight stitches. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers leaves the game after being injured against the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is accompanied while leaving the court during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers is injured against the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers is attended to after being injured against the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard lies on the court after suffering an injury during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets drives against Nicolas Batum #33 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Patrick Beverley #21 of the Los Angeles Clippers controls a loose ball against the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets is guarded by Serge Ibaka #9 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts in a basket against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts instructions to his team against the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, left, drives to the basket past Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets is guarded by Patrick Patterson #54 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Jamal Murray #27of the Denver Nuggets takes the ball to the basket against Serge Ibaka #9 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the second quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Lou Williams #23 of the Los Angeles Clippers brings the ball down the court against the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Isaiah Hartenstein #25 of the Denver Nuggets drives against Ivica Zubac #40 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the second quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Serge Ibaka shoots over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Serge Ibaka pressures Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers puts up a shot over Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. dunks against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, right, drives as Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum, right, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Lou Williams #23 of the Los Angeles Clippers brings the ball down the court against the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, back, passes the ball as Los Angeles Clippers forward Serge Ibaka and guard Patrick Beverley, right, defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against Monte Morris #11 of the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard passes the ball as Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris, left, and forward Paul Millsap defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic drives for a basket against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, left, pressures Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, right, looks to pass the ball as Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, center, passes the ball to center Isaiah Hartenstein, right, as Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann, right, tries to control the ball next to Denver Nuggets guard Markus Howard during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George shoots as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone argues for a call during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets center Isaiah Hartenstein, center, and Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac, left, and guard Paul George wait for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, left, is defended by Denver Nuggets guards Jamal Murray, center, and PJ Dozier during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton, left, tries to steal the ball from Los Angeles Clippers forward Patrick Patterson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton, center, drives to the basket between Los Angeles Clippers guards Lou Williams, left, and Terance Mann during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, center, drives between Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap, left, and center Nikola Jokic during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton, left, tries to block a pass by Los Angeles Clippers forward Patrick Patterson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Serge Ibaka, right, fouls Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray passes the ball as Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 25: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts instructions to his team against the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton defends in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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Playing the fifth and final game on the NBA’s prestigious holiday slate, Tyronn Lue’s team faced down the ghosts of Clippers-Nuggets games past and kept alive the day’s streak of double-digit victories.

The Clippers fought off Denver’s late-game surge – and did it for the final six minutes without Kawhi Leonard to help – for a 121-108 victory on Friday night at Ball Arena in Denver.

It was a feel-good Christmas story for the Clippers – clouded, however, by Leonard’s bloodied departure with 6:07 left.

The four-time All-Star left the court and headed to the locker room bleeding heavily from his mouth, done for the night after being elbowed violently by his friend Serge Ibaka. The Clippers’ new starting center accidentally hit Leonard on a rebound attempt.


Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard lies on the court after suffering a jaw injury during the second half against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Clippers reported Leonard had suffered a mouth laceration requiring eight stitches.

“When I went closer to him, I saw his lips, so I didn’t look good at all,” Nicolas Batum said. “You don’t want a player, one of our teammates – even like an opposite guy – any players to go down like that, with blood all over him and everywhere on the floor.”

That said, Batum noted he’s optimistic his new teammate will be OK. “I just saw him in the locker room, he was OK. Kind of scary at the moment.”

Otherwise, these Clippers escaped a late-game assault by Denver unscathed – and moreover, they banked another big win and left the court with another early example of their ability to stay composed under duress.

“There’s still a lot of getting to know each other,” said Paul George, who led the Clippers with 23 points and nine assists. “But that all comes with us practicing and playing games. We’re a ways away, but you guys can see, we’re getting better and we’re a different team than we were last year.”

There’s significance to fending off the Nuggets, in part, if it helps vanquish the specter of the Orlando bubble, in which a series of blown double-digit, second-half leads fed L.A.’s collapse in the Western Conference semifinals in September.

It might be more important because it signals the Clippers – now 2-0 – are developing a healthy stubborn streak under Lue.

“Just being resilient,” Lue said. “Denver’s a great team. They went to the Western Conference finals last year and they have some really good players so they’re going to make a run, especially at home. I thought we just kept our composure.”

Lue soothed the Clippers through the Lakers’ charge from behind in the season opener on Tuesday. On Friday, his Clippers again staved off another talented team’s surge, when the Nuggets whittled what had been a 24-point lead to as little as 11 points, though they got no closer.

With Leonard being treated away from the action, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, George and Ibaka took turns hitting shots to keep the Nuggets from eating any further into the lead.

