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Clippers players, including the injured Paul George, look on from the bench during Sunday’s 121-100 win over the Houston Rockets at Arena. (Sean M. Huffey/Getty Images)

On another short Sunday, locals in Clipper Nation took good news wherever they could find it.

Injured Paul George, for example, came off the bench briefly and entered the game in the second quarter.

He was throwing T-shirts into the stands.

Meanwhile, injured senior Marcus Morris didn’t even have to leave his bench to spend the afternoon bouncing around the Arena.

It was her gossip day.

In what also qualifies as a win, the Clippers survived a three-quarter battle with the worst team in the NBA to finally pull away in the final minutes with a 121-100 victory over the Houston Rockets.


The stands are packed, the shot is deafening, Chuck Condor is salsaing, everyone is screaming for those jerseys, the Clippers game experience is alive and well.

But, in the middle of one of the most important seasons in their history, the actual games are a different story.

Supposedly the deepest team in the NBA has been incredibly shallow. The supposedly strongest team in the West has epitomized weakness.

The Clippers have been so injured and so careful with those injuries, they’ve barely been the Clippers, and it’s getting tiresome.

You can see it in the tired expression of coach Tyronn Lue, who literally never knows who’s going to show up from night to night.

“It was tough,” Liu said.

You can feel it in the confusion of players who seem to have to adapt to a different style every night as starting lineups and rotations keep changing.

“It’s a messy place,” Liu said.

You can hear it in the voices of the players as they refuse to accept this huge wrench that has been thrown at them in the winter.

“I mean, it’s hard, but you know you can’t do anything about it,” Ivica Zubac said. “Guys get hurt and we’ve got to give them time to get healthy … we don’t want to rush anybody … it is what it is.”

Here’s what it is. The Clippers are 23-22 and barely in the playoff race. The Clippers have lost seven of their last nine games. The Clippers are 5-13 against teams with a winning record.

Through it all, the Clippers have gone four games with a fully healthy roster.

Four games.

As Sunday showed again, for every bright spot there is a shadow. This was Kawhi Leonard’s fourth straight game at full strength. he scored 30 points in 32 minutes, he’s back. — but cornerback George missed his fifth straight game with a strained hamstring.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard drives the ball during the second half against the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard drives the ball during the second half against the Houston Rockets on Sunday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Leonard and George have played just 15 games together, and the Clippers are 9-6 in those games while outscoring opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions.

Fifteen games.

Their full lineup stats are even more staggering and grim.

The Portland Trail Blazers lead the league in most minutes played by one lineup with 445 minutes. The Clippers’ most-used lineup has been on the court for a combined 163 minutes.

That’s less than three hours in three months.

Five players were missing Sunday, and it took the rest of the roster much of the game to find their flow.

“It’s tough,” Leonard said of the constant lineup adjustments. “I know it’s tough for the coaches, the guys coming back, they’re on a certain minutes restriction … then the players have to find a rhythm with it … all we can do is … grind it out.”

This season, more than ever, they need to grind hard.

Not only do they need to make the playoffs, they need to make a deep run in the playoffs, make some serious noise, get through the window the struggling Lakers missed, make some noise.

At the end of the first quarter Sunday, the scoreboard showed why.

There’s an ad out there that bares the soul of a franchise that’s in serious need of some dedicated love.

“Priority Entry” was being offered to the Intuit Dome, and you know what that means.

The Clippers’ bold new Inglewood arena is slated to open in the fall of 2024, and they need to convince their devoted fans to move down the highway, and while their presentation of the game is relatable and entertaining, no one wants to watch a loser.

Leonard and George will be there as their contracts both run through the first season in the new arena. Remember, four years ago they were hired to lead the road to Inglewood. However, so far they have failed.

In their first season together, they burst into the bubble and blew a three-game-to-one lead in the conference semifinals against Denver.

In their second season, Leonard injured his knee during the playoffs and they lost to Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals.

In their third season, Leonard did not play and they were eliminated from the playoffs.

This was the year that Leonard had to be healthy, George had to be his equal, their depth was astounding and their size was real.

This was the year that the most complete team in the NBA seriously contended for the NBA Championship.

Surprisingly, it still can.

Their players just need to, you know, play.

“I know it’s frustrating for our fans as well,” Lue said. “You want to put a product on the floor where we actually have a chance to win every night.”

Early in the third quarter Sunday, while the Clippers were chasing and losing to some wild kids from Houston, the cheers of their generally amiable fans were interrupted for an unusual reason.

“Come on Clippers, wake up!” someone shouted in frustration from a seat across the baseline.

Better yet, show me.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.


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