Lue’s crew is basically locked and loaded as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. With six games left in its season, LA is a full six games behind the No. 7-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves while still being 4.5 games up on the No. 9-seeded New Orleans Pelicans. Thus, the Clippers will play for the chance to be the No. 7 seed in the West.
But the Clippers have underlying confidence knowing their stars could be ready for the playoffs. Lue, who has garnered Coach of the Year buzz, cautioned against counting the Clippers out. He sent a bold message that should put other Western Conference contenders on high alert.
Tyronn Lue believes he can “make something happen” if the Clippers are healthy before the playoffs
Lue has ample experience coaching stars. He oversaw Cleveland Cavalier teams headlined by LeBron James, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in tow. Last season, he had his first tilt coaching Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
But this season, Lue has arguably done his finest job yet.
The Clippers have stayed afloat despite Leonard (ACL) not playing the whole season and George (elbow) missing the last three months. They’ve done so with defense, ranking 11th in defensive scoring average and eighth in defensive rating. Lue has even managed to carve out playing time for young guys such as Amir Coffey and Brandon Boston Jr.
With George back in the rotation on Tuesday and possible returns from Leonard and Norman Powell on the horizon, Lue thinks (h/t Andscape) the Clippers can pull off the impossible come playoff time.
“Special. If all three guys are back then, we can definitely be special. “And that’s for sure. With the guys getting experience they’re getting now with those guys being out. And if you give me two stars and then Norman Powell, who’s a really good player, I can make something happen.”Tyronn Lue, via Andscape
Most coaches would likely issue a similar message in an effort to inspire confidence in their team. However, there’s reason to believe Lue, given the quality of the players he’s been missing.
Indeed, LA showed tremendous resolve in PG13’s spectacular return to action.
The Clippers overcame a 25-point deficit in Paul George’s return
The Clippers looked down and out for most of Tuesday’s game against the Utah Jazz. It didn’t seem like the greatest “Welcome back” for George, playing his first game since Dec. 22.
Utah took a commanding 32-14 lead after the first quarter. The Jazz extended that lead to 25 with just over eight minutes to play in the third quarter. But Tyronn Lue’s team never gave up on the contest.
The Clippers cut Utah’s lead to 12 by the end of the third quarter, going on a 21-11 run in the final five minutes of the period. The Jazz again extended their advantage to 16 early in the fourth, only for LA to roar back and take the lead with a 23-6 run. Both teams battled down the stretch, but a Luke Kennard three-pointer with just over a minute left gave the Clippers a 117-115 lead, and they locked up the rest of the way en route to a 121-115 victory.
Lue and Co. celebrated a marquee victory, more so because of PG13’s masterclass.
The seven-time All-Star scored 34 points on 10-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc and 8-of-11 from the charity stripe. He also dished out six assists and snatched four steals, displaying the two-way brilliance typical of a healthy George.
That performance had to make Clippers fans feel even more excited. If LA’s injured stars can bring anything even close to pre-injury production, this team will be a nightmare in the playoffs, especially with Lue pulling the strings.
Will everyone be on the floor?
Will Lue have a full roster to work with?
Kawhi Leonard is the big wild card for Tyronn Lue and LA.
The Clippers have been very mum on Leonard’s status. Conflicting reports about his timeline have popped up since November. Will The Claw return to action, or will LA have to shut him down?
If Kawhi can play, he makes the Clippers that much better on both ends. His three-level scoring and the progressions he made as a playmaker last season could prove especially valuable. A trio of Leonard, George, and Powell pose a danger to every team out West, and Lue knows it.
Lue also understands how to pull strings. Marcus Morris, Nic Batum, and Ivica Zubac started Tuesday’s game against the Jazz, but they hardly played in the final period. Lue knew that Luke Kennard, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Robert Covington were providing more value and impacting winning. So he deployed those guys in a closing lineup with George and Reggie Jackson.
It’s abundantly clear that Lue has precise knowledge of his personnel. The only question is whether Powell and Leonard can return to help the Clippers for the playoffs.
Only one No. 8 seed has made the NBA Finals. Not a single No. 7 seed has ever done so. But if Lue has everyone at his disposal, the Clippers could make history.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.