“Nothing was said, just, you know, ‘Next man up,’” Lue said. “We know Kawhi is a great player, but we got to have the mindset that if he goes down everybody has to be able to step up, and I thought Serge, I thought Lou, Pat Beverley made a big shots – of course, PG.

“We was able to kind of quiet the storm by just executing what we were trying to execute, and we made some big plays down the stretch.”

Employing Lue’s philosophy of scoring by paint or by distance helped the Clippers establish their advantage. They hit the host Nuggets (0-2) with a barrage from 3-point range, making 19 of 38 attempts from deep – including 12 of 23 in the first half, after which the Clippers led 72-55.

In the end, nine Clippers connected from long range – with George hitting five 3-pointers, giving him 10 through the first two games on 17 attempts.

George continued his overall inspired early-season effort, following his efficient 33-point season debut. He went 8 for 14 from the field, making 21 for 32 this young season.

He had help from his friends, including Leonard (21 points), Ibaka (15), Batum (13 and 10 rebounds), and Ivica Zubac (12 off the bench).

Nikola Jokic led Denver with 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Jamal Murray added 23 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter.

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Clippers knock down shots and Nuggets for Christmas Day win

Playing the fifth and final game on the NBA’s prestigious holiday slate, Tyronn Lue’s team faced down the ghosts of Clippers-Nuggets games past and kept alive the day’s streak of double-digit victories.

The Clippers fought off Denver’s late-game surge – and did it for the final six minutes without Kawhi Leonard to help – for a 121-108 victory Friday at Ball Arena in Denver.

It was a feel-good Christmas story for the Clippers – clouded, however, by Leonard’s bloodied departure with 6:07 left.

The four-time All-Star left the court and headed to the locker room bleeding heavily from his mouth, done for the night after being elbowed violently by his friend Serge Ibaka. The Clippers’ new starting center accidentally hit Leonard on a rebound attempt.


Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard lies on the court after suffering a jaw injury during the second half against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Clippers reported Leonard had suffered a mouth laceration requiring eight stitches.

“When I went closer to him, I saw his lips, so I didn’t look good at all,” Nicolas Batum said. “You don’t want a player, one of our teammates – even like an opposite guy – any players to go down like that, with blood all over him and everywhere on the floor.”

That said, Batum noted he’s optimistic his new teammate will be OK. “I just saw him in the locker room, he was OK. Kind of scary at the moment.”

Otherwise, these Clippers escaped a late-game assault by Denver unscathed – and moreover, they banked another big win and went away with another early example of their ability to stay composed under duress.

“There’s still a lot of getting to know each other,” said Paul George, who led the Clippers with 23 points and nine assists. “But that all comes with us practicing and playing games. We’re a ways away, but you guys can see, we’re getting better and we’re a different team than we were last year.”

There’s significance to fending off the Nuggets, in part, if it helps vanquish the specter of the bubble, in which a series of blown leads fed L.A.’s collapse in the Western Conference semifinals in September.

It might be more important because it signals the Clippers – now 2-0 – are developing a healthy stubborn streak under Lue.

“Just being resilient,” Lue said. “Denver’s a great team. They went to the Western Conference Finals last year and they have some really good players so they’re going to make a run, especially at home. I thought we just kept our composure.”

Lue soothed the Clippers through the Lakers’ charge from behind in the season opener Tuesday. On Friday, his Clippers again staved off another talented team’s surge, when the Nuggets whittled what had been a 24-point lead to as little as 11 points, though they got no closer.

With Leonard being treated away from the action, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, George and Ibaka took turns hitting shots to keep the Nuggets from eating any further into the lead.

“Nothing was said, just, you know, ‘Next man up,’” Lue said. “We know Kawhi is a great player, but we got to have the mindset that if he goes down everybody has to be able to step up, and I thought Serge, I thought Lou, Pat Beverley made a big shots – of course, PG.

“We was able to kind of quiet the storm by just executing what we were trying to execute, and we made some big plays down the stretch.”

Employing Lue’s philosophy of scoring by paint or by distance helped the Clippers establish their advantage. They hit the host Nuggets (0-2) with a barrage from 3-point range, making 19 of 38 attempts from deep – including 12 of 23 in the first half, after which the Clippers led 72-55.

In the end, nine Clippers connected from long range – with George hitting five 3s, giving him 10 through tof he first two games on 17 attempts.

George continued his overall inspired early-season effort, following his efficient 33-point season debut. He went 8 for 14 from the field, making 21 for 32 this young season.

He had help from his friends, including Leonard (21 points), Ibaka (15), Batum (13 and 10 rebounds), and Ivica Zubac (12 off the bench).

