May 29, 2024

While four-fifths of the Clippers’ starting lineup has appeared set for weeks, their audition process for the final spot continued in their third preseason game Tuesday, a 116-103 win in which the Clippers played their stars while Denver did not.

Paul George scored 23 points in just 18 minutes, making nine of 13 shots, and added five rebounds for the Clippers, who are 2-1 in preseason play.

Starting center Ivica Zubac added 13 points with eight rebounds, Russell Westbrook had seven points, seven assists and five rounds and Kawhi Leonard added seven points with a pair of rebounds and assists apiece. Clippers starters made 22 of 33 shots with 10 assists against five turnovers, winning the possession battle that coach Tyronn Lue has called a priority.

These teams could look quite different during their Thursday rematch, also at Arena. Denver didn’t play the stars of last season’s championship run by resting Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Clippers have rotated who starts at forward during their first three exhibitions, with Nicolas Batum taking the role Tuesday, following turns by Terance Mann and Robert Covington. Batum finished with six points, four rebounds and made two of three three-pointers.

Batum’s night was done after 16 first-half minutes, while Mann played into the second half, finishing with 21 minutes, eight points and seven rebounds. Covington played 17 minutes, with four points on three shots. Marcus Morris Sr., the longtime starter who lost his role late last season, missed his third straight game, though he has recovered from the groin injury that sidelined him for the first two exhibitions. Morris was rested to give the Clippers longer looks at other players, as was backup center Mason Plumlee.

Whoever plays the role when the season starts must be able to guard multiple positions, and Mann, Covington and Batum have proven that, Lue said. Though he prefers to play a rotation of nine to 10 players, that number could expand based on matchups, meaning the forward rotation could continue into the season.

“It’s going to be one of those positions where we can just kind of sub a guy in and out depending on who we play,” Lue said Tuesday. “I think it could be one of those situations, not quite sure yet, but all three guys bring something different, I think, to the table when we talk about defensively.

“T. Mann can start, he can guard the point guard tonight, he can guard the 4 tomorrow. Nico can guard the point guard in the force of tonight and RoCo is more of an off-the-ball deflection, steals, weak-side defender type guy. So they do some different things. And so it could be by committee.”

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