It’s one thing for Clippers coach Tyronn Lue to have his team’s mantra be “next man up.”
But it was another thing for Lue to tell his group that Monday night’s game against the Miami Heat was all about the next man up … then the next man up … then the next man up again … and then the next man up one more time.
Lue had to invoke that message to his team when it was missing four starters in a 125-118 win over the Heat at Staples Center.
The day began with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sidelined because of injuries, and it was decided that guard Patrick Beverley would not play in order to rest. Then during his pregame videoconference with reporters, Lue said starting forward Nicolas Batum was out because of a concussion, although it was not disclosed how the veteran forward sustained it.
So Lue told his Clippers squad that it was the next four men up and that those playing were expected to do their jobs as best they could in trying to extend the team’s three-game winning streak with the Clippers playing on the second night of a back-to-back set.
He could only chuckle when explaining how the Clippers would deal with this unusual circumstance.
“I just think we’ve got to continue to build good habits,” Lue said before the game. “Playing the right way, sharing the basketball. Like last night, we had 31 assists without Kawhi and PG on the floor, so we’re just trying to do the right things and play the right way, build a great foundation offensively and defensively, and just try to continue to keep playing that model of basketball. That’s what these guys have been doing.”
Because the Clippers have quality depth, it was easy for Lue to start Marcus Morris for the first time this season and have him join fellow reserves Lou Williams, Reggie Jackson, and Terance Mann along with starting center Serge Ibaka.
Lue said his injured starters “are doing better,” but they just weren’t ready to play yet.
Leonard missed his second consecutive game because of a bruised lower left leg and George his sixth consecutive because of swelling in a bone in a toe on his right foot.
The Clippers are being cautious with Beverley. A sore right knee caused him to miss eight consecutive games before he played in the last three. The Clippers said Beverley was a “healthy” scratch.
“We’re just being cautious and holding him out of back-to-backs,” Lue said about Beverley. “PG’s getting better. Kawhi, I guess he’s working his way towards getting better. So the guys are doing better and we just need to get all the guys on the court at the same time. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
The Clippers next play Wednesday night at home against the Utah Jazz, the team with the best record in the NBA.
Lue just said George is “progressing.”
“But I just kind of stay out of it,” Lue said. “When they tell me he’s ready to play, that’s when I get locked in. I don’t like to ask players, ‘How are you feeling? When are you coming back?’ Because that adds a lot of pressure. I’ve been a player in that situation before, and so I just kind of let them work their way back into it. When the trainer says they’re ready to go, then we’re ready to go.”
After Beverley scored his 4,000th career point Sunday night against Cleveland, the talkative point guard wanted Lue to know how he scored on a play that usually is run for stars Leonard and George.
“He was excited about it, and he sent me a text today [about his] 4,000th point, and it said, ‘Run slice home [play] for me,’ which is an iso we run for PG and Kawhi, so he’s feeling pretty good about it,” Lue said. “I’m just excited for him and he’s happy for it, so it’s good.”