Before the Clippers left for their season long seven game Eastern swing, I said that anything less than 4-3 on the trip would be a disappointment. Well, chalk up another disappointment for these extremely disappointing Clippers. 2-5 is horrendous, especially when you consider that the 2 wins were essentially gimmes against the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference, and one of those was a struggle. It's another corner not turned in this endless staightaway of a season. Seven wins out of eight games in late January are a distant memory, and the Clippers are again 2 games below .500, ensuring a losing record at the All Star break. Yet somehow, inexplicably, the team remains in the 8th position, good enough for the playoffs in the proverbial `season ends today' scenario.
Excuses abound for the five losses on the trip. Toronto was better than their record indicated; the flu bug hit Maggette and Cassell; Tim Thomas hyper-extended his knee; Elton Brand missed one game and was slowed in others due to back spasms. But excuses are for losers, and besides, what excuse can there possibly be for losing a 10 point halftime lead in New York, or getting dominated by everyone on Cleveland EXCEPT LeBron James?
The team's shooting on this trip was abysmal, atrocious, ghastly, horrific and also not particularly good. They shot under 40% in losses to the Cavs, Pacers and Pistons, including a frigid 32.4% in Detroit. The offense that looked almost competent in home wins against poor defensive teams like Golden State, Memphis and Milwaukee is once again stale and stagnant. Funny how the quality of the opposition can have an impact.
It's actually hard to imagine how this team doesn't have a worse record. Their Expected Winning Percentage (based on giving up an average of 97.3 points per game while scoring only 95.7) would have them at 22-30, 10th in the Western Conference and 19th in the NBA. That seems more like it, really. They haven't beaten a decent team on the road this season (Houston without Yao and TMac doesn't count) - in fact, they haven't even come close. They haven't beaten a likely Western Conference playoff team anywhere since game 5 against Dallas (again discounting the Houston game). That's 47 games since they've beaten any team they're likely to see in the playoffs.
But perhaps most disconcerting of all is the manner in which all of this is transpiring. The team plays without purpose, without focus and without energy. Going into the All Star break, only three starting positions are decided, and two of those (Chris Kaman and Cuttino Mobley) would be in question for any coach other than MDsr. In fact, we're having basically the exact same discussions about the starting lineup that we were having in October. The team's second leading scorer and third leading rebounder is fifth in minutes played and none too happy about it (Keep Corey - Play Corey!). Meanwhile, last season's pleasant surprises have been lost in the shuffle (James Singleton), or are quickly falling by the wayside (Quinton Ross got a DNP last week). The veterans (Cassell and Mobley) are starting to show their age and the youngsters not only haven't stepped up, Kaman has actually taken a step back.
This team has no persona. If you'll recall, last May MDsr spent a lot of time talking about how the team was 'made for the playoffs.' They could go big, they could go small, they could matchup any number of different ways, which he felt made them a threat in the postseason. Well, the devil is in the details, and missing an element of energy and execution, they now have a team that isn't really built for anything. That vaunted flexibility that supposedly made them dangerous in the playoffs now seems to be making them irrelevant in the regular season. They CAN go big or they CAN go small... but what DO they do? What SHOULD they do?
The season isn't over yet. There are still 30 games left, and a win over Atlanta tonight would ensure that they retain the 8th position through the All Star break. And don't count ClipperSteve among those who think it would be better to miss the playoffs and put a few ping pong balls on Oden and Durant. For a team that has only made the postseason in consecutive seasons once since moving to California, the playoffs definitely mean something. Besides, are we really going to count on Elgin's luck in the lottery? The last time his number came up, the prize was Michael Olowokandi. Although there's not much reason for optimism based on their performance so far (it's not like they've played well at any time in the season), everyone can see that they have the talent to play better: they wouldn't be the consensus pick for 'Most Disappointing Team in the Western Conference' if they didn't have talent. So it remains possible that something will click, and they'll suddenly start to play well. Stranger things have happened. But with each passing day that it doesn't happen, it becomes less and less likely that it ever will.