Just a few days ago, the Clippers were a shorthanded bunch, struggling with a lack of depth. Quite suddenly, they’re a team overloaded with players—including the newest Clipper, DeMarcus Cousins, who has not played in an NBA game since he was bought out of his contract by the Rockets in February.
Cousins made his debut Tuesday against the Blazers. It was a brief one, but certainly effective. He logged seven minutes, scoring seven points with four rebounds and two assists. Coach Ty Lue expects solid outings like that from Cousins, though he also expects that Cousins will need more work in the coming days.
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“He definitely has toughness,” Lue said of Cousins before the game. “Definitely a very skilled 5-man. He can shoot the basketball, can pick-and-pop, can space the floor. I mean he’s a great passer, great with his back to the basket. The biggest thing for him is to see where his condition is right now. Like I said, he has not played in a while.”
Cousins is benefitting from the absence of injured center Serge Ibaka, who is dealing with a back issue. That’s made Ibaka a rarity in Clipperdom these days—after a brutal season of injuries, the team is as healthy as it has been all year. Ibaka is the lone remaining injured contributor.
Clippers Top Lineup From 2019-20 Reunites for 1st Time
In fact, for the first time this season, in Tuesday’s blowout win over the Blazers, the Clippers were able to put together one of their most productive lineups from a year ago, with Patrick Beverley and Paul George in the backcourt, Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris at forward and Ivica Zubac at center.
That fivesome played 147 minutes last season, second-most among Clippers lineups, but had not played a single minute this year because of injuries and rotation changes.
But with Zubac back in the starting five, Beverley making his return after missing 12 games with a knee injury and George healthy while dealing with a persistent toe injury, the Clippers were finally able to dust off that group again.
And there were more riches to be had. Point guard Rajon Rondo played in his second Clippers outing, off the bench. Point guard Reggie Jackson continued his excellent play off the bench, scoring 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Stars Leonard and George were about as healthy as they are going to get this year, and combined for 65 points on 21-for-36 shooting.
Young Players to be Left Out
The additions of Rondo and Cousins, as well as the return to health of Beverley and George, could have one negative impact—the Clippers had to cut the minutes of two guys who had played very well in recent weeks, Terance Mann and Luke Kennard.
Over the Clippers’ last nine games, Mann averaged 13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 52.0% shooting, on 27.5 minutes per game. Kennard averaged 10.8 points, making 52.6% of his 3-pointers over the last nine games.
It will be difficult for either guy to find consistent playing time.
“It’s been a tough season,” Lue said. “Just the amount of games and the timeframe playing the games, it’s tough. We had a lot of injuries, I think we’re the No 1 team in injuries to the Top 8 in your rotation, I think we’re No. 1. So just being locked in every night, just competing, having no excuses, a next-man-up mentality.
“I think our young guys have taken advantage of that, I think, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Zu, those guys have really grown on a night-to-night basis. Giving those guys the experience now, going into the playoffs, is huge for us. Trying to figure out the rotations now with everybody healthy, they have to be ready at all times.”