It's that time again... actually it's the third week of recaps and analysis for the week that was in the world of the Los Angeles Clippers. Each week there will be synopsis of each game, along with a close scrutiny of the Clippers combined with other notable moments in the NBA which affect the Clips.
Did the Clippership Sink or Sail? It's time to find out.
Heading into the week, the Clippers were 48-20; 1st in the Pacific Division, and 4th in the Western Conference. They were 4-0 in their previous week, winning 11 straight games.
Last week's Matchups were: Monday at Denver and Saturday vs. Detroit
Monday: The first bit of Clippers news came with Blake Griffin and his third win as Western Conference Player of the Week- honor of the season. Blake has become the first Clip since Elton Brand in '05-06 to win the award three times in a season. Despite the fact that the season is winding down, Blake will have a legitimate chance to win it for a fourth time. Some would tend to believe Anthony Davis' numbers were better than Blake's, yet his team did not win a game during the week, and the Clips were undefeated.
Also, last week I named Chris Paul as my Clipper of the week, and vacillated.... Blake or Chris? I thought Chris' performance meant more to Clips' success over that timespan, and most importantly going forward. Each week Griffin could easily be the Clipper of the Week. Blake has cemented himself as the best player on the team, he has taken that elite superstar status level that we expected from him, and he had a stellar week as shown with the award.
AT Denver: Over a year ago, the Clips took a franchise high, 17 game winning streak into Denver to face the Nuggets in the second game of a back to back- a feat that leaves most teams on the short end of the stick. Monday night, the Clippers rode an 11 game winning streak, the longest of the year, again on the second night of a back to back, where they were hosted by the inferior, yet recently improved, Nuggets.
Fresh off the heels of trouncing the Cavs at home, the Clips came in again with a backcourt reduced by 25%. Darren Collison was missing for the second consecutive game due to a stomach virus, Jamal Crawford was out with his strained calf; neither traveled with the team to Denver. J.J. Redick is unable to predict his return; his bulging disk in his back is not extremely cooperative. Early on, the game was sloppy on both ends; after the first quarter of play the Clippers had a slim 25-23 lead. Blake did not look like his typical self as he battled the tough Kenneth Faried, who has also been on a roll. The shots were not falling for Griffin yet he continued to shoot for the good of the team.
Chris Paul took a beating from the Nuggets and landed awkwardly on a missed jumper, and to add insult to injury, he took a foot to the face courtesy of Wilson Chandler driving to the hoop. He kept plugging along, though the Nuggets continuously swarmed him with double teams, his prevailing aggressive stroke earned him a game-high, 29 points, and threw seven assists.
After being off the pace at the half, the team snagged a few clutch threes; two by Willie Green and one by Matt Barnes to redeem themselves with the lead in the third. Outside of Blake and Chris, Danny Granger played especially well in the post and was the only other Clipper in double figures with 11 points. While the Nuggets had no problem to produce six players in double figures, J.J. Hickson's 21 points directed the lead.
Each time the Clips made a run, the Nuggets responded. Ty Lawson was fouled making a three pointer after the shot looked as it hadn't beaten the shot clock. The refs said that the foul was prior to the time that the shot clock had expired; the shot counted, plus Lawson picked up a free throw and Matt Barnes was hit with a technical foul. In the end, the Nuggets got a give point play.
Despite Griffin's shooting woes from the field, he was flawless at the free throw line going 12-12, in the end he finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds on 7-15 shooting.
The game continued to be back and forth in the fourth quarter and once again Chris Paul led the charge with a layup and one, but was brutally mauled by Faried. CP missed the free throw, gave the Clips a brief and their final lead of the game. Unlike Utah on the previous Friday night, the Nuggets never suffered from a double digit lead, and they were able to outlast the exhausted Clips and left the score at 110-100.
Déjà vu? Maybe... It was just one of those games on a back to back that the Clips were out-manned, the shots were not falling for Blake or anyone else, Chris Paul included. Give the Nuggets credit, they were active on the boards and took the Clips every shot and were victorious.
Despite being tired and not really ‘on', as the Clippers were against Denver, they had opportunities to win the game. Things just didn't work out in their favor, and the longest streak of the season ended at 11 games, coincidentally, to the team that ended the 17 game streak in the past season. Ah... a four day rest for the Clips before they host the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. Blake and Chris had worked hard in the All Starr Game revelry and need to recoup their energy.
