Three division leaders and a defending NBA Champion—the Los Angeles Clippers’ schedule this week is the equivalent of getting coal for Christmas. After a festive start to December, the Washington Wizards snapped the Clippers’ nine-game winning streak, and since then, things haven’t been so jolly for Los Angeles, splitting it’s last six games.
There’s been much talk about the Clippers failing to claim a big scalp so far this season. Sure, they’re beating a lot of teams they should be beating but there hasn’t been a statement game, so to speak. Perhaps this week, against four legitimate opponents, the Clippers can carve out some credibility entering the new year.
Monday @ San Antonio Spurs (17-11), 4th in Southwest Division, 7th in Western Conference
The heavy week starts in San Antonio tonight (what better place to start?). Scary to think that perhaps the week’s easiest game is against the defending champs. The Spurs currently sit half a game behind the Clippers but have dropped four straight (including back-to-back triple overtime defeats at the hands of Portland and Memphis). They gifted the Dallas Mavericks a fairy tale beginning to the Rajon Rondo Era by trotting out a starting lineup of Cory Joseph, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Aron Baynes and rookie Kyle Anderson the other night. It’s the Spurs’ longest losing streak in more than three years—with Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker both out due to injury, the Clippers will be hoping to extend that record.
Tuesday @ Atlanta Hawks (19-7), 1st in Southeast Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
Winners of 12 of their past 13 games, the Atlanta Hawks have quietly put together one of the best streaks in the league. Sure, their schedule’s rated the league’s easiest in the NBA thus far, per basketball-reference.com, but their past three victories have come against some of the league’s more formidable opponents: Cleveland, Chicago and Houston.
During their run, the Hawks boast the No. 1-ranked defense and No. 1-ranked offense in the NBA. They’re one of the league’s better three-point shooting outfits, largely thanks to Kyle Korver. Indeed, Korver is having an out-of-this-world season. He’s shooting a mind-boggling 51.9 percent from the field, an even better 53.9 percent from deep and 96.3 percent from the charity stripe (including 49 straight). Without him, the Hawks offense tends to splutter.
Thursday vs Golden State Warriors (22-3), 1st in Pacific Division, 1st in Western Conference
Just up the Pacific Highway, the Clippers’ divisional rivals still hold the title for best record in the league despite big-man Andrew Bogut out indefinitely with a right knee injury. His absence hasn’t necessarily slowed the Warriors, who are 4-1 since losing their center (losing to Memphis but defeating four playoff contenders in Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Oklahoma City in the process).
When the Clippers last met the Warriors back on Nov. 5, it was a bloodbath. The Warriors burst out of the gates and the Clippers never recovered (Golden State shot 15-for-25 from deep that day). Much scarier than their world-class offense is the number of plus defenders in their lineup (although Bogut’s absence, like last year’s playoffs will surely help). Draymond Green is one of few defenders who consistently causes Griffin trouble and Chris Paul struggles against the length of guys like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala.
Saturday vs Toronto Raptors, 1st in Atlantic Division, 1st in Eastern Conference
Only one other team in the league has as many wins as the Warriors and, yep, you guessed it, it’s the Toronto Raptors. Once again, the Raptors have the pleasure of playing in the East (like the Hawks they’ve had one of the easiest rated schedules so far) but have rattled off six-straight victories and are 9-3 without star-guard, Demar Derozan. Most of the Raptors success has come at home, but they’ll face the Clippers on the second leg of a six-game road-trip.
If the Clippers split the week, they’ll get a very unsatisfactory pass mark. Any worse and the doubters about the Clippers’ ability to contend will be well and truly out of the woodwork.