Luke Kennard stands out during Clippers' preseason loss in Dallas

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Dallas Mavericks' Eugene Omoruyi (2) and Dwight Powell (7) defend as Los Angeles Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) dunks during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Dallas, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein dunks against the Mavericks on Friday night in a preseason game. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Luke Kennard ended Clippers training camp in San Diego last week on a high. The foursome he played in won the team’s scramble-style golf tournament in Del Mar. He caught the largest, and most, fish during the team's outing on the ocean. It was a much different finish than the start, when coach Tyronn Lue pulled the guard out of a drill when he was open but didn’t shoot.

Lue said he was just messing with Kennard. But he quickly added it was to prove a point — to everybody. The Clippers need to look to pass to Kennard. And the career 41% three-point shooter, after making 44% last season — his first with the Clippers — needs to shoot it.

“This is what he's out here for,” Lue said during camp.

Friday night in Dallas, with forwards Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris resting and center Ivica Zubac out because of a strained shoulder, the Clippers produced a mixed performance during a 122-114 loss to the Mavericks, from which drawing insights into their regular-season form was not always straightforward.

Paul George made two of his eight shots, though he added five assists and four rebounds in 19 minutes, and Eric Bledsoe’s drives were, for the first time this preseason, largely shut off from reaching the paint. He finished scoreless in 19 minutes. The backup center competition continues, with Harry Giles, Friday’s starter, and Isaiah Hartenstein each offering reasons why they should win the 15th and final roster spot.

There was one performance the Clippers wish will carry over once the regular season begins Oct. 21 in San Francisco, after the preseason finale Monday in Ontario. Prodded for much of the last year to shoot with confidence since arriving in Los Angeles from Detroit, Kennard heeded his green light by making five of his six three-pointers, pulling up off the dribble or in catch-and-shoot situations. He finished with a team-high 19 points in 23 minutes.

"I'm not worried about the shots,” Kennard said. “I'm worried about the separation to get the shots off."

Lue has stressed the movement of players and passes in his offense this season and Kennard was a beneficiary playing off of the ball, where teammates found him.

“I thought he did a good job, just moving without the basketball,” Lue said. “He got a couple backdoor cuts and layups but his movement causes confusion and we understand that. We just want to continue to keep working on it and we had 31 assists, even though it didn’t look as good as I thought in person.”

The Clippers had a scare when Terance Mann’s left foot appeared to land on the foot of Dallas’ Eugene Omoruyi in the third quarter, but Lue said Mann had actually taken a knee to his thigh. Mann returned to play without incident, finishing with 13 points in 24 minutes.

The Clippers’ bake-off for the backup center job continued after Giles finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Whereas Hartenstein had claimed most minutes throughout the preseason in lineups featuring plausible starters and reserves, this was the first extended opportunity to gauge how Giles meshed amid such lineups, and Lue called his 20 minutes a “good job.”

“Just his athleticism, the way he can shoot the basketball, very active,” Lue said.

Hartenstein played 18 minutes and finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.