Tim MacMahonESPN EditorNovember 11, 2023, 2:20 a.m. ET6 minute reading

DALLAS — LA Clippers coach Ty Lue described his team’s performance through the first nine minutes Friday night as “a work of art.”

As for the rest of the 144-126 loss to the Dallas Mavericks? To put it politely, consider this proof that the Clippers are a work in progress just a few games after James Harden joined them following the blockbuster trade that released him from the Philadelphia 76ers.

“What’s the worst you can be?” » Lue said when asked for his description of the rest of the game after the Clippers took a 12-point lead late in the first quarter. “I’m telling you, it’s going to be good. Everything’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. They better take advantage of it now.”

The Clippers fell to 3-5 this season, including 0-3, with Harden joining future Hall of Famers Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the lineup. LA suffered losses to the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Mavericks in those games by a total of 39 points.

“I’m still confident,” said Leonard, who led the Clippers with 26 points. “I always feel like we learn from each other, all the players and the coaching staff, and you see a little bit of good things in the game tonight, even in the last game – having good advances. We’re just not holding on.”

Dallas responded to the initial dozen-point deficit with a 35-4 run over a nearly seven-minute span bridging the first and second quarters. The Mavericks led by as many as 32 points, thanks to a dominant performance from Luka Doncic, who finished with 44 points on 17-of-21 shooting with six rebounds and six assists.

The Clippers stars did not play in the fourth quarter, which began with the Mavericks leading by 26 points. Lue said he considered playing his starters despite the lopsided score because of the need to develop on-court chemistry, but decided against it in part because of an early tip after -noon Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies in their next game.

“I think it was just, let’s come out of the game healthy and get ready for a game at 12:30 (PT) on Sunday,” Lue said.

The Clippers didn’t play their stars in the fourth quarter, which started with the Mavericks leading by 26 points.Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

Harden, who did not play in the preseason while in the process of forcing a trade with Philadelphia, scored all 14 of his points Friday night in the first quarter. He was 3 of 3 from the field in the first quarter and 0 of 3 the rest of the night. Harden, a three-time NBA scoring champion, has averaged just eight field goal attempts in his three games with the Clippers.

“I’m just getting used to it, you know what I mean? » Harden said. “There are so many talented players on this team that I had to find a way to stay aggressive, generate shots or create shots for myself as well. So the first quarter went really well on both sides of the ball, and then it went downhill from there. So I tried to find a balance between not trying to step on anyone’s toes, but just trying to stay aggressive and d ‘Being myself. So it’s a process, but it’s definitely a little frustrating. We like to win games.”

George especially struggled against the Mavericks, finishing with eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. He lamented entering the game focusing on being a “glue guy” instead of being aggressive offensively .

“I was thinking about going in and saving some energy for the other end, but again it didn’t work,” George said. “I let the team down with this approach, but again, it won’t happen again. The mindset will be attack mode at all times.”

The Clippers are trying to figure out spacing and how to accentuate everyone’s talent on the fly. Harden acknowledged that part of that process ultimately involves determining how best to distribute touches among players accustomed to being offensive focal points.

“We don’t know yet what it looks like just because it’s too early, and then we all bring different dynamics to the game,” said Harden, who is averaging 4.7 assists per game with the Clippers after having led the NBA with 10.7 for the game. 76ers last season. “I think for me, as far as the pecking order goes, I think I’m a facilitator and a scorer, so if someone is successful, then I have no problem generating really good shots and making sure that we’re getting quality shots, possession by possession.’ Because I know at the end of the day, if I do that, then we’re getting good shots, then we have a really good chance of winning. But we all understand it as the matches go on. “

Leonard said he’s not surprised by the struggles as the Clippers adjust to adding another ball-dominant player, but he “sees more downsides early on” than expected.

“We have four guys on the floor that are used to having the ball, finding a rhythm just by feeling it and touching it the whole game,” Leonard said. “You could see it, you kind of saw it with Luka and Kyrie (Irving) last year. They were trying to figure it out. But like I said, as you play more you’ll start to understand, OK , this guy needs this spot here or he did, let me get into another part of the game where I can make us win.

Lue continued to tinker with the rotation in search of effective combinations. He changed the lineup to start the second half, replacing center Ivica Zubac with guard/forward Terance Mann, but said he thought Harden should be regularly paired with a big man as his pick-and-play partner. -roll. Lue was more dismayed by Los Angeles’ defensive miscues than offensive struggles, as the Mavericks shot 52 percent from the floor, including 19 of 42 from 3-point range.

“I feel like you have to learn to adapt,” George said. “It’s not from a like point of view, it’s just him trying that too. We’re all trying to try that, so I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m here to try to just learn on the fly, figure it out on the fly like we all are. So I’m kind of following what T-Lue sees out there, and again, at some point, it’s okay operate and no one is going to talk about the rotations and the guys on the field and the staff.

Dallas endured similar struggles after acquiring Irving in a blockbuster trade with the Nets before last season’s trade deadline, going 5-11 in games with Doncic and Irving in the lineup together and passing from fourth place in the Western Conference standings to 11th place and the draft. lottery.

Irving, who scored 27 points to help the Mavericks improve to 7-2 this season, can understand the frustration and confusion the Clippers are experiencing during their adjustment period.

“Right now they are going through ups and downs in the public forum where they are criticized for not winning games, even though they are as good as anyone in the league, statistically and individually,” he said. Irving said. “Collectively, I know they’ll be better, but right now they’re trying to find their way. I wish them luck, but I’m glad they didn’t figure it out tonight against us. We didn’t want to that.”

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