The Los Angeles Clippers’ James Harden era hasn’t gotten off to a good start, but that’s not all that surprising.
The Clippers lost 100-93 to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, their second straight loss since acquiring Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. Their overall record is now 3-4.
As with Harden’s debut against the New York Knicks on Monday, the Clippers largely failed on offense, with Harden’s integration still a work in progress. That probably could have been expected, considering Harden didn’t play a single preseason or regular season game for the Sixers and sat out part of training camp.
Against his old team, the Nets, Harden scored 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and five turnovers. Those turnovers accounted for a third of the Clippers’ 15 total turnovers on the night, and some of them just seemed like a person out of sync with the team around them.
The Clippers had a 15-point lead when Harden was on the floor, which was the team’s worst mark.
At least Nets seemed to enjoy the show. They even greeted Harden, who was forced to retire from the team in 2022, with a chant of “Daryl Morey,” invoking the name of the Sixers’ basketball president who Harden famously called a “liar.” allegedly never plans to speak to him again.
While there’s no excuse for not being up to speed yet, Harden was by no means the Clippers’ only problem on Wednesday. Paul George led the team with 24 points, but shot 7 of 20 and had some bad turnovers of his own. Russell Westbrook was 6 of 18 from the field and scored 13 points. Ivica Zubac, the Clippers’ only true big man without Mason Plumlee, had trouble protecting the paint.
The good news for the Clippers is that they were in a similar situation last season when they acquired Westbrook after the trade deadline and immediately put him in the starting lineup despite a rocky end to his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The early returns were similar to what we are seeing now. The Clippers lost their first five games with Westbrook on the court and then finished the regular season 11-5, despite George missing nine of those games. Westbrook was one of their best players in the first round against the Phoenix Suns, but injuries to George and Kawhi Leonard outweighed that impact.
That may not mean much for Harden and the Clippers, as Harden is a very different point guard than Westbrook. But it’s a good reminder that judging a ball-dominant defender in his first games with a new team may not be very fair, even if some concerns, such as whether Westbrook and Harden could coexist in a lineup with other options, existed beforehand have Harden’s debut.
The Clippers get their next chance to get their first win with Harden on Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, their first game in the NBA’s first tournament of the season.