Despite being short-handed, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up a pair of solid victories heading into their Wednesday night game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City. Those outcomes included particularly impressive performances from two different players.
On Sunday, Ivica Zubac had a Wilt Chamberlain-like outing in a 114-100 win over the Indiana Pacers, scoring a season-high 31 points while hauling in a career-high 29 rebounds. He needed one more rebound to produce the third 30-point, 30-rebound game in the NBA in 40 years.
“It was great to see him rewarded with a big game like this,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
It was Norman Powell’s turn Tuesday night in Portland.
Facing his former team, Powell scored 22 of his season-best 32 points in the fourth quarter of the Clippers’ 118-112 victory over the Trail Blazers. Powell made 7 of 9 field-goal attempts in the final 12 minutes to help Los Angeles overcome the absence of injured Paul George (hamstring), Kawhi Leonard (ankle), Luke Kennard (calf) and John Wall (knee).
Powell’s monster showing was instrumental in allowing the Clippers to overturn Portland’s 18-point, third-quarter lead.
“I just told them to keep competing when we got down big in the third. The game wasn’t out of reach,” Powell said during a postgame interview with TNT. “Just bring energy and just play fast, play hard and play together, and we were able to get the stops we needed.”
The Clippers have won five of seven games despite the injuries to key players. Powell believes they can keep it going in Utah despite the quick turnaround.
“We’ve got a lot left. Back-to-backs are tough, but I love them,” Powell said. “I’m excited. It’s a good win for us. It just shows how good we can be even with our top guys out.”
The Jazz haven’t fared as well without one of their biggest contributors. Utah has lost five in a row without point guard Mike Conley, who has been sidelined due to a left-knee injury and won’t play again Wednesday.
Utah had a challenging schedule leading up its current six-game homestead, which began with a 114-107 setback to the Chicago Bulls on Monday.
“It’s about the group sticking together, staying focused on what we can control,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “Our approach, our mental focus, that’s what we have to focus on as we move on to this next stretch of home games.”
Hardy is hopeful that Jazz players will benefit from being at home after playing 10 of their past 15 games on the road.
“Our main focus is getting our legs back underneath us, everybody get some sleep, get some recovery with our medical team,” Hardy said after the Monday loss. “It’s great that we’re not leaving on a plane (Tuesday). … It will be nice for everybody to come to the gym without a bag packed.”
Hardy emphasized that his team needs to play physically and energetically for a full 48 minutes, which didn’t happen against Chicago, leading to Lauri Markkanen’s 32-point, nine-rebound performance being spoiled.
“Right now, he’s in a good spot,” Hardy said. “Our group, our team, fits how he plays, and it’s great to see his confidence growing. And he’s playing great.”