The Clippers had just walked off the Target Center court earlier this month where they had lost to Minnesota by 15 points, a defeat that didn’t sit well with Norman Powell.
It was the team’s fifth loss in a row, their longest streak of the season and the veteran guard had something to say. In his steady, quiet manner, Powell told his teammates that something needed to change.
“It wasn’t heated or anything like that,” Powell said. “I just said that we had to stay together, keep it rolling.”
Veteran forward Nicolas Batum said the locker room talk was what the team needed at that moment.
“We had gotten off to a bad start and needed some guy to step up and speak up,” Batum said. “No one took it personally. Sometimes things like that are good.”
It would take a sixth consecutive loss before Powell would know if his teammates listened. He might have a good idea now. Whether it was the honest conversation, the return of Paul George from a hamstring injury, or all the pieces finally falling into place, the Clippers have won five of their past eight games, and three in a row – including Tuesday night’s 133-115 victory over the Lakers – their longest winning streak of the season.
And Thursday, they have a chance to make it four in a row with a victory against the San Antonio Spurs.
“We still have a long way to go, but I love our process. I love the guys putting in the work, you know, with our practices that we’ve been having and just trying to stay with the program until we get to where we want to get to,” Coach Tyronn Lue said. “But right now I think we’re doing a good job of trending upwards.”
While words might have made an impact, it’s largely been the play of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George that has spoken volumes about how well their offense has moved recently.
Leonard has played injury-free for the past nine games, and together with George for three of them. Together, they have helped put the Clippers (26-24) on the right side of .500 and in fifth place in the Western Conference.
Leonard has scored at least 24 points in the past eight games, while George has topped 20 points in the previous two.
“I just think he’s got his pop back, his confidence in his knee back and getting to his spots, posting up, dunking now and so his explosiveness is back, which is really good,” Lue said of Leonard.
“We just got to continue to keep building. I still think he’s got some stuff to improve on and get better but he’s trending in the right direction, which is good for our team.”
George said Leonard’s renewed confidence “bleeds out to the whole team.”
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“The great thing about Kawhi, and just being around him and a teammate of his is, is just the confidence that he gives to everybody,” George said. “Like we know when it’s go-time, we know when it’s time to finish, and when we need to take care of business. There are moments throughout the game where we get sloppy and we need to slow things down or maybe if it’s we need to play faster.”
George said that while Leonard is seen as quiet and restrained, his leadership shows up during sideline huddles. George benefits most because of their longevity on the team.
“We have those conversations within our huddle,” George said. “And me and him, we can talk about anything. We come together, we talk about what we need to do, what we’re not doing good enough. Regardless of how our conversation is, it’s respect. What he says is golden and vice versa. And so, we just hear one another out and we try to make the team better.”
Guard Luke Kennard (calf) and forward Marcus Morris Sr. (rib contusion) are listed as questionable for Thursday’s game. Point guard John Wall (abdominal injury) remains out.