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Clippers rest stars, drop in standings with loss to Rockets

Clippers rest stars, drop in standings with loss to Rockets

Clippers coach Ty Lue didn’t know his starting lineup 90 minutes before facing the Houston Rockets on Friday night and he wasn’t concerned about it, despite his team holding a slim lead for third place in the Western Conference.

Lue decided to rest All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and that hurt the team in the standings, as the Clippers fell to the lowly Rockets, 122-115, at the Toyota Center in Houston.

The Denver Nuggets, who beat Detroit 104-91 on Friday, leapfrogged the Clippers for third in the standings because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Both teams have 47-24 records with one game left in their regular-season schedules.

Lue wasn’t worried about potential playoff matchups and prioritized rest for his top players before the postseason. Starting guard Patrick Beverley also was sidelined against the Rockets because of injury management.

Lue went with an inexperienced starting lineup, as he and his starting players in street clothes watched a fast-paced game that lacked defense. The Rockets snapped a seven-game losing streak.

While the Clippers were short-handed on Friday, they did receive help from forward Serge Ibaka, who rejoined the lineup following a 30-game absence because of a lower back injury.

With three Clippers starters out, that created an opportunity for rookie guard Jay Scrubb to make his first career start.

Scrubb, a 2020 second-round pick, was in the starting backcourt with veteran Rajon Rondo a day after scoring his first career NBA points in Charlotte against the Hornets.

Rondo has had hundreds of career starts, but this was his first with the Clippers, and he finished with nine points and a season-high 13 assists. After helping the Lakers win the title last season, he signed with the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent before being traded to the Clippers on March 25. This was Rondo’s first game with Ibaka as a Clippers teammate.

Ibaka, who came off the bench, made an immediate impact by making his first shot attempt, a put-back basket in the first quarter.

Ibaka finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 17 minutes. He played 11 minutes in the first half and scored 11 points.

Starting center Ivica Zubac didn’t get the night off, but he was rewarded with a short outing after draining his first career NBA 3-pointer in the opening minutes. The five-year veteran played just three minutes.

Luke Kennard played with the starting unit and led the team with 23 points.

The Clippers trailed 73-69 at halftime after the Rockets made 64% percent of their shots in the first half.

Kelly Olynyk scored 20 points and fell a rebound shy of a triple-double as the Rockets snapped a seven-game skid. Olynyk had 11 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win for the first time since April 29.

The Rockets, who have the NBA’s worst record at 17-54, won for just the second time in the last 14 games thanks to a balanced scoring effort where seven players scored at least 10 points.

Rookie Jae’Sean Tate added 20 points and Khyri Thomas and Anthony Lamb added 17 points each for Houston.

The Clippers conclude their regular season Sunday at Oklahoma City.

More to come on this story.

Press Enterprise