Every couple weeks, we will run ClipperBlog Observations, a condensed version of the ghost of Last Call, a former postgame staple on the site. With the Clippers’ record standing at 4-2 and with the Spurs coming to town Monday night, here is where our staff thinks the team stands.
Is There Enough Potential?
The Los Angeles Clippers started the year as a tier-two championship contender, right below the proven winners like the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs and in the mix with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers have fattened up against some weaker teams but have also revitalized the offense with sharper shooting from J.J. Redick and another splendid start by Chris Paul. Blake Griffin is slowly getting there and DeAndre Jordan is DeAndre Jordan, flaws and otherwise. The problem comes with how much higher the Clippers can fly because it appears that everyone else around them has sustainably notched himself onto a higher platform.
The Golden State Warriors dribble handoff offense is maximizing the talents of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Dave Joerger has the Memphis Grizzlies running a top-10 offense with Marc Gasol at its fulcrum. The Portland Trail Blazers have improved their defense due to continuity and still have a frantically gorgeous offense. The Dallas Mavericks added Tyson Chandler on defense and Rick Carlisle’s motion offense is wreaking havoc on the entire league. Every other team in the Western Conference has looked better in a worthwhile manner.
There are question marks for every team but the concerns with the Clips appear the tad more worrisome: Griffin’s weird reliance on his jump shot, Matt Barnes being the only average to above-average wing defender, lack of wing depth, Alvin Gentry’s absence in causation with a lost offense. All this with the underlying fact that the the Doc Rivers-led team is on pace to win 58 games. Somehow, in the tortuous West, that’s merely good enough for the 7-seed.
Can the Clippers get there instead of trying to get where they were last season?
– Andy Liu, (@AndyKHLiu)
Sound and Fury
Between now and April, there will be highs and lows for this version of the Clippership. Win streaks, questionable losses, comebacks, shooting slumps, maybe even a hint towards relevancy by one of the fringe players. None of this really amounts to much. Business-like wins over the Orlandos, Utahs and yes even Philadelphias of the NBA are good, and certainly beat the alternative, but those games don’t tell us anything about what this team will be, what we can expect them to do in the post season.
While on one level it’s perhaps a bit boring to have to “wait and see” for five more months, it is a measure of how far the franchise has come in relatively short time span that the Clips are now on the short list of teams for whom the regular season no longer really matters.
This should be liberating to a degree. Doc Rivers has the freedom to experiment. This is especially true with his bench units because let’s be honest, we all know a front line of Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes isn’t going to cut it for any length of time against the Western Conference elite. Sadly, this hasn’t happened yet. Of course, there are five months and 64 more games left, so maybe exercising patience is in order.
– Seth Partnow, (@SethPartnow)
The Day the Questions Stop
In November, the main wonder about this team was if it was too early to evaluate it. At the end of the December, the wonder will be how they’ll look when they have to play good teams again. Over the last two weeks, the Clippers did play a couple quality squads: Miami and Memphis, splitting the two games.
Over the next two weeks, they’ll play three more, though only one of them (Washington) is playoff bound. By then, LA’s record should be strong, all the kinks should be worked out, the machine should be in great shape—but I admit, I’ll still be worried. It’s a quirk of the schedule, yes, but it’s also a quirk designed to create great neurosis. Because, in February, the Clippers will have to play Cleveland, Toronto, OKC, Dallas, Houston twice, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Memphis twice. Pencil in February 28th as the day the questions can stop, one way or the other.
– J.D. Evans
Wave It off
6:56 to go in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night and the “Woooos” of the crowd could be heard swirling around Staples Center. With the Clippers up 30-odd points against the Magic, fans were slowly sucked into the vortex one by one, half-heartedly raising one arm, maybe two. Some awkwardly half-stood out of their seats before sitting back down, catching their breath before the wretched wave made another uninspired revolution around the arena. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Steve Ballmer got caught up in the lackluster celebration as it seeped into every corner of Staples. Is this what you had in mind when you said the season would be HARDCORE, Steve?
Before long, Ralph couldn’t ignore it any longer. “They’re doing the wave at Staples Center,” adding, “It’s a little bit like Red Auerbach’s cigar.” A little bit, but Red’s cigar was badass and this is…not. It’s completely meaningless in many respects but maybe not when Chris Paul’s already called out the fan base for it’s lack of gusto in a home loss against the Bulls earlier this year. The call to arms this season was to #berelentless but surely, not like this.
– Roscoe Whalan, (@RoscoeWhalan7)
One and Done Defense
When people criticize the Los Angeles Clippers, it is more likely due to the defense than to the offense. And the start of this season was rough, as the Clippers had a defensive rating of 105.8 over their first nine games, which ranked in the bottom-ten of the league. I lamented how poor the rebounding was, while also noticing the team struggling to defend the perimeter effectively.
But ever since they hit the road after being blown out by the Bulls, Los Angeles has locked it down defensively, sporting a rating of 98.6 over the last nine games, which ranks fourth. The big improvement has been highlighted by the team’s defensive rebounding; over the last nine games, only the Charlotte Hornets have allowed fewer offensive boards. The big men make this work, as DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and Spencer Hawes are the only players on the team that average at least four rebounds a game. The only time the Clippers have lost in this stretch is when they were in Memphis getting dominated by Marc Gasol.
We weren’t ready to see a great stretch of rebounding performance from Los Angeles. And they have had a fortunate slate, avoiding games against Dwight Howard, Nikola Pekovic, and Nikola Vucevic. But this is something to watch. It’s more important to be able to defend at a top-ten level than it is to be a top-ten offensive unit; just look at the NBA-best Golden State Warriors. Los Angeles needs to be able to sustain the effort on the glass and continue to force teams into endless spells of one-and-done shops.
– Law Murray, (@LawMurrayTheNU)