Norman Powell paces Clippers, who drop preseason finale to Nuggets

ONTARIO — Four days ago, forward Norman Powell said he was ready to get the season started, saying he wouldn’t mind skipping the preseason altogether.

When the season begins in a week, Powell seemingly will be ready if Wednesday’s preseason finale was any indication. The eight-year veteran scored 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting (4 for 6 from 3-point range) and made all eight of his free-throw attempts as the Clippers closed out their preseason schedule with a 126-115 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Toyota Arena.

“I am just ready mentally and physically,” said Powell, who came to the Clippers in a late-season trade with Portland last season. “I know I put in a lot of time in developing and getting better in the areas that I want to get better in.

“I put a lot of time in preparing myself mentally for what the season is going to bring me and what my role is and just being locked in. … It just comes to being confident in my skillset and what I put into the game and confident in my teammates and confidence in the game.”

Coach Tyronn Lue thought Powell’s effort was one of only a few highlights in the preseason finale.

“I thought it was very efficient, very direct, not a lot of playing, not a lot of over-dribbling. Just getting directly where he wanted to get to,” Lue said of the eight-year veteran. “So, he played well tonight. He shot the ball well, he attacked and got to the basket as well.”

Another highlight was the play of rookie center Moussa Diabate, who showed off his skills with a thunderous dunk in the second half that brought the bench to its feet.

“It was big time, and I thought he’s been great all camp,” Lue said. “You know, asking questions, learning. He’s always trying to get better.

“So, every time we insert him into games in preseason, he’s played well. So just happy to see him continue to keep growing. And he did a good job.”

Lue was not as complimentary about the rest of the game, which saw the Clippers fall behind quickly, trail 74-66 at the half, make a brief comeback and then fall apart in the fourth quarter.

They turned the ball over 20 times, shot just 48.2% from the field and were outscored in the paint, 64-42.

And that was with the Nuggets’ two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic in foul trouble early on. Jokic finished with just two points, three rebounds and seven assists.

“I think our physicality, one,” Lue said of the things the Clippers need to improve before next week’s season opener against the Lakers.

“When you have an MVP that is a center who can pass the basketball, the floor is usually open. So, if guys are better passers at the guard position, you always have a center you can tag and help. But the floor was wide open.

“And if you’re not sharp with your coverages, if you’re not talking and communicating, if you’re not getting to bodies before you switch, they’ll pick you apart and embarrass you. And I thought tonight, especially in that first half, they embarrassed us as far as us not getting into the bodies. (On) point switching (they were) not aware and they were able to pick us apart.”

Lue said the Clippers’ sloppy play could have been the result of it being the end of the preseason with a veteran-laden squad.

“Our approach, you know, every night, no matter when it is, we’re playing, we got to try and get better. Because we’re building towards something that’s more important than just a preseason game,” Lue said.

“We got to get better. Defensively, as you see tonight. Offensively, what we’re going to run, how we’re going to share the basketball. Taking care of the basketball. And so, there’s things we got to work on to get better at. We just can’t throw games like this away. Like, we got to be better.”