May 28, 2024

It was only the first game, against an opponent seemingly bound for a high pick in next June’s draft, but for the Clippers, Wednesday produced something that had not occurred in a long time.

The Clippers seized control from the start and cruised to a 123-111 victory over the Portland Trailblazers in a game more lopsided than the final margin.

They led by as many as 30 and never trailed, paced by Paul George’s 27 points, Kawhi Leonard’s 23 and Ivica Zubac‘s 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Russell Westbrook scored 11 points with 13 assists, the first Clipper with that many opening-night assists since Andre Miller in 2002.

This is almost entirely the same roster that last season struggled to make life easy on itself. The Clippers had to survive a fight over the final weeks to avoid the play-in tournament, including struggling to put away the same, starless Trail Blazers in the penultimate game. The Clippers won just one game last season by 30 points, their considerable talent rarely healthy at the same time to allow George and Leonard to take over against overmatched opponents.

Yet Wednesday they turned preseason talking points into regular-season realities. By pushing the ball in transition, they had 15 dunks — with Westbrook finishing an alley-oop from George in the first quarter by walking to the corner, looking into Section 113 of Arena and letting out a yell. The Clippers finished with 15 fast-break points.

After saying they were committed to finishing with a top-five defense, the starters swamped No. 2 overall pick Scoot Henderson until he was scoreless at halftime, and Henderson finished with 11 points on 11 shots, his four turnovers matching his four assists.

Coach Tyronn Lue removed Leonard and George and played all reserves with three minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Clippers leading by 26. When the lead was trimmed to 20 with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Lue inserted his starting lineup to finish off the Trail Blazers.

With the sprained left ankle of the projected fifth starter, Terance Mann, protected by a walking boot, Robert Covington earned his third start in 74 games with the Clippers, and his first since the 2021-22 season. Covington wasn’t impactful offensively, with five points on five shots, but he isn’t being asked to be. Instead, he swiped at dribbles and passes, finishing with three steals that the Clippers turned into five points.

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