Surging Clippers still see room for improvement

The Clippers are winning, somewhat consistently, too. They just concluded a six-game trip in which they went 4-2 with victories against Chicago, Cleveland and the two New York teams, have won eight of their past 10 games and are fourth in the tightly packed Western Conference.

Yet, for some, there is still room for improvement.

“We improved on the direction of the team,” center Ivica Zubac said after the Clippers (31-26) wrapped up their trip with a victory against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. “We improved, for sure, we’re winning games now, but there is so much more we can be better at.”

The signs of improvement were hit-and-miss throughout the 10-day trip. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were in sync during several crucial moments, the bench, led by Norman Powell, kept the level of play from slipping and turnovers were down.

But then there were the meltdowns, the most glaring coming against Milwaukee when the Clippers let a 21-point lead disappear in a 106-105 loss. Two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 24 of his 54 points in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers rebounded from that loss to close out the trip with consecutive victories against the New York Knicks and the Nets.

Leonard, who has returned to his previous All-Star level, said the team is making strides toward resembling a solid playoff contender.

“We’ve been able to get W’s. I think we’re starting to put effort on the floor out there,” said Leonard, who is averaging 22.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

George said the team is playing off of the way they practice, following a game plan and “just more of the chemistry coming together.”

But with the NBA trade deadline less than 48 hours away (Thursday, noon PT), that delicate balance could be in jeopardy. The Clippers are rumored to be looking for another point guard to add to their arsenal of Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann and John Wall, who has not played since Jan. 13 because of abdominal soreness. Wall was the projected backup point guard but hasn’t seemed to fit into their plans.

Among the guards who have been rumored to be on the Clippers’ list are Toronto’s Fred VanFleet, Minnesota’s D’Angelo Russell, Utah’s Mike Conley and Miami’s Kyle Lowry.

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The Clippers also were strongly interested in acquiring the Nets’ Kyrie Irving before he was traded to Dallas. Irving is expected to make his Mavs’ debut on Wednesday night against the Clippers at Cryto.com Arena.

“Dallas has to be very ecstatic about getting him,” Coach Tyronn Lue said Monday.

Irving joins All-Star Luka Doncic in Dallas, giving the Mavericks one of the most formidable scoring backcourt duos in the league.

“Don’t make me think about it right now, please,” Lue said Monday. “There’s going to be a tough challenge. Kyrie’s a guy we’ve always blitzed in the past. Luka’s always the guy we’ve blitzed in the past, and now you’ve got two of them.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge for a lot of teams in the West.”

MAVERICKS AT CLIPPERS

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Crypto.com Arena

TV/radio: Bally Sports SoCal, ESPN, 570 AM

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