Nikola Jokic led Denver with 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

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Tyronn Lue is 1-0 as Clippers head coach

LOS ANGELES — Tyronn Lue took his position on the sideline in official capacity as a head coach for the first time since he was excused from the job in Cleveland in six games into the 2018-19 season.

That scene at Staples Center might have played out a season earlier, of course: In May of 2019, Lue was considered the leading candidate to take the helm with the Lakers and reunite with LeBron James, with whom he’d reached three consecutive NBA Finals and won a title with the Cavaliers.

But talks between Lue and the Lakers reportedly unraveled over contract terms. Instead, he spent last season at Doc Rivers’ elbow on the Clippers’ bench, getting acquainted with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and other members of a team that finished second in the Western Conference and then unraveled in the bubble – a group he’d be leading a couple of short months later.

As Lue learned the Clippers organization, James and the Lakers – under the direction of head coach Frank Vogel – earned the conference’s top seed and went on to outlast everyone in the bubble. They claimed the franchise’s 17th NBA title in trying circumstances, cut off from the world in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, an achievement they celebrated Tuesday with a ring ceremony before they took the court to face the Clippers.

Lue’s job now: For starters, bring about the first championship in franchise history. And, in the nearer term, fix what ailed the Clippers last season, institute accountability and improve the team’s on-court structure.

He took a first step in the right direction Tuesday with a 116-109 victory, before which he promised his charges would come out ready to forge ahead.

“We’re very hungry,” he said. “We’re very excited to get back on the floor. We still know it’s a process and that we still got a lot of work ahead of us right now, offensively and defensively, but we expect that between the lines it’s just about competing. It’s about heart. It’s about competing. And that’s what we’re willing to do tonight.”

For his part, Lue said he was thrilled to have another shot at head coaching – an opportunity made possible by Rivers’ ouster a couple weeks after the Clippers’ collapse in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, and made more interesting by the state of the world.

“I’m very excited, very blessed to be able to start the season,” Lue told reporters in and outside of Staples Center via a coronavirus-necessitated Zoom video conference that was delayed several minutes because of audio difficulties.

“With what’s going on the world right now with the pandemic, it’s unfortunate times and we all got to get through it together,” Lue said. “That being said, I’m very excited to get back on the sideline close to the game I love. The game has given me everything I have in my life, as well my family, so I’m excited to get back out there and make another run at it.”

On the sideline, Lue and his staff – a who’s who collection, all clad in all black, of coaching talent that includes former head coaches Kenny Atkinson and Larry Drew, as well as accomplished veteran assistants Dan Craig and Roy Rogers – saw their team run recently instituted plays to perfection early on in Tuesday’s game, opening a 22-point lead.

But then they saw the Clippers exhibit the same propensity to let leads dwindle that haunted them in the bubble, coughing up almost all of it by halftime, when the Clippers led only 56-54.

But Lue didn’t panic, and so none of the Clippers did, shoring up things in a second half when they outscored the Lakers, 60-55, and committed just four turnovers.

“We’re playing a great team, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the other side of the basketball – they’re gonna make a run at some point,” Lue said. “Just gotta be able to withstand it. … At halftime, I said, ‘Hey, listen. We did a great job, we had a good lead, they came back, they made a run, that’s part of the game.’ All they had to do was take care of the basketball and we’d be in good shape.”

Lue is making it a point to inspire more ball movement offensively, which resulted in some aesthetically pleasing basketball on Tuesday.

“I felt the movement, know what I mean? We got to a couple isolations when we needed to, but for the most part, everyone’s trying to play the right way,” said Leonard, who finished the first half 4 for 13 but warmed up in the third quarter, going 4 for 7 and scoring nine points. “When you see that on the floor, the ball’s hoppin’, guys are getting shots – getting the shots that they want, it’s great.”

He’s also spoken often during the abbreviated training camp of more effectively getting Leonard and George to the spots where they can do the most damage – and the Clippers made good on his promise in the second half Tuesday.

George certainly found his way to his sweet spots. He was efficient but quiet until the third quarter, and then came alive with a tide-turning display: The Palmdale native made all six shots he took and scored 15 of his game-high 33 points in the period, as the Clippers succeeded in putting enough distance between them and the defending champions, going into the fourth quarter ahead, 89-78.

“I love T-Lue,” George said. “He allowed me to play, make mistakes, and continue to play.”

Lue also incorporated some zone and played Ivica Zubac 26 minutes, more than the effective young center played in all but one regular-season game last season.

And, at the end of the night, Lue was a winner in his first game as the Clippers head coach, a title that Tuesday had a nice ring to it.

“Any time you win is great, especially in this league with all the tough teams there is,” Lue said. “But to come out, Game 1, my first time coaching this team, and playing against a great team like the Lakers and getting a win, that’s a great feeling.”

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