LOS ANGELES — Hours before Saturday’s noon tipoff, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue worried about his team’s energy heading into the game against the Orlando Magic. The early hour was his main concern. The lowly Magic would be another problem.
Lue had every right to be worried. The Clippers came out without much focus, falling behind by eight points in the first two minutes, trailing at halftime and never really gained the kind of traction they needed to stop the Magic from taking a 113-108 victory.
“This team has been playing well. Jamahl (Mosley, coach) has done a great job. I think they are 22-23 since we played them in Orlando,” Lue said.
And now 1-1 in the season series.
“We’ve gotten better. I don’t think we’re at where we were two years ago, but we’ve gotten better,” Lue said.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak but the Clippers (37-33) didn’t lose ground in the standings, remaining in fifth place in the ever-changing Western Conference.
The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard, who sat out the first game of the back-to-back because of injury management on his right knee. After missing all last season because of his injury, Leonard had returned to form, averaging 23.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals in 42 games this season.
“He’s out tonight. That’s all I know,” Lue said.
With Leonard out, George was left to pick up the slack, scoring 30 points, while Ivica Zubac topped 3,000 career rebounds with 16 boards to go with 16 points.
Fifteen turnovers hurt the Clippers as well as sloppy defensive play that allowed the Magic, the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference, to find wide open lanes to the basket, resulting in numerous dunks. The Magic used a 39-26 fourth quarter to erase an eight-point deficit after three quarters.
Markelle Fultz led the Magic with 28 points. Wendell Carter Jr. had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Cole Anthony added 18 points and eight rebounds and Franz Wagner added 20 points.
Orlando (29-42) went on a 6-2 run with 7:18 left to pull within 90-88. Carter Jr.’s 3 pushed them ahead by one. Gary Harris drove in for a layup and a 93-90 lead.
The final three minutes saw both teams exchange baskets until Fultz drove in to push the Magic lead to 111-106. Eric Gordon scored to pull the Clippers within three, before Fultz added two free throws.
Lue said the team needed to have the “right mindset” going into Saturday’s matinee but that didn’t happen quickly.
The Clippers sleep-walked through the first half, finding themselves down 8-0 less than two minutes into the game.
Behind the play of Westbrook, though, the Clippers overcame their slow start to eventually tie the game at 29 late in the first quarter. Lue had said Westbrook needed to set the tone early and he followed through with 11 points in 14 minutes to get the Clippers back on track, exiting to a hearty applause from the Crypto.com Arena crowd.
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Foul trouble – George, Mason Plumlee and Marcus Morris Sr. each had two apiece in the first half – hampered the Clippers, forcing Lue to expand his rotation. Robert Covington, who had not seen action since March 3, came in and scored nine of his 11 points in the first half.
But the Magic, who have not won consecutive games since early February, didn’t back down. They kept pace with the Clippers, never letting them get far from view and led 57-55 at the half.