Clipper of the Game: Chris Paul, a hammering, is an understatement as an attempt to describe the Nuggets' actions against Paul, as they lowered the boom. Despite the pounding, he was able to remain assertive, kept the team in striking distance and gave them a chance to win without their typical "A" game.
Runner Up: Blake persevered although it was not a good night for his shots and Doc reinforced the need that he and Paul continue to shoot, rather than shy away as Griffin had in the past. His stat line outside of his field goal percentage was solid, and of course, there was the leap he made at the free throw line.
The Clips' loss dropped them two full games behind OKC in the standings for the number two seed, as the Thunder trumped the Bulls in Chicago. The Rockets picked up a game on the Clippers as well, with a win over Jazz, and reduced the Clips' lead on the third spot, to two games.
Tuesday: A night after their 11 game winning streak snapped, the Clips are off on Tuesday. Actually, they will also have Wednesday to relax to before Wednesday's practice.
This is much needed rest for all the Clips, especially Chris, who has been banged up over the past few games. Darren Collison missed the last two games with a stomach bug and is expected to return to practice on Thursday as well.
Questions surround the injuries of Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick. Crawford played briefly against the Hawks a couple of weeks ago, and has not dressed or played since. Will the Clips have him return to practice and play him this weekend or not until the road trip next week? I would say he goes this Saturday, as his inactivity is a cause of frustration; however, the coaching staff may be hesitant to play him for fear that the calf injury may linger.
Redick, on the other hand, is a tricky situation; he posted an Instagram video of himself as he did drills, which is encouraging; his bulging disk must be improving. There have been multiple pictures of him shooting, yet we are not apprised of his return date to practice for the Clippers. We will soon learn if he is on the fast track or challenging the strength of his back. In an ideal world, it would great to have Redick back to shake any rust off that he may have- he returned with a bang following his last injury.
Tuesday night didn't have much of an impact on the Clippers in the standings. They almost gained more of a lead on Portland, who needed a last second layup from Damian Lilliard to force overtime with the pathetic Bucks. In overtime, the Blazers took down the Bucks. As for the Warriors, they couldn't gain any ground on the Blazers for a five seed, despite beating the Magic at home.
Wednesday: The Clips did not practice on Wednesday-maybe a Spring Break? The team will be back to practice on Thursday and Friday, gearing up for their matchup with Detroit at home on Saturday.
There wasn't much in regards to scoreboard watching either, the only Western Conference team to play, was San Antonio. While the Clips' winning streak ended at 11 games, the Spurs extended their own streak to 11 by downing the Lakers.
Thursday: Finally, The Clippers were back at practice, after two days off following the loss to Denver. It is apparent the team is trying to get their playoff rotations in order. This was the first time in a while that all players participated in practice.
Jamal Crawford has been intensifying his rehab for his strained calf. The priority for Crawford was to regain strength in the calf, which he lacked when he played the Hawks. Barring a setback, we should see Crawford play against the Pistons on Saturday.
J.J. Redick's status remains the elephant in the room, despite the fierce rehab. A return date is a mystery as Doc Rivers has not mentioned one although J.J. had been spotted shooting and jumping and did finally practice with the team. Clipper fans can only hope that his body responds to practice, and he is finally able to give it a go in the near future. Everyone knows how vital J.J.'s presence helps open things up for the Clippers' offense with his movement and speed.
Another boring night in the NBA; there wasn't a team that came to the aid of the Clippers. The Thunder dismantled the Cavs, moving them to a two and half game lead on the Clips. The Rockets gained a half game on Clips by silencing the Wolves.
Friday: Back on the practice court on Friday. This is first time in a while that the Clips have practiced on consecutive days. Due to the rugged schedule, practices have been possible only on ‘between game days'. Doc has opted for the rest rather than to push his troops as they round the corner in the NBA season. With the numbers of injuries, compiled with the new faces of Danny Granger and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, these practices and time off allow the group to get on the same page prior to their last tough road trip of the season.
Everyone was in attendance for practice with the big news that Jamal Crawford will indeed return to the team on Saturday against Detroit! Crawford has been sidelined for a close to a month, as he came back briefly against Atlanta and sat out after that. It has been the strength of his calf that has been the issue; that muscle must be ‘game ready'! It appears that Crawford will return to his six man role off the bench, and give that unit more fire power. Darren Collison will start until J.J. Redick returns. This will also be Crawford's push to win the sixth Man of the Year Award, an honor he seemed to have locked up before the injury.
