Without Kawhi Leonard, Clippers end trip on disappointing note

Los Angeles Clippers guard Norman Powell

Clippers guard Norman Powell, who started in place of Kawhi Leonard, shoots over De’Aaron Fox in the first half.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

Even with leading man Kawhi Leonard out with a sore right knee, the Clippers still clung to their goal.

And that was to finish their four-game trip in the right fashion with a win in Sacramento while Leonard was in Los Angeles getting treatment on his knee.

But it was not to be for the Clippers, the pop just not there, the shots failing to go in the basket when it mattered the most, the 26-point deficit they found themselves under in the fourth quarter too much to overcome during a 109-95 loss to the Kings on Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center.

More so, Kings center Domantas Sabonis was a force the Clippers couldn’t stop, his all-around play leaving him one assist from a triple-double with 22 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists.

The Clippers were outrebounded 56-38. They gave up 20 offensive rebounds – seven by Sabonis – leading to 20 second-chance points for the Kings. They turned the ball over 16 times, leading to 15 points for the Kings. They shot 40.8% from the field.

“I thought the intent was right,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said. “I thought we did some good things defensively, and like I said, we didn’t come up with the rebound all the time. But I thought we did some good things. And we just didn’t make shots either, like yeah, we couldn’t make any shots when we needed to.”

The Clippers had won the first three games on the four-game trip that covered eight days, winning at Philadelphia, Orlando and Charlotte.

They have seven regular-season games left — two sets of back-to-backs — over 12 days.

The hope is that the Clippers are whole and playing their best basketball heading into the playoffs.

“I mean, we won on the road,” said Paul George, who had 18 points on five-for-12 shooting. “You’ll take that. But I’ve been a huge advocate of thinking that we need to continue to get better. But any time you win ball games it’s a positive.

So, Clippers coach Ty Lue said before the Kings game, sending Leonard back to L.A. Monday to get treatment on his knee was the best thing to do.

“He went back to L.A. [because there are] better resources as far as treatment and everything like that,” Lue said. “So, he went back yesterday when we landed [here in Sacramento].”

Leonard, who is averaging 23.7 points per game on 52.5% shooting and 41.7% on threes, missed just his eighth game of the season.

Lue said they “hope” Leonard can return to play Thursday when the Clippers meet the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena.

“We’re not sure right now,” Lue said. “But that’s what we are leaning to, that’s what we’re hopeful, that he can be back by Thursday, but not sure yet.”

Norman Powell, one of the NBA’s top sixth men who averages 14.0 points per game, started in place of Leonard and scored 17 points.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points off the bench for the Clippers, going 7-for-14 from the field.

But James Harden had a tough shooting night, the double teams the Kings threw at the Clippers point guard not allowing him to get clean looks when he did get open shots.

Harden made just one of his seven shots and one of his five three-pointers for six points.

Still, the Clippers finished the trip 3-1 and remained in fourth place in the Western Conference, two games ahead of fifth-seeded Dallas and sixth-seeded New Orleans.

“It’s a good trip,” Harden said. “Should have been 4-0, but things don’t always work out how you want it to. So, got an opportunity to go home and regroup and try to get some wins at home.”

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