Struggling Clippers still searching for an 'identity' after loss to Pacers: 'We're soft'

Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook (0) controls the ball against Indiana Pacers.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue was emphatic with his words. “We’re soft.”

That was Lue's response when asked about James Harden saying the Clippers "got to find our identity,” after a 133-116 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday that dropped the Clippers to fifth place in the Western Conference.

Lue has heard it before — Paul George said the same thing after the Clippers lost to the Atlanta Hawks on March 17.

Again, Lue disagreed with his two stars, and he wasn’t afraid to say so in a long-winded answer.

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“Right now do we have an identity? Um, I think, yeah, we’re soft. That can be an identity, if you want to call it that,” Lue said. “Like, we got to be tougher, mentally and physically. But we do have an identity. When we were 26-5, we had a great identity. So, you can’t pick and choose when you want to lead. You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to have an identity. You can’t pick and choose when you want to do things the right way. So, just do the right things every night and everything else will fall in order.

“And, so, yes, we do have an identity. We got to get back to that, because we’ve had it. But when you lose games, it’s easy to go the other way and we’re not going to do that and I’m not going to let our team do that. And I’m tough-minded. I’ve been through everything, and so have these guys. ... So, we have an identity, but right now our identity has been shaken because we’re not winning and we’re not doing things the right way consistently.”

Trailing by as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter, the Clippers couldn’t rally and fell to 7-7 in March. They’ll try to get their season back on track when they open a four-game trip against Chicago on Wednesday.

"Teams are scoring easy on us. It makes it difficult to score offensively," Harden said.

The Clippers and the fourth-seeded Pelicans have identical records (44-27), but New Orleans holds the tiebreaker after winning the season series 3-1.

“It’s a little frustrating,” said Harden, who had 11 points on three-for-seven shooting. “It’s frustrating … I think we’re all trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Kawhi Leonard and George each scored 26 points. Russell Westbrook, who sat out three weeks recovering from surgery to repair a fractured left hand, provided a burst of much-needed energy, finishing with 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds in 18 minutes.

“I mean, it's not one thing you can pinpoint it on,” said Westbrook about the Clippers' struggles. “I think collectively we just got to come together during tough times. Adversity to me is a real measure of who you are as a man and, two, who you are as a team. And I think now is a perfect time for us to be able to pull together, use what we know to win games and use ourselves to help each other out to close games and win games.”

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Lue is giving his players a new idea to focus on over the final 11 games of the regular season.

“We always talk about ‘sacrifice.’ But I just told the guys I’m getting rid of that word,” he said. “Like you guys [in the media] say, 'effort.' I’m getting rid of sacrifice and calling it investment. Like, investing in the team, investing in what we need to do to win games. It’s not going to be about you. It’s not going to be about how you did. It’s about what the team does. So, instead of saying sacrifice, [it's] investing.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.