Charlie Widdoes composed this recap of the Clippers’ loss in Charlotte:
Clippers fans are all too familiar with this phase of the season. Out of playoff contention for a while now, the mission inevitably shifts to building for the future. Sure, Neil Olshey and Donald Sterling talk about “winning now,” but what they really mean — or should mean — is that they want to develop a level of play and effort that can be translated into a better record next year. To fans, it adds a different dimension to viewing, for sure. As Ralph Lawler pointed out at one point in the second quarter, the Clips had “four free agents-to-be and DeAndre Jordan” on the floor, another indication that the focus has indeed shifted.
It’s no wonder the Bobcats won tonight. Not unlike Wednesday in Miami or countless games before that, the Clippers demonstrated inferior effort and execution on both ends of the floor. They turned the ball over 23 times against a disciplined and motivated team striving for a playoff berth. From the opening tip, the Clippers showed no desire to get back on defense, as evidenced by the play at (1st, 6:20) when Drew Gooden takes a lazy stroll downcourt off a Clippers’ miss. When he finally arrives, he jogs over to double Gerald Wallace, who is 17 feet from the basket posting up Travis Outlaw. Gooden is completely oblivious to the trailing Boris Diaw, who drains an uncontested 3.
It’s possible that the best defender for the Clippers tonight was the lane: Charlotte was called for six 3-second violations. It should be mentioned that the best player on the court may have been Wallace, who scored 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, with four steals, all in the first half. The outcome was hardly in question, but it did offer more answers to those of us looking towards the future.
By virtue of his contract, Davis is unlikely to go anywhere in the next few years. Tonight’s game, though, continues to raise doubts about his ability to lead a consistently winning team. His line of 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting, with seven assists and five steals speaks to his capacity to dominate. But despite being able to get to the hoop and create for others, Davis can also singularly take his team out of the game. The Clippers again fail to protect the ball, and Baron’s four turnovers played a big role. As the point guard, it’s Baron’s job to control the flow of the offense. Baron’s five steals suggest he was strong on defense, but he never once engages in a prolonged effort from to take charge defensively.
The most troubling aspect of Davis’ game — and personality, really — is his body language. He frequently chooses to dribble backwards off high screens, and in many cases lacked purpose with his actions. His tendency to let the shot clock run down, thus limiting the quality of shot the team can get, seems chronic and hurts offensive continuity. The play on which he gets stripped by Wallace and then eventually commits the flagrant foul that ends Wallace’s night is just one example of directionless dribbling leading to a turnover. At one point in the third he throws up his hands in frustration, causing Ralph Lawler to remark, “People who say he doesn’t care just don’t know Baron.”
I have never questioned that Baron cares, but I do wonder whether he fully grasps his potential to be the best player on the court. Baron has the unsettling propensity to make things more difficult than they need to be. I remember Sam Cassell would get into his teammates’ faces for mistakes, but he often responded by hitting elbow jumpers that led the team to victory. With Baron, it seems like he has no problem showing emotion or jawing with the refs, but struggles to make the plays needed to win games.
Eric Gordon misses his fourth consecutive game.
Playing without Gordon leaves the Clippers at a disadvantage on both ends. Without his strong perimeter defense, Charlotte is able to penetrate at will, which leads to layups for D.J. Augustin and Raymond Felton or easy dump-offs for layups and dunks. It’s clear that the Clippers’ bigs are slow to rotate, but the Bobcats are able to get into the lane too frequently. On the offensive side, Gordon’s absence exposes the flaws in Rasual Butler’s game. When forced to make plays off the dribble, Butler loses most of his effectiveness, and that is apparent tonight. True to recent form, Butler hit three threes, but is unable to create for himself off the bounce, and a few of his long misses lead to transition points for Charlotte.
In regards to Gordon’s injury situation in general, I find myself wondering if it might be time to shut him down for the year. We know that he rushed back from his foot injury earlier in the year while the team was on the marathon east coast road trip and still had playoff aspirations. Dain Blanton now reports that an MRI shows cartilage irritation in Gordon’s right leg. At the very least, you have to assume he will take his time coming back, but I could certainly see the logic in sitting him for the rest of the year if it means he will be healthier in the long term.
Clipper big men
Chris Kaman is relatively silent, especially during the second half, during which he notches his first points with 3:24 left in the fourth. He scores 13 to go with 11 boards, but you get the feeling that, with a few more touches, he could do more damage against the Bobcats’ centers. Craig Smith is a tough cover for Tyrus Thomas, but Smith, along with DeAndre Jordan, draws the ire of Coach Hughes for being slow on defensive rotations. Drew Gooden has a very efficient offensive night, with 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting from the floor. Many of his shots come around the basket, and his activity on the boards is solid for the most part. The fact that Charlotte gets so many layups and dunks reflects poorly on the defensive effort of the Clippers’ bigs tonight.