We have to be careful around here as regards the bad times. With the Clippers, when things get really bad, they frequently get still worse before they get better. But three straight losses to teams that were 0-26, 1-16 and 1-7 coming into the meetings, capped by a 24 point loss tonight that featured a 13 to 31 final quarter against the lowest scoring team in the league, is really bad. Can it get worse? Of course it can. But let's hope it doesn't.
The Clippers' defense has more or less deserted them these last few games. The Cavs and Bucks are the the two worst offensive teams in the league, by pretty much any measure you care to use. In offensive efficiency, field goal percentage, and effective field goal percentage (which accounts for three point shooting), they occupy the bottom two spots in the league, 29th and 30th. Yet against the Clippers, the Cavs scored 126 points while shooting 50%, and the Bucks scored 102 while shooting 51.5%. For the Bucks, that 51.5% compares to 42.3% for the season. When you include their 11 three pointers, Milwaukee's effective field goal percentage shoots up to 59.6%, compared to 45.8% for the season.
The Clippers: helping Eastern Conference teams break out of shooting slumps since 1979.
There's a temptation to say that the Bucks just got hot and that it wasn't really the Clippers defense at fault. That may be true to a certain extent. After all, Carlos Delfino made 7 of 8 threes, while the rest of the Bucks' made just 4 of 16. Was the Clippers' three point defense really bad against Delfino and really good against everyone else, or did Delfino simply have a career night shooting the ball, regardless of the defense? Clearly Delfino was making shots - seven three pointers in a game set a career high - so there is definitely an aspect of wrong place, wrong time, wrong guy for the Clippers. By the same token, Milwaukee still got an inordinate number of clean looks in this game, not to mention that hot shooting against the Clippers has become a pattern. Clearly the Clippers defense has been lacking on this road trip, especially in the last few games.
Compounding matters, the offense is not about to bail them out, most especially not in this game. Only three Clippers scored more than 6 points. Aside from Baron Davis, who made 8 of 15 shots and scored 22 points as he continues his excellent play, no Clipper can be said to have had even a decent game on offense. Blake Griffin and Randy Foye managed to score 19 and 16 respectively, but each did so with terrible inefficiency. Griffin was 7 for 19 for his 19 points, while Foye was 5 for 14 for his 16.
I'm a firm believer that good defense leads to good offense and vice versa. Defensive stops, particularly steals and blocked shots, often lead to easy scoring opportunities in transition. Conversely, when the other team is scoring and you're taking the ball out of the net, you're facing a set defense. The energy generated on each end can provide a positive feedback loop as well. But that same feedback loop can work in reverse - if you can't score, then it's harder to find the energy to get stops, which makes it harder to score, etc. The Clippers, seven games into a brutal road trip and missing this season's leading scorer AND last season's leading scorer, are struggling on both ends of the floor, and something is going to have to change to get them moving in the right direction again.
The simple fact right now is that the Clippers just don't have enough players playing at even a reasonable NBA level. Davis is playing his best basketball of the season and perhaps his best basketball as a Clipper. Griffin is still productive (he's always going to rebound and get put backs and transition baskets), but defenses are double and triple teaming him in the post which is of course limiting his effectiveness. And after those two guys, it's a disaster.
We were hopeful that Foye had broken out of what was essentially a season long slump with his stellar fourth quarter against the Knicks, but he's 15 for 47 since New York, and is still shooting a career low 36% from the field. How bad is 36%? Well, the 5 for 14 he shot tonight in Milwaukee is pretty much right on his season average. Among players who have played at least 700 minutes this season, only four are shooting a worse percentage. So why not replace him in the rotation, you ask yourself? Well, one of the players shooting worse is Rasual Butler, the other option at shooting guard.
It goes on and on. Ryan Gomes is shooting a career low 42%. Al-Farouq Aminu is a complete mess right now. Eric Bledsoe has committed 9 turnovers in his last 56 minutes of play. DeAndre Jordan has been a non-factor in February.
The only good news is that the All Star break is only one more game away, and that Eric Gordon and/or Chris Kaman might be ready to return after the break. Of course, we don't know for certain that either of them will be back, but we do know for certain that until and unless something changes, the Clippers are going to lose a lot of games.