The James Harden era of the Los Angeles Clippers is not off to a great start, but that’s not too surprising.
The Clippers fell 100-93 to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, their second straight loss since acquiring Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. Their overall record now sits at 3-4.
Like in Harden’s debut against the New York Knicks on Monday, the Clippers mostly fell flat on offense, where integrating Harden remains a work in progress. That probably should have been expected, seeing as how Harden didn’t play in a single preseason or regular season game for the Sixers and sat out part of training camp.
Facing his old team in the Nets, Harden finished with 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and five turnovers. Those turnovers represented a third of the Clippers’ total of 15 on the night, and some of them just looked like a person out of sync with the team around him.
The Clippers were outscored by 15 points with Harden on the floor, the worst mark on the team.
At the very least, Nets fans seemed to enjoy the show. They even welcomed Harden, who forced his way out of the team in 2022, with a “Daryl Morey” chant, invoking the name of the Sixers president of basketball operations whom Harden famously branded “a liar” and reportedly never intends to speak to again.
Even if you don’t excuse him for not yet being up to speed, Harden was by no means the Clippers’ only issue Wednesday. Paul George led the team with 24 points, but shot 7-of-20 and had some bad turnovers of his own. Russell Westbrook was 6-of-18 from the field for 13 points. Ivica Zubac, the Clippers’ only true big man with Mason Plumlee out, had issues protecting the paint.
The good news for the Clippers is they were in a similar issue last season, when they brought in Westbrook after the trade deadline and immediately worked him into the starting lineup despite a rough end to his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The early returns were similar to what we’re seeing now. The Clippers lost their first five games with Westbrook on the court, then went 11-5 to end the regular season despite missing George for nine of those games. Westbrook ended up being one of their best players in the first round against the Phoenix Suns, but injuries to George and Kawhi Leonard outweighed that impact.
That might not be especially predictive when it comes to Harden and the Clippers, as Harden is an extraordinarily different point guard from Westbrook. But it’s a good reminder that judging a ball-dominant guard in his first few games with a new team might not be very fair, even if some concerns, such as if Westbrook and Harden can co-exist in a lineup with other options, predated Harden’s debut.
The Clippers will get their next chance to pick up their first win with Harden against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, their first game of the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament.