The Clippers are 1-9. That’s the worst record in the National Basketball Association. The Clippers also, after having come home from a rough road trip, lost to the Detroit Pistons in overtime. After all those moral victories they had (Bledsoe’s early stellar play, the team playing tough, despite being radically undermanned), it was expected that they would use their new assets to finally get their second win of the season against the Pistons, but it wasn’t to be.
Tonight, they get another chance to finally give evidence of their growth and put a W in the win column, because at this point they can’t keep having moral victories, they need the real thing. There is only so much that a team can take in the moral victory category before they start questioning whether what they learned was worthwhile at all, since they continue to lose. And if they win tonight, it will validate if not all of those moments, at least some of them. So tonight is meaningful.
I had a sense that, going into the Pistons game, there was a level of expectation that the Clippers felt they were going to win. They had just come off of playing against the barbarous opening 9 games. Not one of those first nine teams are bad. Some may have thought that the Warriors would be bad, and they may still turn out to be, but they are winning right now and the Clippers had to play them on the road. With that mindset, it would be easy to look at the home game with the then 2-6 Pistons and only see is the easy home victory that they’ve been needing to steady they team and give them the first push of momentum to recover and have a good season. Possibly because of this sense of expectation, the Clippers looked lackadaisical in the first half, and let the Pistons get out to a 10 point lead. Even though the Pistons are not nearly as good as any of the teams the Clippers played before, they are still an NBA team and need to be respected. The Clippers showed a professional level of determination in the second half and into the overtime that needs to be carried over to all their games. But the difference between showing respect for a half and for a whole game is the difference between great teams and, as the Clippers are playing now, the bad teams. That’s what the Clippers need to take from the Pistons game: the professional approach to each game, knowing that every team can beat you on any night. And it may seem preposterous that the then 1-8 Clippers had the overconfident mind set, but that’s why they’re not a good team yet.
The Clippers just don’t have any rhythm or consistency. The closest they came to developing that was when they were in the 1-2 stretch against Oklahoma City-Denver-Utah where they played three good games before losing Eric Gordon to injury. And it’s not just on the team level, even the individual level seems to be lacking as well. Blake Griffin, the focal point of hope for the Clippers, frequently plays amazing in the first quarter/half before fading in the second. Hopefully, this isn’t endemic of something larger, where he plays great at the beginning of the season before dissipating later in the season. His play is the centerpiece for this team now and going forward. If the Clippers are going to beat the Nets, a consistent Blake has to be a part of it.
Like the Clippers the New Jersey Nets have a solid foundation and a terrible record, 3-6. Devin Harris is their unquestioned best player, averaging 19 points and 7 assists after last year’s down year. Brook Lopez is having a step back year averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds, down from his 18 points and 9 rebounds a year ago. Lopez is still long and blocking shots, which we’ve seen give Blake Griffin trouble (remember his game against Tyson Chandler?), but he hasn’t made the leap that some expected from him. They also have the Derrick Favors, who’s playing very well. Favors is even the team’s leading rebounder with 6.7 a game, which is pretty low for a team leading rebounder. But this team is a sort of rebound by committee team as they have six players averaging 4.8 rebounds or more (Favors, Lopez, Humphries, Murphy, Outlaw and Terrence Williams). Notable in the numbers is the lack of production from the power forward spot for the Nets. Troy Murphy was brought in to be an offensive big that would give Derrick Favors more time, but so far he’s played woefully short of the output he had in Indiana (4.4 points and 5. 2 rebounds per game). Favors has looked good in his time, but he’s still very young. Think Aminu getting minutes, talented and productive but mistake prone. Regardless, this team hasn’t amounted to much in this season other than, like the Clippers, a good sparring partner for the good teams. The Nets took the Magic to the final seconds of their last game, but they still lost. Each team believes that they should be better than they are.
Tonight, the Clippers have to focus on the themselves though, because there is too much there to worry about what the Nets are going to do. The Clippers need to come out with energy and they need to sustain it, especially through their typically tough third quarters. Turnovers will need to be kept down and guys like Ryan Gomes are going to have to knock down their open shots. There has been a hesitancy, especially on Gomes’ part, and that moment of doubt and extra thought will strangle this team if they aren’t careful. They are too close to getting overwhelmingly frustrated, too close to last season’s winless-until-December Nets. The frustration of the Clippers was evident earlier in the season, even before losing to the Pistons, so they are going to have to find away to excise that from their thoughts during the games. It’s an easy thing to say, and I’m sure coaches have been telling this to them, because it’s so true. What makes it hard is listening to it as this large, unspecific cliché and giving it meaning to their own games. But what I like about this Clippers team, as opposed to teams in years past, is there is a desperation to get back up when they are knocked down (I will remember Eric Bledsoe with popping back up before teammates could even get to him, after being knocked out of the sky by Deron Williams). And since they are going to get knocked down a lot this year, that resiliency will be ever so necessary. The need to pop back up tonight.