January 19, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Montrezl Harrell: Playing Clippers conjured ‘weird emotions’

As the first game of a new season, reunions sprung up throughout pregame warmups Friday night inside Staples Center. Clippers staffers talked with their Lakers counterparts. New Laker Marc Gasol and new Clipper Serge Ibaka laughed and smiled near a free-throw line weeks after both left Toronto in free agency.

The night’s most anticipated greetings took longer to materialize.

As 10 Lakers formed two layup lines, Montrezl Harrell lingered in the arena’s tunnel a bit longer before emerging for the first time in purple and gold since leaving the Clippers in free agency. Once on the court, the 6-foot-7 Lakers center, who was voted last season’s top reserve, focused on fiddling with an armband rather than looking toward the other half of the court where former teammates stretched and shot.

At midcourt, Harrell locked eyes with a Clippers strength coach, then looked away. It took another minute for anyone in blue to approach. Clippers guard Reggie Jackson playfully kicked Harrell from behind and they chatted. Patrick Beverley then jogged over and the former teammates of five seasons embraced and talked for 20 seconds.

Harrell will play against the Clippers in two more preseason games in the next 10 days but said his first matchup against now-former teammates, which he scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, conjured “definitely weird emotions.”

“As far as seeing my old teammates and communicating with those guys, I did that after the game, for the most,” Harrell said. “Lou [Williams] and Pat, I kind of spoke to before the game just ‘cause I’ve been around those guys my whole career. But this is my job. This is where I’m at.

“… This wasn’t a come out, ‘Hey, how are you guys doing?’ and laughing it up. Nah, I had a job to do and I had a mind set of what I came here to do.”

The more things changed, the more they looked the same Friday. Whereas in years past Harrell often caught passes in the post and heard Beverley’s animated cheerleading from the sideline, Harrell caught a ball early in the fourth quarter Friday, with second-year Clippers big man Mfiondu Kabengele between him and the hoop, only to hear Beverley barking defensive instructions toward Kabengele to stop him.

“To go out there and compete and kind of see Trez and Pat kind of going at it, it was all good fun, so I enjoyed it,” Kabengele said.

Clippers center Serge Ibaka, right, blocks a shot by Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker during the first quarter Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“He’s the same Pat that he was when I would shoot and be on the other team with Lou and miss jump shots or miss a layup or something like that,” Harrell said. “That doesn’t faze me, man. … I’m not worried about what Pat’s doing on the sideline. Everything he’s doing on the sideline, there’s a reason he’s over there, he’s not in the game right then. It’s not anything different of what I knew Pat brought to the table.”

Harrell wasn’t the only center of attention Friday.

Ibaka is the Clippers’ starting center moving forward, coach Tyronn Lue said, leaving Ivica Zubac as the defensive anchor for the second unit. Zubac had started 111 of his 115 games as a Clipper since joining the team in 2019 via a trade with the Lakers.

“Zu started the last couple years and did a great job and just kind of seeing this team, what style of play we want to play at, right now, tonight we went with Serge,” Lue said.

The decision revealed a first glimpse of the floor-spacing offensive style of play Lue wants for his starters. Ibaka fired three three-pointers in the first three minutes, making two. Ibaka also blocked a shot and altered another at the rim.

The shift also was made with an eye on bolstering the defense of the second unit should Lue continue to play three-guard lineups including Reggie Jackson, Lou Williams and Luke Kennard. Zubac is one of the NBA’s most effective young rim protectors.

The change is a return to a role Ibaka has played for most of his career. He started 524 consecutive regular-season games between 2011 and 2018 with Oklahoma City, Orlando and Toronto, but as the 7-footer neared 30 his minutes stayed virtually the same, although his rotations changed.

Ibaka started 78 of 129 regular-season games his last two seasons with the Raptors and averaged a career-high 15.4 points thanks in part to 38% three-point shooting last season.

Etc.

With Chauncey Billups, last season’s primary analyst for Clippers television broadcasts, on the court Friday in his debut as an assistant coach, Jim Jackson made his debut as an analyst on the team’s Prime Ticket/Fox Sports San Diego telecasts.

Jackson, a longtime NBA guard who played for 12 teams, is expected to serve as an analyst next to play-by-play announcer Brian Sieman for a number of games this season, though other commentators could fill in. Since retiring in 2006, Jackson had worked as a college basketball and NBA studio analyst for Fox Sports.