As for J.J. Redick, it seems unlikely that he will play against the Pistons. His return does not have a solid date attached, though it seems that Redick has turned the corner, and should hopefully return in the near future.
On Saturday, the Clips will host a very inconsistent and below average, Detroit Pistons team at Staples. This is a chance for the Clips to reclaim their place in wins, with the Pistons and Bucks at home before heading out on a five game road trip. Nothing is better than to build up a couple wins against two bad Eastern Conference teams. The Pistons are coming off a back to back, where they lost at Phoenix, by six points. Inside, the Pistons are big with Andrew Drummond and Greg Monroe, still the Clips had no problem dethroning them earlier in the season. This meeting should be no different for the Clips, and they should win in spite of the Pistons' firepower.
Interesting night around the NBA, where again, the Clippers had no help with their seeding in the West, as all the regulars won. OKC lost Russell Westbrook to a sprained right knee, the same knee that has given him previous trouble. Kevin Durant came to rescue by hitting the game winning three pointer and top the Raptors in the final seconds of a double overtime thriller. Durant took over with 51 points to help the team to an improbable victory in Toronto. Westbrook's injury initially seemed to appear more serious than it was; he left the arena without crutches.
Good ‘ol reliable, the San Antonio Spurs went into Sacramento, and smashed the Kings. Not only did the Spurs pad their number one seed in the West, they continued streaking to 12 straight games.
Saturday: After their longest ‘non playing span' since their losing streak was snapped in Denver on Monday night, the Clippers leaped into action at home against the Detroit Pistons. On paper this matchup looked like it was going to be one sided, but the Pistons made it game.
Early on, the Clips asserted themselves on the Pistons early. Chris Paul was on point on all aspects of his game, but it was his three point shooting that was on target. Paul had been struggling from long distance for most of the season, but against Detroit he went 3-6. At the end of the first-the Clippers had a 10 point lead 36-26.
Detroit roared back in the second quarter lead with the three ball of Jonas Jerebko. Greg Monroe was also pesky on the boards, and finished with 16 points and 12 boards. Despite the early lead, also a beautiful ‘Blake Griffin to DeAndre Jordan alley oop', and Griffin doing it all! The Pistons cut the Clippers' lead to one at the intermission.
Jamal Crawford returned to action his calf injury healed-looked a little rusty but played solid defense, and contributed nine points. The bench continued to play strong, Danny Granger, once again showed his sharp shooting, going perfect from downtown! Granger has shown to be a great pickup for the team; he had 14 points in the game, and a big four point play late in the game.
In the third quarter the Clips opened up a nice lead on the Pistons and took a nine point lead into the fourth quarter. Still the Pistons would not cave; they hung around until Paul hit a jumper with a little more then five minutes left and put the game away for the Clips. The team had a balanced attack, won the game 112-103, and regained a position as a winning team.
In the standings, San Antonio continued their wins, went to Golden State and took care of the Warriors. The Rockets also kept pace behind the Clips, as they took care of the Cavs without Dwight Howard.
Clipper of the Game: Chris Paul shook off his three point shooting slump, which is significant for a team going forward. He had an unreal game with his 28 points and 15 assists to help lead the troops to a win, after falling earlier in the week.
Runner Up: Blake Griffin played a great all around game in transition, as well as with his jumper. He finished with 25 points, missed a triple double by three rebounds and three assists.
Sunday: The Clips have a day off before playing the Bucks at home. The Bucks are one of the worst teams in the league, and were beat up by the Kings on Sunday afternoon. This should be a great tune up for the Clippers before they head to the road for five games in seven days.
Clipper of the Week: With only two games in the week, the best Clipper was Chris Paul. Paul kept the Clips in the game with Nuggets late, then played like an MVP against the Cavs. It is apparent that Paul is back on track, which the Clips need with the brutal upcoming week. Griffin had a solid two games too, but his shooting performance again the Nuggets did him in. Another player that contributed was Granger, yet at the end of the day this was Paul's week.
Sink or Sail: Sail! Sure having the 11 game streak snapped was a downer, but going to Denver on the second night of a ‘back to back' isn't an easy task. Despite all the injuries, the Clips put together a very solid run, as they slowly regain the use of previously injured players, as Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison hit the court on Saturday.
Beating Detroit was a great way to get back on track. It was an overall team effort lead by Paul and Griffin, but with Crawford in tow, the bench is going to be even more dangerous. Once the team has J.J. Redick back, the Clips will arguably be the deepest team in the NBA.