The primary 9 minutes of the Clippers’ third sport with James Harden have been, within the eyes of coach Tyronn Lue, “a murals.”

What, then, does that make the final 39 minutes of Friday’s 144-126 loss in opposition to Dallas, wherein the Clippers’ early 12-point lead — and the window it opened into how a roster with 4 future Corridor of Fame gamers can mesh — devolved into trailing by as many as 32 factors on their method to a fourth consecutive loss?

“What’s the worst which you can be?” Lue stated.

The coach rapidly added he would co-sign on any description a author selected. What the Clippers confirmed in opposition to the Mavericks stated sufficient by itself.

At 3-5 and winless since buying Harden, and backup ahead P.J. Tucker, in a blockbuster deal from Philadelphia, the Clippers discover themselves needing to reply thorny questions earlier than they’ll attain super-team potential.

Requested individually about their ranges of concern, Paul George stated he was “tremendous optimistic,” Kawhi Leonard stated he was “nonetheless assured,” Harden was centered on the “huge image” of all of it and Lue added his confidence the crew will “be all proper.” It was a sentiment that echoed the prediction this week by Lawrence Frank, the crew’s prime basketball government, that “we’ll hit our stride two, three months down the street.”

But the assumption the Clippers expressed Friday of their skill to search out their rhythm long run doesn’t allay concern over their speedy struggles in a Western Convention race that might have extra playoff-caliber groups than playoff spots.

They allowed 85 factors mixed to Dallas in Friday’s second and third quarters, and 42 of Luka Doncic’s 44 factors have been scored in his first 23 minutes. They’re nonetheless determining the best way to play successfully with small lineups since backup middle Mason Plumlee sprained a knee days earlier, with no big-man acquisitions thought of imminent.

Lue modified his rotation to carry Russell Westbrook and George to the bench sooner than typical within the first quarter to present Harden and Leonard extra time collectively earlier than pulling that duo and re-inserting George and Westbrook in their very own two-man sport with reserves. It didn’t work in any respect — one such lineup utilizing them with Norman Powell, Terance Mann and Tucker was outscored by 9 factors in simply two minutes — though Lue desires to see extra of it sooner or later.

Nonetheless, essentially the most overarching concern stays since they acquired Harden, a former MVP and league-leader in assists and scoring, and added him to a roster the place Westbrook, George and Leonard thrive with the ball of their palms. For the previous decade, these 4 have recognized precisely their function on each crew they’ve been on — all the time as a top-two scoring possibility.

They’re used to coaches saying, “Right here, ‘win the sport for us,’ ” Leonard stated, “and you’ve got your guys round you which can be locked into their function and that’s what it’s going to be about.”

Now, the Clippers’ core 4 are all of a sudden again in role-definition mode, one thing that may change possession by possession, Harden stated.

George set out Friday inside American Airways Middle to outline his personal function as a defensive stopper and rebounder, leaning on his co-stars to attain, believing it was the most effective use of his power after the Clippers struggled to rebound in losses at New York and Brooklyn that marked Harden’s first in uniform. But as George went scoreless within the first half, the primary time that has occurred within the 197 regular-season video games since he joined the franchise in 2019, he felt out of character in a “non-aggressive assault mode, which I received’t do once more.”

“I let the crew down with that strategy, however once more, it received’t occur once more,” George stated. “The thoughts set will likely be in assault mode always.”

Likewise, when Harden took a pair of catch-and-shoot three-pointers in Friday’s first quarter, it stemmed from attempting to raised slot in. Whereas watching movie of Monday’s loss in New York and Wednesday’s defeat in Brooklyn, he’d turned down 5 – 6 such catch-and-shoot alternatives out of “not getting used to it,” conditioned to be the creator of open pictures, not the beneficiary.

Harden scored 14 factors within the first quarter and wanted solely three field-goal makes an attempt to do it, whereas attending to the free-throw line six occasions. It was essentially the most snug he had regarded since becoming a member of the crew, Lue stated.

However he by no means scored the remainder of the sport, and took solely three extra pictures, earlier than he and the remainder of the starters watched the complete fourth quarter from the bench as Lue regarded forward to a 12:30 p.m. tipoff in opposition to Memphis on Sunday.

