Tyronn Lue calls Clippers ‘soft’ after Pacers spoil Russell Westbrook’s return

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LOS ANGELES — The LA Clippers were hosting the Indiana Pacers on Monday night in what was supposed to be their celebrated return of backup point guard Russell Westbrook, who missed 12 games with a left hand fracture. It was also a chance for the Clippers to bounce back from another disappointing home performance after losing Sunday to the Philadelphia 76ers, a setback that almost caused coach Tyronn Lue to nearly drop a curse word while describing with frustration how his veteran team knows “what they’re supposed to be doing.”

But after a 133-116 loss to Indiana, Westbrook’s return was an afterthought for a team that dropped its fifth consecutive home game and is now behind the New Orleans Pelicans for fifth place in the Western Conference.

“Right now, do we have an identity? I think, yeah. We’re soft,” Lue said calmly, more than a half hour after the final buzzer. “That could be an identity, if you want to call (it) that. Like, we got to be tougher, mentally and physically.”

The Clippers had the NBA’s best record in games played in December and January, going a combined 23-5, and then won their first three games in February. But since Feb. 6, when they ended the night at the top of the Western Conference, the team is only 10-12. LA is the only team in the league that hasn’t won or lost three straight games since the trade deadline, seven weeks of inconsistent play.

Westbrook played just over 18 minutes against Indiana and had 14 points, four rebounds and seven assists. It’s the first time he reached those numbers or better in the same game since Nov. 25 against the Dallas Mavericks. After Monday’s loss, he discussed how the Clippers need to keep the team together.

“You don’t point fingers, you don’t point blame,” Westbrook said before Lue took the podium. “Each individual, I think we got to look within, look within ourselves, and figure out how we can better help our team. I think that’s where we start, we start with ourselves. I start with myself. And then come together collectively and figure out how we now bring what we all have and bring to the table.

“As we’ve seen when we’ve done it the right way, it shows that we’re a hard team to stop. And we know where our ceiling is, we know how we need to get there. And I think ultimately, as a leader, it’s my job just to hold guys accountable, hold myself accountable, and make sure that we stay together through this tough little patch that we’re having. And to me, it’s as simple as that.”

The Clippers now begin a four-game trip that starts with James Harden’s return game in Philadelphia. He missed his lone 3-point attempt on Monday, marking the first time he played more than 30 minutes and failed to attempt multiple 3s in a game since the 2012 postseason.

“I’m not sure, haven’t had a chance to talk to him about his shoulder,” said Lue when asked about a shoulder injury that caused Harden to miss two games this month. “James, he always tries to play through whatever he’s going through. So you got to ask him, I’m not quite sure how he’s feeling.”

The Clippers attempted a season-low 20 3s against Indiana, while the Pacers made 17 3s. All-Star Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton made as many 3s by himself (6 of 9, 21 points) as the Clippers made as a team.

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(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

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