LOS ANGELES — The guy running this experiment says he’s noted several positive indicators, but he’s quick to caution that it’s too early to confirm his hypothesis.
“I think I do know about this team. I just … have no proof of it,” said Coach Doc Rivers, whose Clippers will host the Houston Rockets (18-9) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (TNT).
Twenty-nine games – and 21 victories – into their 2019-20 campaign, the Clippers still have not had every member of their roster available at once.
They’ve had players miss a combined 63 games because of a range of ailments, including Landry Shamet’s 17-game absence with a sprained ankle, Paul George’s 11-game delay while he finished rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulders, and Kawhi Leonard’s eight missed games due to injury management or a knee contusion.
After practice Monday, Rivers said he’s tried to take the early setbacks in stride: “It is frustrating at times, I guess, but it’s nothing I lose sleep over right now.”
But with only forward JaMychal Green (tailbone contusion) sidelined Tuesday, the Clippers were as tantalizingly close to whole as they’ve been all season, and a sense of anticipation was bubbling in the Clippers’ lab.
“I’m sure we’ll start tinkering with lineups and having different guys on the floor,” said Lou Williams, the sixth-man extraordinaire who needed only 23 minutes to post 20 points and eight assists in a 120-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, when the Clippers returned from a nearly two-week trip to win their 10th consecutive home game and run their record at Staples Center to 14-1.
“From top to bottom,” Williams added, “we’ll like to see what this team really looks like and start building some chemistry.”
Rivers is eager to test out rotations that, so far, “were more in my head, because I haven’t been able to use them.”
That includes a lineup featuring Montrezl Harrell at center, Leonard at power forward, George at small forward, Williams at shooting guard and Patrick Beverley or Shamet at point guard.
“That’s a lot of shooting on the floor,” Rivers said. “Can that defend well enough? Now those questions we don’t know; I know I wouldn’t want to guard that lineup, but I don’t know if (I) wouldn’t mind going against that lineup. Those things we don’t know and we’ll have to find out.”
On the defensive end, George expects the Clippers – whose 103.4 defensive rating ranks fifth in the NBA – to start clicking more often.
“We still got so much to work on,” said George, a four-time All-NBA Defensive Team selection. “On occasions, we’ve showed a unit that’s locked in defensively. … We’re not where we want to be, but we show flashes and we see the potential. We’ll get there.”
Rivers likes what he’s seen in quarters like the third period on Tuesday, when the Clippers outscored the Suns 36-25 while holding them to 11-for-32 (34.4 percent) shooting.
Another positive harbinger: The team’s resiliency, traced to the mainstays from last season’s team whose collection of comebacks included rewriting the NBA playoff record book with a 31-point resurgence against the Golden State Warriors in a first-round game. It’s also been in evidence this season during instances such as, say, the Clippers’ successful rally from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the Boston Celtics in an overtime victory Nov. 20, in the first game Leonard and George played together.
Rivers said those all are signs that eventually could prove his theory about these Clippers: “Those are characteristics you want,” he said, “out of a championship team.”
Nothin’ like a lil’ home cookin’.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) December 18, 2019