“First quarter felt actually good on each ends of the ball after which from there it went downhill,” Harden stated. “So looking for a stability of not attempting to step on anybody’s toes, however simply attempting to nonetheless be aggressive and be myself. So it’s a course of, but it surely’s undoubtedly a bit irritating. We do wish to win video games.”

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, gathers the ball as he prepares to shoot after driving past Dallas guard Kyrie Irving.

Clippers ahead Kawhi Leonard, driving in opposition to Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving on Friday night time, says he’s “nonetheless assured” that the Clippers can mesh 4 future Corridor of Famers right into a successful crew.

(LM Otero / Related Press)

The offensive sacrifices are already evident.

Earlier than the commerce, Westbrook averaged 72 touches per sport, George 59 and Leonard 54, based on NBA knowledge.

In three video games collectively for the reason that commerce, with Harden averaging 56 touches, George has averaged seven fewer, Leonard 14 fewer and Westbrook 32 fewer per sport. Whereas Westbrook and Leonard are literally averaging extra factors per contact, that hasn’t been the case for George, who went from a team-best effectivity of .486 per contact earlier than the Harden commerce to .269 since.

The locker room afterward was not essentially the most morose it has been this season.

“In some unspecified time in the future it’s going to work and no one’s going to speak in regards to the rotations and guys on the ground and personnel,” George stated. “And in some unspecified time in the future we’re going to determine it out.”

Nonetheless, in addition they hoped they might work out greater than they’ve within the almost two weeks since Harden joined. The starters have been outscored by 11 in 51 minutes collectively, with an offensive ranking of 93.1 — factors scored per 100 possessions — with a defensive ranking of 102.6 factors. Regardless of preaching endurance, Lue thinks the Clippers must be additional together with their defensive strain ways, whereas George stated a scarcity of spacing had held again the offense.

Dallas guard Kyrie Irving, who went via the same feeling-out course of whereas studying to play alongside Harden and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, and Doncic in Dallas late final season, referred to as the Clippers’ steep studying curve anticipated.

“They’re unbelievable, I feel we will all echo that sentiment, however if you’re enjoying a crew sport, there’s just one basketball on the market and to search out some offensive continuity takes time, after which to search out the defensive identification roles, it might be irritating,” Irving stated. “On the market, I didn’t really feel the frustration from them, however I can inform that there was only a ‘The place do I’m going?’ kind of emotion. I’m positive we received’t see that once we see them in L.A. as a lot, however proper now they’re simply going via these ups and downs within the public discussion board the place they’re getting criticized for not successful video games although they’re as nice as anybody within the league statistically and individually.”

It isn’t simply Harden, Westbrook, Leonard and George who’ve to regulate and sacrifice, Leonard stated, but in addition reserves Mann, Powell and Bones Hyland, who additionally “are used to getting and feeling a sure means with the ball as effectively and simply seeing sure minutes,” Leonard stated. “So we simply received to maintain figuring it out and have enjoyable with it.”

“Nothing actually stunned me,” Leonard stated of how the crew has regarded for the reason that commerce. “Simply I might say extra of the draw back. I’m seeing extra of the draw back of issues early than what I thought of. Clearly like I stated, we have now 4 guys on the ground which can be used to having a ball, used to discovering a rhythm simply by feeling and touching all of it sport. You may see it, you type of seen it with Luka and Kyrie final 12 months. They was attempting to determine it out. However like I stated, simply enjoying extra, you’ll begin to determine, OK, this man wants this spot right here or he’s, he received it going, let me purchase in into one other a part of the sport the place I could make us win.”

Lue doesn’t imagine lineups and not using a middle match Harden’s skill as a pick-and-roll savant, and Harden even requested beginning middle Ivica Zubac to remain later after the crew’s morning shoot-around Friday to work on pick-and-rolls. However Lue then inserted Mann alongside Harden and the starters to start the second half over Zubac, saying he needed to change and blitz extra simply on protection.

“It didn’t work,” Lue stated. “However you bought to strive one thing if you’re down 30 at halftime.”

The primary three video games of Harden’s tenure might be referred to as a piece in progress. Or, alternately, a piece of endurance. Or rising pains. The query dealing with the Clippers is how the ultimate 74 of their common season will likely be described.

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