Clippers finally able to practice at full strength



Nicolas Batum, as passionate a fan of France’s national soccer team as there is, said he tried recovering from Les Bleus’ World Cup final defeat by spending Sunday walking around Disneyland with his family.

When he arrived for practice Tuesday morning after a rare two-day break amid the Clippers’ jam-packed schedule, the 34-year-old wing saw something that could only have brightened his mood.

Everyone on the Clippers’ walking wounded roster was set to practice.

That includes point guard Reggie Jackson, who had been bothered by an Achilles tendon; wing Paul George and his once-sore left knee; backup guard Norman Powell, whose groin injury had sidelined him since Nov. 29; and center Ivica Zubac, who suffered a bone bruise in a knee last week.

It was believed to be the first time in eight weeks, since the regular season began, that the Clippers practiced at full strength, because both practices opportunities and a healthy roster have been extremely rare. The obvious and, to this point, unanswerable follow-up question: How long can it stay this way?

“It definitely feels good to have everybody back, start to develop rhythm together and flow,” said backup guard Luke Kennard, who said he is no longer playing a restricted number of minutes after returning from a strained calf. “Hopefully we can put together here a long string of games with everybody healthy.”

How the injured Clippers responded to the full-contact practice, which featured live five-on-five play, would determine who will play Wednesday against Charlotte, but coach Tyronn Lue added that Powell will go on the upcoming five-game trip with the expectation of playing at some point.

This would count as the fourth roster reboot due to injury this season, following Kawhi Leonard’s return from a 15-month layoff to start the season; his return from knee tightness Nov. 17, only to sprain an ankle three games later; and then the return of Leonard and George on Dec. 5 that Lue called, hopefully at the time, the “start of something new.”

Speaking before practice Tuesday, Lue called the feeling of a full practice more excitement than starting over.

“It’s exciting to finally actually have our whole team almost complete, be ready to play and just try to get rotations down and see what guys plays good with who,” Lue said. “And so we’re starting all over again, but it’s a good feeling to have your whole team back.”

With the team now on the verge of being whole again, Lue finally has the ability to make headway on one of its primary concerns — the offensive struggles of their smaller lineups, particularly its slow pace off of opponents’ misses.

“More pace in the half court, like cuts, moving off the basketball versus switches and how we want to play it, versus switches and attacking in that regard,” Lue added. “And so we really haven’t had a lot of time to work on it, and so it’s something we‘ve got to do going forward.”

Despite the start-stop nature of their season so far, the Clippers (18-14) are only 2½ games out of first place in the Western Conference. That has given several members of the team optimism that they have not lost too much ground. Of course, in standings knotted this tightly, they are also 2½ games out of 11th — a warning of how quickly they can find themselves in trouble as they prepare for a Hornets team they needed a game-winning shot from Leonard to beat on Dec. 5, followed by a difficult trip that begins Friday in Philadelphia.

“We know we’re going to need everybody on this trip, on the road that long of a time,” Batum said. “It can be a good start for the team connection. We’re still connected anyway, but if we got everybody back, a lot of people back this trip, we have a good stretch, it can be good for the future.”



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