Last year, the Clippers set a franchise record for wins with 56. With a win tonight over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Clippers again reached the elusive 50-win plateau. There are still eleven games remaining in the season, so the Clippers have a very good chance to surpass last year's achievement, with five games to go against losing teams.
Win number fifty didn't come easy, though. Although the Clippers easily dispatched the Bucks the last time they played as part of a January road swing, crushing Milwaukee by twenty-eight, this game would be much closer. Despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Bucks played hard and stayed within striking distance of the Clippers until Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford helped put the game away in the last few minutes. Although the Bucks got as close as two points in the early fourth quarter, the game never really felt in question, and it was really just a question of when the Clippers would turn it on.
Griffin was his usual magnificent self, putting up 27 points and 14 rebounds and getting whatever he wanted regardless of who was guarding him. After one spectacular turnaround bank shot, Mike Smith exclaimed that he might be even better than Tim Duncan at that shot, prompting Ralph Lawler to respond, "Settle down, Mike." He showed off his full arsenal tonight, including a variety of nifty passes (he ended with six assists), three blocks, and a spectacular Eurostep layup that he started from the top of the key.
For the second straight game, the Clippers bench entered the game and was noticeably outplayed by a subpar opponent. The second unit — with Turkoglu, Davis, and Granger in the frontcourt — lacks rim protection and it shows as the Bucks were scoring easily and seemingly at will early in the second quarter. Doc eventually substituted Jordan for Davis and the bench seemed to play a little better following that.
Some credit has to be given to the opponent though. Despite 'boasting' the NBA's worst record (13-58), the Bucks certainly didn't act like it, playing like they did a few nights ago in Portland when they took the Blazers to overtime. Zaza Pachulia really owned DeAndre Jordan this game, scoring on putbacks and open midrange jumpers that DeAndre didn't bother contesting. He also displayed a pretty deft passing touch, recording eight assists. The real thorn, however, wasRamon Sessions, who seemed like he just couldn't miss. The ex-Lakers point guard got whatever he wanted for most of the game and ended up with 28 points. His hot shooting, along with the Bucks' eleven offensive rebounds, were a large reason why Milwaukee kept it close for so long.
The Clippers now leave on a five-game road trip following two straight lackadaisical outings. Although one assumes they will play better in meaningful games against quality Western competition, the recent struggles of the bench are a legitimate concern that we should continue to watch for in the coming games. Interestingly enough, you could make the argument that the Clippers are the deepest team in the NBA when healthy (the third-stringers, Willie Green, Reggie Bullock, Jared Dudley, and Ryan Hollins might be better than some other teams' second-stringers), but the bench hasn't been playing like it as of late. This shouldn't be too much of an issue in the playoffs provided that only one of Turkoglu/Davis stays in the rotation, and one of Blake/DeAndre are on the floor at all times.
Los Angeles has now won 13 of their last 14 heading into this roadtrip, and only need to win seven of their next eleven to set a new franchise record in Doc Rivers' first year as head coach. After last year's opening-round loss, however, every player on this roster will tell you that any regular season record is unimportant if it isn't followed by a strong playoff run.
— This game had a fairly subdued feel to it. The outcome was never in question, and there were lulls that prevented fans from getting into it. The referees also swallowed their whistles for most of the game, leading to a lot of physical play and ugly shots under the basket.
— Jared Dudley played five minutes in the first half when Granger picked up his third foul, getting his first meaningful game action since March 4. He reminded fans why he was benched with some botched defense, but also went 2-3 for 5 points, showing that he is more than capable of returning to the rotation should he be needed. He's a luxury right now, but a useful one, and hopefully he can return to being a productive player next year should Granger not resign.
— Hedo Turkoglu must have been feeling a little spry today, as he tried taking the ball coast-to-coast on consecutive transition opportunities. Neither one ended well — the first was a reverse layup that clanked on the underside of the rim, while the second was easily swatted away by the much spryer Giannis Antetokounmpo.
— Doc Rivers mentioned earlier today that he doesn't expect JJ Redick to play at all during the upcoming roadtrip. Hopefully Redick will have some time in the last few games to reintegrate himself into the starting lineup before the playoffs begin. We still haven't seen both Paul and Redick healthy at the same time since early December of last year.
— Despite having the league's worst record, Milwaukee has a number of promising young players that could be the foundation for a playoff team in the next few years. Khris Middleton, John Henson, and Antetokounmpo are already rotation players, and if the Bucks manage to hit gold in the draft they could have a contender brewing pretty soon in Wisconsin.