NBA: With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back, Clippers set to face dreadful Magic
With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back in the lineup, the Los Angeles Clippers continue a four-game Eastern Conference road trip on Wednesday when they travel to meet the hapless Orlando Magic.
Orlando dropped its ninth consecutive game and the 11th in the last 12 contests Monday in a 109-102 decision against Milwaukee.
Rookie sensation Paolo Banchero recorded his second career double-double in the loss, with 20 points and 12 rebounds, as well as matching a career-high seven assists as he continued to regain his stride since returning from injury.
Banchero missed almost three weeks in November with an ankle injury. He returned to the lineup Nov. 25 and has scored at least 18 points in six of seven appearances since.
Banchero was one of four Magic scorers to notch at least 19 points against Milwaukee: Moritz Wagner posted 19, Markelle Fultz went for 20 in just his fourth game back from injury, and Franz Wagner scored a team-high 25 points.
“It’s a lot of fun playing with him,” Franz Wagner said of Fultz. “Our pace is a lot higher when he’s out there on the court. He’s really good at getting us into early actions. … He tries to get everybody involved. Offensively, I think we’re a lot sharper (with Fultz in the lineup).”
An offensive jumpstart is needed for the struggling Magic, who enter Wednesday’s contest with the worst record in the NBA. Their 107.6 points per game ranked next-to-last in the league entering NBA play Tuesday, and they were dead last in assists, with just over 21 per game.
Orlando has strived to establish chemistry with a constantly changing rotation as players return from absences. In addition to Banchero and Fultz, Cole Anthony returned from a 16-game absence on Nov. 30.
Jonathan Isaac could return soon, as well. He was sent to the club’s G League affiliate for rehab practices on Tuesday, per the Orlando Sentinel.
As the Magic roster continues to take shape, the Clippers kicked off their road trip re-establishing a lineup that was ravaged by its own injuries in recent weeks.
Leonard played Monday for the first time in seven games, scoring 16 points — including the game-winning basket — and grabbing six rebounds in less than 28 minutes of work during a 119-117 win at Charlotte.
George played identical minutes to Leonard in his own return from a seven-game absence, recording 19 points and seven assists in Monday’s win.
While Norman Powell remains sidelined, Los Angeles is nearing its most complete rotation of the season. Luke Kennard also returned after missing nine games, connecting on two 3-pointers and scoring nine points off the bench against the Hornets.
“We just wanna be playing well at the right time,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “As long as we’re learning on the fly, as long as we’re learning each game, how to get better, how to prepare, how to win, how to finish, how to dominate, that’s what matters.”