Clippers’ loss to Suns raises questions on NBA title hopes

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George approached midcourt earlier than tipoff Sunday night inside Area, one stoic, the opposite about to talk. The Clippers stars had been requested to handle the gang earlier than the workforce’s residence opener, and George saved his remarks temporary as Leonard nodded alongside.

“Why not us?” George mentioned. “Let’s go get it this year.”

All Sunday proved, because the Clippers struggled to maintain tempo with Phoenix throughout a 112-95 loss, of their second recreation in as many nights, was that earlier than the Clippers can dream of getting a title, they need to get just a few questions answered first.

Who will begin at level guard?

Although Reggie Jackson began his third consecutive recreation, John Wall changed him with the starters to open the third quarter, with Wall almost matching Jackson’s minutes.

How typically will the Clippers steadiness utilizing their beginning middle, Ivica Zubac, versus changing him with small lineups? Utilizing conventional large males all recreation, Phoenix throttled the Clippers within the rebounding totals through the first half to construct a 20-point lead, their starter Deandre Ayton as soon as choosing a rebound out of the air over the top of Jackson with ease.

Maybe most necessary: Was this a case of quick-turnaround fatigue, or the Clippers not heeding coach Tyronn Lue’s offseason directive that for all their expertise, they gained’t maximize it with out all-out effort?

“You can’t start games like that, especially when you want to start with a defensive mindset,” Lue mentioned. “No excuses with the back to back. Everybody plays back to backs. We’ve just got to be better.

“Phoenix is a better team than we are right now. But we’ll be better though.”

The Clippers have been blown by throughout an oft-sluggish first half, with every second-half comeback try rebuffed rapidly by Phoenix, which was led by Devin Booker’s 35 factors and 16 second-chance factors.

George criticized the protection equally — the on-ball protection was unhealthy, he mentioned, as was the off-ball protection.

“We didn’t help each other,” George mentioned.

Marcus Morris Sr.’s 22 factors have been a workforce excessive.

Leonard, taking part in his season’s second recreation, logged 21 minutes and scored 11 factors with six rebounds and two assists whereas bullying his option to the free-throw line for seven factors. George, one night time after scoring 40 in 39 minutes to beat Sacramento, performed 34 minutes and scored 16.

Jackson didn’t rating, lacking all 5 of his photographs in 24 minutes, and had two assists. He started the second half sitting in his warmups alongside the baseline as Wall took over the lead ballhandler position alongside George and Leonard. One night time earlier, Wall’s most notable contribution whereas sidelined for relaxation in Sacramento was his sideline counsel to Norman Powell amid the beginning guard’s three-for-18 capturing begin to his season, Lue mentioned earlier than tipoff.

“Norm was frustrated with himself, but [Wall] was talking to Norm and just, ‘Keep playing, keep going,’ ” Lue mentioned earlier than tipoff.

“ ‘If you’re taking the right shots, and you’re being aggressive, it’s OK. You’re not going to make every shot.’ ”

Lue additionally tried to bolster Wall’s phrases approaching Powell with a joke.

Clippers ahead Norman Powell, left, shoots in entrance of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker through the second half Sunday.

(Alex Gallardo / Related Press)

“You know, me and Michael Jordan didn’t make every shot either, you know?” Lue informed Powell. “And we’re two of the best to ever do it, so you got to keep going, you know?”

Powell made 4 of 9 photographs whereas heeding Lue’s recommendation to remain aggressive in ways in which typically labored — layups and leaking out in transition for a simple dunk from Leonard within the third quarter — and typically didn’t — an tried cross in site visitors to Zubac that was snuffed out.

Lue has not wanted to inform Wall to maintain pushing. The Clippers fell behind 11-0 and didn’t rating for greater than three minutes to open the sport, and when Wall checked in eight minutes into the opening quarter, Booker had outscored the Clippers by himself, 14-10, as Phoenix’s lead grew to 14.

Wall supplied a burst that had been lacking. His first cross was an ideal lob to George for a dunk. One among his first drives was a full-court burst wherein Wall tried, daringly if unsuccessfully, to deliver the ball all the way in which round his waist. Wall wasn’t good, making considered one of 5 free throws, however he scored 17 factors, making seven of 12 photographs.

Leonard logged seven third-quarter minutes, persevering with his substitution sample from his first recreation that featured him in three chunks of about seven minutes every — half 1 / 4 to finish the primary half, adopted by the primary half of the third quarter to order time for closing minutes.