Clippers beat Thunder to prepare for game with Timberwolves

This time they were purposely understaffed.

It was the Clippers’ regular season finale, against an opponent in Oklahoma City with more incentive to improve their draw odds than their win total. It was their second game in as many nights. It came, more importantly, just 48 hours before a playoff berth was on the line with Tuesday’s tournament game at Minnesota.

That’s why, then, there were almost as many Clippers in off-court gear as there were in uniform on the sidelines, with Norman Powell and starters Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. resting during the rout 138-88 of the Thunder in front. of Tuesday’s opportunity to grab the West’s seventh seed and secure a first-round series.

With Amir Coffey scoring a career-high 35 points, the blowout was so pronounced that it left the Clippers with a positive two-point point differential for the season after entering the night after being outscored by 48. That meant this season featured both the biggest margin of victory (50, Sunday) and biggest comeback (35, Jan. 25) in franchise history.

Irregular rotations, confusing lineups and sidelined starters were nothing if not a reminder of tougher nights when their roster was depleted for reasons beyond their control – 385 total games missed this season due to injuries, COVID-related absences or other reasons. That included an entire season without star Kawhi Leonard and 50 games without fellow All-Star George.

The fact that the Clippers (42-40) still posted the eighth-best record in the West while posting an 11th consecutive winning streak, the longest active streak in the NBA, was one of the reasons they briefly took a break in the final days of the season, before focusing on a playoff push. , and considered the unlikelihood of how they had navigated a turbulent season in which inconsistency reigned and arrived here, on the verge of a fourth straight playoff berth.

Clippers defensemen Isaiah Hartenstein, left, Brandon Boston Jr., center, and Amir Coffey defend against Thunder forward Jaylen Hoard in the second quarter Sunday.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

“History is very telling,” George said on Saturday. “A is T-Lue is one hell of a coach. B, we have quite a list. And C, things would be very different if we were healthy. I think this group, we’ve been resilient, we’ve been tough, we’ve fought.

“We are connected. If you look at it, we’re probably one of the closest teams in the NBA. I think it shows. Anytime you take me, Kawhi, out of a roster and still have a team competing, that just indicates what kind of locker room it is.

This locker room included 23 players who appeared in at least one match and 26 different starting line-ups. Their most-used roster logged just 221 minutes – in contrast, the league’s most reliable roster, Denver, played nearly 3½ times as much – and included Coffey, who was re-signed to a contract two-way on the last day before training. camp and was an afterthought until George’s elbow injury in December propelled him into a bigger role.

The only worrying moment came when Luke Kennard, who scored 20 points, re-injured the same right hamstring that cost him a game last week. Coach Tyronn Lue said he didn’t know the severity of the injury. The final minutes were exposure for players such as Brandon Boston Jr. and Xavier Moon, who were in heavy demand when the roster was at its thinnest.

Lue prides himself on his extensive preparation and the winter roster changes have forced him to improve as a coach.

In January, he and Kennard spent long quarantines away from the team, and in February Powell only played three games after being acquired before suffering a foot injury, which cost him seven weeks. Mars featured what Lue called the toughest stretch of the season, a five-game losing streak the Clippers could have snapped had they extended major contributor minutes, only to step back to keep Morris and Jackson fresh. in case George and Powell can return.

Late Saturday, Lue and her team discussed the long and winding road this season has been on. Before the whistleblower Sunday afternoon, he thanked even the four traded players for helping them through the most shorthanded days in December and January.

“With everything we’ve been through this season, [play-in] is no different; we just have to approach the game like we approached every game when we didn’t have a lot of bodies with the injuries, with COVID, and this group did a fantastic job with that,” Lue said. “Just enjoy the moment. It will be a hostile environment.

No longer outnumbered, they aren’t selling their playoff chances either.

“We are ready to go,” Lue said. “Go ahead and see what happens.”

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