April 14, 2024

James Harden was the first of the Clippers’ star trio to descend the steps and onto the Paycom Center court for the start of practice Wednesday afternoon. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, fresh off having played in the NBA’s All-Star game Sunday in Indianapolis, were next to take the court.

All three of them looked relaxed and in good spirits, the week off before the start of the next phase of the season — which begins with Thursday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — leaving Harden, Leonard and George in a good space.

They have made this union work despite naysayers arguing the addition of Harden via trade in October was doomed for failure.

But they all were committed to the process, as was coach Tyronn Lue, and stood firm in their belief that in due time they would figure it out.

The Clippers lost five straight games after Harden joined the team. Since then, the Clippers have gone 33-11, including 6-1 during the road swing that coincided with the Grammys hosted at Crypto.com Arena.

“I think [it’s] an understanding of who we are, you know what I mean?” Harden said. “Like, I run the show in the sense of knowing what to call, knowing time and possession, what needs to be ran, who hasn’t had a shot. TLue does a great job of helping me with that. When I need to be in pick and roll and be aggressive in making plays and things like that. So, it’s like a balance, you know. I’m a very, very good pick-and-roll player and then obviously I can [run isolation plays] as well. But we have two really, really good iso players as well. So, just knowing possession, knowing who we’re playing, knowing what’s working, what might not work that game. So, different games vary and changes and we’re all fine with that. As far as, ‘All right, tonight I might be the leading scorer or Kawhi or P. So, it don’t matter.’ I think we got a balance of what makes sense game by game and it’s a beautiful thing to see.”

The availability of Leonard and George has been key to the Clippers’ success, along with their ability to dominate games.

Leonard is 21st in the NBA in scoring (24.1 points per game), tied for third in three-point shooting (45.3%) and fourth in steals (1.7), to go with his all-around game of 6.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and his smothering defense.

George is second on the team in scoring (22.5) and fifth in the league in steals (1.6), to go along with his 5.3 rebounds and and 3.6 assists.

Harden is fifth in the NBA in assists (8.4) and is averaging 17.5 points on 45% shooting, 42.1% from three-point range.

“It’s just constant communication. I think those guys talking a lot, just having a lot of dialogue amongst each other, just where they want the ball, how they want to run plays, how they see different things and they all had to sacrifice,” Lue said. “And, so, when you have three dynamic players like that — and then four with Russ [Westbrook] — it’s very important that they talk and communicate and understand that sacrifice is going to be important if you want to go to the next level. And I think they’ve done a good job of doing that.”

Leonard has missed just five games because of injuries and George just three.

“It feels good having these guys on the court,” Lue said. “Like when PG and Kawhi are on the court, we’re a different team and we know that. So, having those guys healthy has been big for our success.”

Their health and play have put the Clippers in good position in the Western Conference. At 36-17, the Clippers are third in the West, two games behind the leader in Minnesota and just a half-game behind the second-place Thunder.

“We want to win, for sure. And we understand that they are playing good,” Lue said of the Thunder. “So, for us it’s just our mentality every single night and just constantly getting better. That’s got to be our mentality. Win or lose, we got to continue to keep getting better, understand our philosophy on both sides of the ball and continue to grow as a team and we got to make sure we’re doing that.”

Etc.

P.J. Tucker and Bones Hyland, both of whom were sent home a game early before the All-Star break, were back at practice Wednesday. Tucker was fined $75,000 by the NBA for publicly demanding a trade.

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