On the first game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, they lost on a buzzer beater. The second was a surprise blow out by the bench. Today's game was a giveaway, except the Clippers did not take advantage of it, and it cost them more than just a game. This third game was a strike out, because now the Clippers are permanently stuck at second place in the Pacific Division. They'll be staring at the Los Angeles Lakers for weeks to come - after all, they own L.A. with the banners, the stars and the chips to prove it.
After losing Chauncey Billups to an achilles-tendon injury, the Chris Paul Clippers have endured a see-saw in the wins and losses column, each loss a half game close to being knocked out of first place. Chris Paul's flashy assists and Blake Griffin's dominating dunks aren't going to win them a championship banner, a western conference banner or a Pacific Division banner. In fact, they could get knocked out of the first round... unless they begin to play defense. This doesn't mean that they have to play exactly like the Phil Jackson Los Angeles Lakers or the Gregg Popovich San Antonio Spurs. Their defense is spotty at best, relying too much on steals, attempting block shots and forcing fouls. The problem with the Clippers right now is that don't have a defensive identity; only an offensive force. That has to change.
First, the Clippers should have a Players-Only meeting. The Heat did it last year after they started the season poorly, and look where they went: 2nd seed, Finals contender. When the season began for the Clippers, they were expected to do big things. Stephen A. Smith even mentioned a Clippers-Oklahoma City Thunder matchup for the Western Conference Finals. After the All-Star Break, fortunes have flip-flopped for the Clippers. More losses than wins. Scandals involving the owner of the franchise. Let's not bring up the Clipper Darrell mess. The players need to get those things out of the way, and they need to start trusting each other more. They have so much potential going for them; they cannot let the Clipper curse prevail. Yes, there is a curse, and they can only break the spell if they go all out for a championship.
Second, the front office is going to have to make a difficult decision. To trade or not to trade. Do they want to hold out on picks, have only young players, spend cheaply, and only focus on revenue gained. Or do they want to prove to the league, the other teams, the nation, that this Clippers team is not a joke, that they can content, that they are no longer the step child of the Los Angeles Lakers. Ray Allen is on the block, so is Stephen Jackson, Jamal Crawford. D-League players are nice, but that isn't going to cut it. The front office is going to have to make a steep
sacrifice exchange, meaning that they will have to part with Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Brian Cook, Travis Leslie, Trey Thompkins or a combination.
Finally, as much as they pride on Chauncey Billups for his veteran leadership, they will have to face facts. He is not coming back for the rest of the season. The Clippers, Chris Paul included, are forced to play without him. They can replace his spot, but his spirit can never be matched. They might get a little confidence boost when Billups returns after his rehabilitation is complete, but it's not going to be the same with him on the bench.
The rest of March will prove to be a both a marathon and a sprint, as the Clippers will be squared off against a few of the teams which only the Los Angeles Lakers have been able to beat, with exceptions to a couple other teams. They only get Boston and New York once. The Pacers are arriving. They have to beat the Spurs. They get another crack at the Suns. And one last silver bullet to dispatch the Timberwolves. Less than 30 games left on their calendar. And then, the playoffs cometh.
Can they tough it out? Can they do it?