First off, the commenters bemoaning that the Clippers don't look like a title contender? Please. It's one game. They looked bad in that one game, but don't take that as a referendum on a season. Even a month of games isn't a fair representation of a team's ability (see: Clippers' defensive efficiency last November, Clippers' overall defensive efficiency). Heck, the Spurs last year looked very average even deep into January; they only had one or two victories against Western Conference playoff teams to that point. So get frustrated over the one game (and it wasn't the greatest one), but don't make it a bigger issue than it currently is.
The real storm clouds are fomenting over the plains of the heartland, where the Thunder, unlike the Clippers, actually have some serious issues going on. They were already missing half their rotation going into last night (Durant, Jackson, Lamb, Morrow, even McGary), and then they lost their only offensive threat remaining, Russell Westbrook. Darnell Mayberry from the Oklahoman has more on his injury:
The early indication is that Russell Westbrook could miss four to six weeks after fracturing the second metacarpal in his right hand Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers. The projected recovery time would cost Westbrook 15 games on the low end and as many as 21 contests. He would rejoin the lineup between Nov. 28 and Dec. 12. Westbrook is scheduled to undergo further tests Friday in Oklahoma City.
The eight remaining players consist of one borderline All-Star (Ibaka), two defensive-oriented big men (Perkins and Collison), three largely unproven players who possess promise (Adams, Roberson and Jones), one journeyman (Telfair) and one training camp survivor (Thomas).
According to Mayberry, it doesn't sound like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb will be back soon either. The Thunder are getting steamrolled by injuries left and right, and there's not too much they can do right now apart from crossing their fingers and hoping for a little magic.
But the Thunder is only a little more than $2 million below the tax threshold, and with players added via the hardship exception still counting toward the salary cap it's unlikely the Thunder signs anyone who will push it past the tax despite the team's current injury situation. And the truth is there isn't a free agent on the market who could overturn this level of misfortune and prove worthy of the long-term ramifications of the Thunder dipping into the tax.
Previously, people weren't too worried about OKC's long-term prospects, since they were pretty clearly a playoff team. Now? A Thunder team without their two best players (even assuming everyone else on the team is healthy) falls somewhere in the deep lottery in the West (Minnesota, Sacramento, Lakers, Utah). 15-20 games of that team could be enough to submarine their playoff prospects. At the very least, they'll almost certainly open the playoffs on the road, probably against a top-two seed (on the flip side, one of the top two seeds is going to get screwed by playing them in the opening round). And Durant's free agency is looming, and another year lost to injuries isn't going to convince him to stick around. And if Durant leaves, who's to say Westbrook won't follow the year after?
The point is, get mad that the Clippers sucked last night. But be reasonable. One bad game, or even a streak of bad games, can happen to anyone, but it doesn't mean that they're not going to be a good team this year, or that their championship hopes are just pie-in-the-sky dreams. Get a hold of yourself, citizens.
Of course, there are still reasonable criticisms of the Clippers to be made. Most prominent among those are their rebounding struggles, which continued last night (to be fair, against a team that was putting out great rebounding lineups, but still) as they were out-boarded by 14.
"Rebounding isn't purely athleticism. It's about positions. It's about really going and getting it. I've got to do a better job," Griffin said. "DJ does a good job. I've got to do a better job, especially when I'm out on the perimeter guarding a stretch four or someone like that, of coming back in, pursuing the ball and not leaking out. That's something I've been working on."
The leak-outs aren't the top culprit, though. Rivers has emphatically blamed his team's perimeter defense against penetration as the main cause for the woes. "Dribble penetration is hurting our rebounding," he said. "Period."
Maybe the Clippers have been lackadaisical in the preseason. Maybe playing for real will change their mentality. Whatever it is, Rivers expects the Clippers to improve - methodically. "If you have a weakness, you have to slowly fix it," Rivers said. "You have to be patient with it."
Here's a man who's thinking clearly and has a reasonable take on his team. It calls to mind the maxim he's been beating into the Clippers' heads for over a year now: "Fall in love with the process."
"It's encouraging seeing that team, that coach, and how everybody buys into that system," Jordan said. "Things haven't really changed for them. They do the same thing. It's kind of like how Utah was -- you know what play they're going to run, you just can't stop them."
Jordan said that when he watches games, he focuses specifically on the guards and the bigs, studying their tendencies and their plays. "We're trying to be a team like that," Jordan said.
That's DeAndre Jordan on the Spurs, another team that's mastered the art of the process. Now, in my excellent back-and-forth with Welcome to Loud City's Kevin Yeung the other day, he pointed out that the Spursian ideal of ball and player movement is an unrealistic expectation for many teams, including the Thunder. That's absolutely true, since the Spurs' system is based as much on the personnel as it is the playbook. But the Clippers are one of the few teams who have the ability to emulate San Antonio, so it's good to see them study them and take lessons from proven champions.
Speaking of DJ, Dan Woike had a great article about him the other day, affirming what many of us have said for a while — Jordan is the 'X-factor' who could swing this team's title hopes (unlike some silly season opener). Although the concept of the X-factor is sort of vaguely defined and silly in the first place, if you think about it. By that token... was Donald Sterling the X-factor last season?
Steve Ballmer is no X-factor, but he's certainly the team's #1 fan (sit down, Shelly Sterling). Kevin Ding from Bleacher Report got to talk to him, resulting in what feels like Ballmer's fiftieth profile in the last month. A lot of it is old ground that's been trodden to death in the last few weeks. It's more interesting to talk about new things, like his push to include more and more innovative technological integration into the Clippers' game experience. Even one game was enough to make some citizens fall in love.
Clippers just put the "Four Factors" on the board. Gave LAC a 65% win probability. This is heaven. pic.twitter.com/fU90eo0JJe— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) October 31, 2014
It's a shame we won't get to see this tonight, since it's a Lakers home game. They probably wouldn't want to show that win probability graphic either, since it'll probably fall below 20% for the purple-and-gold before halftime. And if that's not true? If this is another ugly game for the Clippers, maybe even one they lose?
Don't sweat it.