Clippers are still looking for the right roster combination when they fall to Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mike Conley, right, drives against Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, February 28, 2023 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Mike Conley (right) drives against Clippers forward Paul George (13) in the first half Tuesday at Arena. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

With their constant injuries, nights off, and consistently inconsistent lineups, the Clippers have waited and watched for the past five months.

But with five weeks to go before the postseason begins, a deadline is approaching for coach Tyronn Lue to decide which players he will rely on during the playoff push, and consequently for the Clippers to decide who they will be.

This time next week, the Clippers are expected to look different from Tuesday’s 108-101 loss to Minnesota at the Arena. A self-imposed milestone is looming, with Lue admitting ahead of the tip that he plans to shuffle and match lineups for two to three more games before making tough decisions about which players remain in his regular rotation.

“It’s not fair to our new guys that we don’t try all the different combinations just to make sure we’re doing the right thing going into the playoffs,” Lue said. “Because I think all these guys could help us.”

Lue could play out all possible combinations through to the regular-season finals if he wanted to. And committing to a March rotation won’t bar him from changes during the April playoffs; Lue coaches by feel, and Minnesota coach Chris Finch cited the Clippers’ ability to theoretically field an out-of-rotation veteran as a postseason adjustment as a unique advantage.

But just as Lue feels he owes it to his players to test what works and what doesn’t, it is also his responsibility – the Clippers are fully recovered on Tuesday after center Ivica Zubac suffered a knee strain from an absence of two Gaming has returned – to create continuity. Your championship aspirations depend on Lue finding the right combinations.

Despite Denver’s deserved status as the conference’s most consistent threat, the Clippers consider the West “open,” substitute Eric Gordon said. “We definitely feel like we have the best team, but… the chemistry has to be there.

“We have good guys on this team and I think if the chemistry is right it’s almost like the sky’s the limit with this team.”

Her depth is a power – but there is also a fine line that separates her from being a trap. As one of the NBA’s most experienced rosters, it should allow its new players, from backup center Mason Plumlee to starting guards Russell Westbrook and Gordon, to adapt quickly to the offensive and defensive schemes and new teammates. But with so many veterans, some will inevitably get smaller roles than expected.

Clippers guard Russell Westbrook brings the ball up against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Clippers guard Russell Westbrook brings the ball up against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second half Tuesday at Arena. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

If Westbrook, who has been praised for his controlled play inside the guard rails the team has demanded of him remains a starter, then the future deployment of reserve guards Gordon, Norman Powell and Terance Mann is seen as one of the looming decisions. How much Lue relies on Marcus Morris Sr late on, a mainstay of his starting line-up who has struggled in recent games, against Nicolas Batum could be another.

“I’ll bet you it’s difficult for a coach because … it’s just not young guys, you have veterans who have proven themselves throughout their careers,” Gordon said. “I think now it seems like we just have to do things that we can be a better team at, maybe it fits defensively, maybe it’s certain points, not just how good he is as a player – how can they really fit? can make us win games?”

The squad’s wealth of experience and know-how have made some of their most stubborn problems all the more glaring.

The energy ebbs and flows. The starters, who fell 18 behind in the first quarter against Denver, stormed to a 12-point lead against the Timberwolves Tuesday and sprinted to chase outlet passes thrown by Westbrook, who raised his arms for a touchdown signal, after someone found Paul George for a fast break dunk.

But then even that double-digit lead evaporated as Minnesota built a lead that stretched to 13 in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers’ ball motion is also either sharp or inflicts self-inflicted wounds. Powell’s pass to a slicing Leonard for a dunk was his most impressive assist this season – but in the same first half, the Clippers finished with 12 turnovers, giving them 49 totals in the previous 10 quarters.

“It’s something I have to navigate through,” Lue said of his upcoming decision, “and it’s better to have more people than too few.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Clippers are still looking for the right roster combination when they fall to Timberwolves

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