Clock is ticking for Clippers to figure things out

After losing for a third consecutive time in five days, Clippers guard Reggie Jackson succinctly summed up the team’s season, which started out promising but has become muddled with injuries, inconsistency and revolving lineups.

“We don’t got as much time as you want,” Jackson said. “This season is moving quickly. It’s a new year, 2023, so we don’t have as much time as we like, like I said.”

The season is fast approaching the midway point and the Clippers (21-18) haven’t seemingly figured out what will get them into the playoffs. Play a three-guard lineup? Exhaust center Ivica Zubac’s minutes? Stick with small lineups?

Coach Tyronn Lue is hard-pressed to figure out a way to get players enough minutes that would help to develop consistency from game to game, sometimes even quarter to quarter, and come out on top. Otherwise, the season could be over before they know it.

Lue has been experimenting with assorted second-unit lineups and has recently been using John Wall, Norman Powell and Luke Kennard on the floor at the same time. The three-guard lineup has allowed opposing players, such as Bam Adebayo and Joel Emid, to drive freely to the basket.

Adebayo had 31 points and 13 rebounds in a 110-110 victory on Monday, while Embid had 44 points against the Clippers on Dec. 23, 2022.

“Well, that’s my job to help those guys out in every way I can,” Lue said Wednesday. “It’s tough when you have three of the guys coming off the bench and you’re trying to stagger them as best as possible.

“It’s just the combination of those three guys that has defensively hurt us. Not their fault at all. I take full responsibility for that and just something we have to continue to keep looking at and find different ways to try to split those guys up because we need all three of those guys.”

Also making life difficult for Lue and Co. is the availability of All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard has played just 16 games and sat out Monday’s loss to Miami because of a non-COVID-related illness, while George tweaked his right hamstring in the third quarter.

Both, however, will travel on the Clippers’ upcoming two-game trip. Leonard, who is averaging 17.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists, is expected to play against Denver on Thursday but he would presumably sit out Friday in Minnesota since he has not played in both ends of a back-to-back set all season. George, who is averaging 24.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists, is listed as questionable.

Lue said having Leonard on the court helps with the team’s interior defense when guys are camping on the perimeter. He said Leonard can also be a post threat in a small lineup.

“That’s something we want to work on, and we want to be good at,” Lue said. “We just haven’t had enough time and (enough of a) sample size to get good at that yet. It’s going to take a little time. We understand that.

“And with Kawhi only playing 463 minutes this year, it’s going to be tough until we get guys coming along and getting healthy. He (Leonard) has been doing a good job of playing more minutes, but now we just got to keep guys healthy. Once we get him there, we can post him more in that small lineup.”

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Lue said he will continue to tinker with lineups even if it means a loss here and there.

“You never want to sacrifice wins and losses and so you want to see things throughout the course of the season,” Lue said. “You want to see different rotations, but every night you’re playing to win. And so, some games you win, some games you don’t, but just playing the right way, continuing to work on our habits and do the right thing is what I want to see right now.”

Terance Mann, the Clippers’ versatile swingman, said the team just needs to do “whatever we need to do to stay positive. Win some games.”

Jackson is taking a somewhat unique approach to the Clippers’ situation by being “delusional.”

“I didn’t realize we’d lost three in a row so I’m going to be upbeat,” Jackson said. “Hopefully that keeps everybody else upbeat. It’s just about working … it’s just about working on our habits.”

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