Fans in Seattle, Washington got the opportunity to see an NBA game in that city for the first time since 2018 when the Golden State Warriors played the Sacramento Kings in a preseason game as the Los Angeles Clippers took on the Portland Trailblazers on Monday night.
Former NBA Star and Sixth Man Jamal Crawford a native of Seattle who, of course, was in attendance spoke about what this game means for his city:
“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this.”
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who attends most, if not all of his team’s games, addressed the crowd before the game:
“I am so excited to have a game in my hometown of Seattle, Washington! I am so excited to see Climate Pledge arena and this fantastic building light up tonight!”
Ballmer has reasons to be excited as this might be the year his team delivers its first championship to this franchise. This Clippers team has huge expectations with the talent that has been assembled and the return of their top two players from injuries a season ago should put this team back in contention.
It has started well for this Clippers team as they defeated Portland 102-97 and moved to 2-0 in the preseason.
No, it wasn’t about the win or loss, but about working out the kinks and evaluating players who head coach Ty Lue may want to get more of a look at. Nothing was more important than the return of Kawhi Leonard.
1. Leonard looked good in his first action
It was Leonard’s first action since tearing his knee back in June of 2021 in the playoffs and he looked comfortable as he’s still looking to get his timing and rhythm back. The first shot he attempted he knocked down from 3-pt and he looked like he picked up right where he left off.
Doing Kawhi like things.
He walked a defender down late in the 2nd quarter and hit his patented turn around from about 10ft away. He played 16 minutes in his return and finished with 11 points. Defensively, he seemed to move well laterally and even got switched on to Blazers Superstar Damian Lillard and denied him the ball at the top of the key.
That’s classic Leonard on the defensive end.
“It was great,” Leonard said after the game about playing for the first time. “The body feels good, obviously, I am not going to be playing 35 minutes, 38 minutes to start, so it is going to be a little shaky early, probably. But like I said, it is a journey, it’s a process, and that is what I am about.”
2. Will Zubac play more of a role?
This team will get plenty of scoring from their perimeter players on a nightly basis, but what happens when shots from the inside aren’t falling?
Their starting big man Ivica Zubac who is entering his 8th season (5th with Clippers) might be overlooked by other teams when the scouting report comes out. When the other 29 teams prepare to take on LA he more often times than not, he won’t be on it. He might be more of a factor for this team moving forward than some people realize.
Last night against Portland in 17 minutes he only scored 8 points, but it was his activity around the basket. Offensively, he was looking for the ball inside when he had a smaller defender on him leading to easy baskets, but more importantly he seemed to be that defensive anchor this team will need. His communication on the backend is what head coach Ty Lue will be looking for when he is on the floor, a rim protector.
He averaged career-highs last season with 10.3/ppg and 8.5/reb and had 25 double-doubles and is only getting better.
Without Zubac, this team is small. So it is critical that Zubac stays out of foul trouble and becomes the defensive presence they need, consistently.
3. Defensive Philosophy
With more bodies for head coach Ty Lue to put on the floor in the game against Portland, it was the first real glimpse of what I believe will be the strength of this team, defense.
With the anticipated return of Leonard, and Paul George and John Wall taking the floor for their preseason game, they came out with something to prove. They got after it defensively, they attacked the ball on the perimeter, seemingly switching everything (especially when Zubac was off the floor) and all five players were on a string.
Assistant coach Daniel Craig is behind the defensive schemes and is in charge of what head coach Ty Lue is looking to execute on the defensive end. With all the different players and versatility on this roster and different bodies they can throw at some of the best scorers in the league is a luxury and not too many(if any) teams can resemble that.
This is ultimately what will carry this team on nights when the shots aren’t falling.