Every couple weeks, we will run ClipperBlog Observations, a condensed version of Last Call. With the Clippers’ record standing at 29-14 and on their way to Phoenix on Sunday, here is where our staff thinks the team stands.
Matt Barnstorming Run
Matt Barnes is 34 years old and yet in this, his 12th season in the NBA, he’s averaging a career-high in minutes per game (28.5). Let’s pause for just one second to appreciate how ridiculous that is. On top of that, Barnes, for the first time in his career, is making a whisker shy of 40% of his 3-point looks per game.
It’s a turnaround that’s been understated and nothing short of extraordinary. Barnes’ early season struggles were well-documented. Throwing up bricks before being thrown out of the starting line-up altogether, Barnes’ troubles only exasperated the Clippers’ issues at small forward.
Always the Clippers’ best (or perhaps only) wing defender, Barnes is now performing the role of a 3-and-D swingman the Clippers have been so desperate for admirably. His rebounding numbers are up and he’s shooting and making more threes per game than the likes of Anthony Morrow and Evan Fournier. Since Christmas he’s shooting better than 46% from deep.
Put simply: Barnes is playing with confidence from inside and out. Whether it’s taking the ball to the basket (double-double in Sacramento) or pulling up and whacking a three in transition (like he did against the Nets on Thursday), Barnes has found his rhythm. The Clippers have had their troubles this season and fingers have been pointed in every direction but their not Barnes’ struggles anymore. Now, at 34, he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career.
– Roscoe Whalan, (@RoscoeWhalan7)
The Fault: Not in Our Stars
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen Doc Rivers use some short rotations to good effect. The Clippers have won nine of their last 12 games, including victories over the Mavericks and Blazers, putting them a game and a half out of second place in the West.
During Thursday night’s TNT broadcast, commentator Brent Barry mentioned that the Clippers’ starting five had played over 200 minutes more than any other five-man lineup in the league. That’s astonishing. And to Law’s point below, fans should be grateful that this unit has been this healthy. But the flipside of that is the inevitable question: If this team’s best players are healthier and playing so much more than they did last year, why aren’t they better?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that Blake Griffin has taken a step back (though he is standing farther away from the basket and missing out on a few rebounds a game). And it’s not because Chris Paul is no longer elite (though there’s a real chance he misses the All-Star game this year). It’s because of depth. Shooting guard is the only position where the Clippers have two reliable players (Redick and Crawford). Everywhere else, they replace a starter with a void.
That’s kind of fitting way to look at this team in general: a void waiting to be filled. And filled it shall be. The past few springs, the organization has functioned like a black hole for the NBA’s aging stars, swallowing entire galaxies of bought-out veteran matter. Whether that approach gives the starters some reprieve this year is anybody’s guess.
– Patrick James, (@patrickmjames)
The Clippers have the same record now as they did after 43 games last season: 29-14. The Clippers also have the league’s most efficient offense, just like last season. After Thursday night’s demolition of the Brooklyn Nets, the Clippers have an NBA-high seven wins by at least 30 points since Doc Rivers took over as head coach.
The biggest thing I look at right now is how healthy the starting lineup has been for the Clippers. Durability is a skill – and it’s fleeting. Los Angeles has been fortunate to have Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick start every game, while SF Matt Barnes has missed only two games. Last year, Paul, Redick, and Barnes missed at least 19 games with injury.
The durability is a big deal when you look at the top of the Western Conference right now. The Warriors had to withstand C Andrew Bogut missing 13 games. Grizzlies PF Zach Randolph has already missed nine games. The Trail Blazers have already missed C Robin Lopez for 19 games while SF Nicolas Batum has struggled with myriad issues all season – now PF LaMarcus Aldridge is out until March. Rockets C Dwight Howard has missed 12 games. The Spurs have missed starters Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter for 14 games or more. And Oklahoma City isn’t even in the top-eight yet.
I don’t feel bad for teams that have durability issues – the reality is, it’s a part of the game. The focus should be on the players who have been available to play – and play well. Until further notice, the Clippers shouldn’t be criticized because their starting five has stayed on the court. That’s a major credit to them – for as long as it lasts.
– Law Murray, (@LawMurrayTheNU)