August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Clippers are home and hunkered down before Pelicans game

For NBA teams and players looking for a place to build chemistry, road trips aren’t what they used to be.

Hobnobbing in hotel rooms is off limits. Dining outside of the hotel needed to take place at approved restaurants.

The only refuge the Clippers could find was in the arena. So after a recent game in San Francisco against the Golden State Warriors, Clippers players stayed in the locker room for an hour. They simply wanted to talk.

“We have to adjust because the situation and the time we’re living in is pretty crazy,” forward Nicolas Batum said. “But we still find ways to regroup and spend time with each other.”

Another round of adjustments is coming as the NBA tightens protocols amid a wave of COVID-19-related postponements. The Clippers (7-4) are staying the course with masks on and fingers crossed that they can avoid the virus’ wrath while continuing to integrate new pieces.

“We know it’s tough times,” coach Tyronn Lue said Tuesday on a video call as the Clippers prepared to face the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday at Staples Center. “We’re in a tough situation, but we just got to focus on every game, and then, you know, something happens where it gets postponed and we got to be able to adapt to that situation as well. But we want to follow the NBA protocol, keep doing what we’ve been doing, and hopefully it doesn’t happen to us.”

The Pelicans are already the victims of a postponement after their game Monday was called off due to COVID-19 cases and contact tracing among the Dallas Mavericks. The NBA had four postponed games in as many days this week and five total this season. The Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls have also missed games this week.

The recent twists are reminders of the NBA’s fragile season that is beginning to experience the same downfalls that tormented other sports leagues that powered forward with games in home markets during the pandemic. News of the national surge in COVID-19 cases seems impossible to ignore, but for Batum, it momentarily slips away on the court, where he finds comfort in the NBA’s testing protocol.

“I just trust the NBA, the process of the NBA, doing a great job,” Batum said. “And for me, if we play the game and if you’re in the middle of the court, that means it’s safe from the virus.”

Safety is paramount for Batum: The 32-year-old’s wife is eight months pregnant. Batum, his wife and his 4-year-old son moved to Los Angeles after Batum signed as a free agent with the Clippers, but they can’t spend much time exploring the new city locked under tight COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, they enjoy the weather in Batum’s backyard while the forward is reinvigorating his career on the court.

The 13-year NBA veteran is averaging 10.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game with career highs in three-point percentage (43.5), steals (1.3) and plus/minus differential (plus-6).

Batum averaged a career-low 3.6 points last season while playing 23 minutes a game, the least amount of time since his rookie campaign. Despite the down year, Lue still coveted Batum for his basketball IQ and passing ability during free agency.

“It is kind of like having a 6-9 point guard,” Lue said.

Batum credited Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly for leading the team. His teammates were eager to return the favor when they celebrated his three-pointer that sparked an 8-0 Clippers run late in the team’s 130-127 win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.

“When you play the right way, and you’re a good person, I think guys, they’re gonna cheer for you,” Lue said. “And he’s been great for our team.”

UP NEXT

VS NEW ORLEANS

When: 7 p.m., Wednesday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket, ESPN; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Pelicans (4-5) had four days off after a 118-110 loss to Charlotte on Friday, when their game against Dallas on Monday was postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. New Orleans averages 107.1 points, 25th in the 30-team league, but holds opponents to 106.6, fifth lowest. The Pelicans are led in scoring by forwards Brandon Ingram (24.0) and Zion Williamson (21.9).