Kawhi Leonard returns as Clippers cruise past Blazers

  • The Clippers’ Nicolas Batum grabs a rebound in front of the Blazers’ Carmelo Anthony during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, center, has his shot blocked by Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, center, drives between Portland Trail Blazers’ Derrick Jones Jr., right, and Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives to the basket on Patrick Patterson #54 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Nicolas Batum, center, dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Carmelo Anthony #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers attempts a shot in front of Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • The Blazers’ Damian Lillard, left, grabs the arm of the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard points to a teammate during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Carmelo Anthony, center, is defended by Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac, left, and Paul George during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, center, and Paul George are greeted by teammates during a timeout in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Anfernee Simons #1 of the Portland Trail Blazers passes between Paul George #13, Serge Ibaka #9 and Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Luke Kennard, right, drives under pressure from Portland Trail Blazers’ Rodney Hood during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers watches as Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers makes a move during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, center, passes the ball under pressure from Portland Trail Blazers’ Derrick Jones Jr., left, and Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Lou Williams dribbles the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers is fouled on a layup by Enes Kanter #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers attempts a layup in front of Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, center, goes up for a basket as Portland Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Jusuf Nurkic #27 of the Portland Trail Blazers blocks the shot of Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard passes the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 and CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers react as Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers takes a shot during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers guards Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers backs in on Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles in front of Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers passes between Patrick Beverley #21, Serge Ibaka #9 and Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers guards Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives between Patrick Beverley #21, Serge Ibaka #9 and Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers wears a face guard during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers steals the ball from Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers blocks the shot of Carmelo Anthony #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers celebrates and his basket with Lou Williams #23 and Patrick Beverley #21 during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers attempts to steal the ball from Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers scores past Jusuf Nurkic #27 of the Portland Trail Blazers during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Carmelo Anthony, left, looks to pass under pressure from Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 128-105. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers, calls out from the bench during a 128-105 Clippers win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Derrick Jones Jr. #55 of the Portland Trail Blazers and Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers reach for a loose ball during a 128-105 Clippers win at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Anfernee Simons, center, passes the ball to Enes Kanter, right, while being defended by Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 128-105. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, left, is fouled by Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard passes the ball around Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Portland Trail Blazers’ Derrick Jones Jr., left, looks to shoot under pressure from Los Angeles Clippers’ Reggie Jackson during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 128-105. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard shoots over Portland Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers watches during a 128-105 LA Clippers win over the Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers celebrates the basket with a foul from Ivica Zubac #40 during a 128-105 Clippers win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES — Coach Tyronn Lue is in the habit of stressing the importance of good habits.

His Clippers seem to be making a habit of the blowout, welcoming a masked Kawhi Leonard back to the lineup on Wednesday night by rocking another Western Conference foe by 20-plus points at Staples Center.

With Leonard back in action – and being subjected to his teammates’ teasing nicknames such as “Leatherface” after he missed two games following a mouth laceration that required eight stitches on Christmas – the Clippers routed Portland, 128-105.

It was a tidy, no-doubt-about-it win even more to their new coach’s liking than their 23-point victory over Minnesota on Tuesday: He’d put in an order Wednesday for some early pop and some disruptive defense on Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard.

And the Clippers got it right. So, so right.

After starting sluggishly in their past two games – a franchise-worst blowout loss to Dallas on Sunday followed by Tuesday’s redeeming blowout victory against Minnesota – the Clippers’ starters came to play Wednesday.

After their coach insisted that “our first unit’s got to get off to better starts,” the Clippers (4-1) bolted to a 14-point first-quarter lead, assisting on 11 of their first 13 field goals and draining eight of their first 12 3-point attempts to set the tone to their liking.

“The last game, the starters came out slow, our bench brought our energy, and from there they picked it up,” Leonard said. “Pretty much tonight we tried to come out and bring that energy and intensity and just communicate, share the ball and we end up getting the win.”

Leonard sported a specially constructed mask protecting his jaw and adhered with two wide, white straps – a reminder of the Christmas collision between him and his friend Serge Ibaka, who accidentally struck Leonard with his elbow while pursuing a rebound.

The Clippers’ star joked Wednesday that there could be further ramifications for Ibaka stemming from the incident: “We got him on the trading block right now,” Leonard deadpanned. “So, whoever wants him, let us know, we trying to trade Serge.”

Lue said Leonard had noticeable trouble catching his breath early in his first game back, but that he showed admirable grit pushing through.

“Early on, especially in the first half, he was a little tired, a little winded,” Lue said, noting that Leonard stepped on the gas with 16 third-period points. “In the third quarter, he really pushed himself and started attacking the paint, started playing with force and playing with pace. He really took over that third quarter and built the lead for us.”

Darn straight he had trouble breathing, Leonard said: “(Shoot), it’s hard to breathe in that mask.”

Even so, Leonard was an active participant in the Clippers’ pretty passing display, which helped put the game out of reach. They finished with 30 assists (the third time this young season they’ve notched at least 30), including seven apiece Wednesday by George and Leonard – the latter of whom had six by halftime, his career-best for a half.

The ball movement uncorked another impressive offensive showing: Led by Leonard’s 28 points and George’s 23 (to go with 10 rebounds), six Clippers scored in double figures. As a team, they shot 49.5 percent (47 for 95) from the field and scored more than 30 points in all but the final period.

Defensively, the Clippers made it hard on Lillard by showing a variety of looks to the five-time All-Star who traded barbs with Clippers players in the bubble, but on Tuesday dismissed talk of a rivalry between the teams, telling Portland’s digital content producer Casey Holdahl: “I thought a rivalry was built on the court, you know what I’m saying?”

This time, the Clippers had the final word: Lillard finished with 20 points on 3-for-14 shooting (0 for 8 from 3-point range).

“If you watch Dame play, he’s ready to destroy any team that he plays against, it’s just not from trash-talking or what happened last year in the bubble,” Lue sid. “He is a very aggressive scorer and we know he can score 50 points on any given night. We just want to try to come out and set the tone early and try to blitz him to start the game, and he made some good passes and they got some good shots. But we were able to just kind of keep him off balance and the coaching staff did a great job of that.”

Lillard’s backcourt mate CJ McCollum went 8 for 17 and scored 25 points, Carmelo Anthony chipped in with 15, and Anfernee Simons added 10 but otherwise, no one had more than eight points for the Trail Blazers (2-2) as the Clippers held them to 42.1 percent shooting (32 for 76).

Ivica Zubac continued to cause opponents problems at the rim; the 7-foot center came off the bench to block three shots for the second consecutive game.

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