Well, that didn’t go as planned. The Clippers might not have traveled to Salt Lake City expecting a victory, but they sure didn’t expect the thrashing that awaited them. The embarrassment.
The Clippers are now 1-42 in Utah since 1990, a streak that is abysmal as it sounds. You usually don’t put much thought into streaks – they’re normally and outlier of sorts. Someone making or missing a lot of shots, caught a lucky break with health, etc. This streak? You have to buy it. The Clippers can’t win in Utah, it appears.
But losing by 29 points? To a team that, when both teams are fully healthy, shouldn’t be within single-digits against them? Playing equally terrible offense and defense? Giving their worst effort of the season on a night when they needed their best?
No, Chris Paul and Mo Williams weren’t there. The first and second units didn’t have their leaders, and a team with four starting-caliber point guards saw it’s depth dwindled down to one – in the form of 35-year-old that’s visibly fatigued. The Clippers didn’t have ball movement, stayed on the perimeter, and jacked up long jumpers. Ugly, ugly basketball.
Even without Paul and Williams, the Clippers shouldn’t have been dismantled in the fashion they were. The starters didn’t play in the fourth, and the scrubs did, which inflated their final deficit. Make no mistake, though, this wasn’t a close game. The Jazz outplayed the Clippers in every facet of the game.
Where to begin? L.A. looked tired. It was the second night of a back-to-back-to-back — a day after an almost-blown game against the New Jersey Nets and a day before a (hopefully) close match-up with the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center. They were exhausted and sluggish. They didn’t cut as quickly. They didn’t get back in transition. They didn’t attack the basket. They didn’t have lift in their legs. They didn’t play well.
Last night I had to write the Lob City Ledger, which I normally write during the fourth quarter, causing me to miss a few plays in the fourth care. Honestly, I didn’t care. I couldn’t bear to watch this game anymore. It was tough deciding what was worse: the Jazz starters killing the Clippers starters or the Jazz bench destroying the Clipper bench. Neither was pleasant. Nor was watching Blake Griffin, arguably the best power forward in the league, get thoroughly outplayed by Paul Millsap (a good big man, but nothing special).
I’m not trying to overreact – let’s not forget this squad has already beaten the Blazers, Heat and Lakers. Those are three of the best teams in the NBA. Two of those games weren’t very close until near-collapses in second half. However, this team is truly hot and cold. On and off. Black and white. The cliché gets thrown around a lot, but they embody it to a tee (there’s another cliché!). They’re 7-4. Not bad, not bad at all. But their four losses have been brutal. Three blowouts (Spurs, Bulls, Jazz) and a loss to the Blazers that wasn’t as close as it looked.
Other than the Rockets victory (and maybe the Warriors one, though the game was close until the last few minutes), the Clippers have been squeaking by. The Blazers and Lakers came back (yes, they won, but it was almost catastrophic). Miami led the entire game basically. The Bucks game was too close. Even the Nets made a heart-pounding run in the second half.
As John Hollinger eloquently points out today, this team has major flaws. They’re only seven deep with a healthy Bledsoe (though I say eight – I’m a big Reggie Evans guy), and lack balance. They don’t have enough depth down low or on the wings. They have too much depth at point guard. They don’t rebound or defend well (they’ve done better recently, but still are below average). Their offense has been carrying them, which as so many teams have proven (the ’04-’09 Suns, ’11 Spurs) doesn’t work in the playoffs.
We can look at this half full or half empty. The glass half full? They didn’t have Paul or Williams, have played one of the toughest schedules to date (opponent-wise; besides that, they’ve had seven homes and a lot of rest days), and have only been together for one month. Their defense is naturally going to get better with time and chemistry. It’s already better than it was the first few games (barring last night’s performance). They still have Paul and Griffin. They still have guys that can fill it up.
The glass half empty? One injury to any one in their top-6 and this team is basically done. Paul and Griffin injuries are self-explanatory. If DeAndre Jordan goes out? There goes the size and defense. Mo? There goes the second unit. Caron Butler? There goes 15-20 points, decent defense and the team’s only small forward (Gomes has thoroughly proven he’s a small ball 4). Chauncey Billups? There goes another key contributor, the team’s best shooting guard and now Randy Foye has to play a lot (which as he proved last night, is not a good thing).
For this to work, all of the pieces need to be there. This isn’t the Lakers getting by without Bynum, or the Celtics getting by without Garnett. The Clippers need health to win. And even then, as tough as it may be to say, that might not be good enough.