A 5-point game at halftime blasted into a 42-point victory for the Charlotte Hornets. The Clippers went 0-2 in the Global Games against the Hornets, turning their preseason record to 1-3. Preseason success/failure does not guarantee the same results come regular season, but trends do continue. What is trending for the Clippers is the same issue they had last season - disastrous bench play. Maybe the Clippers should avoid playing international basketball, with an 0-3 record out of the homeland and a pristine 1-0 record on American soil. The Clippers bench is floundering in international waters, although, the starters weren't so great this morning either.
The Clips produced 22 turnovers, with stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin tied for the team lead in the game with five. The third quarter was disastrous for the Clippers, with 9 turnovers, 9 fouls and only 8 points as a team!!! The Hornets made the Clippers pay for fouling for such a bad quarter, scoring 29 and going 9 for 12 from the line in the quarter. The Clippers were able to force the Hornets in the game to turn it over 17 times, but only managed 5 fastbreak points. Part of the reason was the Hornets hustle, getting back and forcing a half-court set. Most of the reason was a lack of execution on the Clippers. After an average first half performance, ball movement died in the second, with only six assists in the entire half. Granted, they only made eight baskets, but the lack of scoring correlates with the stagnation on the offensive side. Even though its preseason, frustration was palpable on the face of players and coaches.
The Clippers were down five at halftime, and the starters were effective until that point. Blake had a double-double in the first half, with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Paul led the team in scoring at the midway point with 14. Justin Russo mentioned on twitter that Wesley Johnson led the team in plus/minus at halftime, and Johnson's general influence with the starters was positive. Deandre Jordan was effective defensively in one-on-one situations with Al Jefferson, forcing one of the best post players in the league into tough shots. Jefferson was able to get most of his production when matched up against Blake or when the Clippers defense was scrambling. Offensively, Jordan didn't get many touches. JJ Redick produced all 6 of his points in the first half, including an end of the half three pointer resulting from a beautiful play called by Coach/GM Doc Rivers. Not many plays were ran in the game, with the offense usually initiating with some basic screen. The Clips actually shot better than the Hornets the first half, shooting 47.6 percent compared to the Hornets 43.7 percent. The Clippers ineptitude from range was essential in the reason for the deficit, going making 2 of 8 in the first.
The third quarter was horrific for the Clippers. The Hornets opened with an 18 to 5 run in 8 minutes of play. The Clippers shot 3 of 16 in the quarter, with one alley-oop to Griffin. That alley-oop was the only shot in the paint by the Clippers during the third quarter. All 15 other shots were from the midrange or a three-pointer. In the second half the Clippers routinely settled instead of attacking the basket.
The revamped bench unit continues underperforming. A major stylistic change occurs when the bench comes in. A crisp, lots of passes and quick movement offense became stagnate when the second string assimilated into the game. Jamal was the first reserve off the bench and had a discouraging game, posting a team worst minus-29 in his minutes. Lance Stephenson continued his disappointing preseason, finishing with 2 points, zero assists, and 2 turnovers in 19 minutes. Lance has yet to score more than 7 points with the Clippers or shoot higher than 38 percent. The Jamal-Lance combo meshes poorly, with both players ball dominant and inefficient. Josh Smith noticeably performed the best from the bench, scoring 9 points, getting 3 steals and going to the line 8 times. Unfortunately, Smith only made 3 free-throws, but that's the risk with his skillset. Paul Pierce surprisingly was a team best minus-4 in the game, but shows why that stat can be misleading, shooting 0-4 with one assist, one rebound and one hard flagrant foul on Cody Zeller. Poor Cody, the recipient of two hard flagrant fouls, the other foul coming from Deandre. Who knew preseason could be so physical?
This blowout loss may have a silver lining. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute started the second half for the Clippers, and it was horrendous. Wesley Johnson isn't the greatest shooter, but may as well be Kyle Korver compared to Mbah a Moute. Luc's defender was guarding him in the paint while he basically just hung out in the right corner. The lane was clogged and driving the ball into the lane was impossible for the rest of the time. The Clippers were down 5 at the start of the third and were down by 18 when he checked out. With all the starters being the same except him, it can be safe to assume the ‘starting Mbah' experiment began and ended today.
The temperament of the 2015 preseason Hornets is different than last seasons Hornets. Credit Steve Clifford for finding this team a new way offensively. A team that used to hesitate to shoot threes shot an incredible 14 for 25 from deep in the game, making 7 each half. Jeremy Lin continued his preseason destruction of the Clippers, making all 3 of his three-pointer attempts. Hornet point guards in general just destroyed the Clippers, with Brian Roberts and Kemba Walker combining for 3 for 6 from outside and going 8 for 9 at the freethrow line. New Hornet Nicolas Batum had a nice stat-line of 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Off the bench, Tyler Hansbrough and Marvin Williams each scored 10. Spencer Hawes might be the Clippers Lil B, reasserting his curse with a productive 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 three-pointer, and plus-18 in 15 minutes. The Hornets missed the playoffs last year, but key injuries debilitated their season. Health permitting, this Hornets team will be a top defensive team and in the playoff mix. The Hornets are quality team, but the Clippers are mainly beating themselves.
The Clippers fouled the Hornets 30 times, leading to a 29 for 39 performance for the Hornets at the charity stripe. Fouling plagues the Clippers in their first four preseason games, with no opponent shooting less than 20. Defensive frustrations turned itself into poor offensive play, with possessions staying on one side of the floor, playing one-on-one. The Clippers have six days off until they play one of the most team oriented organizations in the league, Golden State. The Clippers have quite a bit to work on. The team needs to play with more care, limiting mental mistakes like turnovers and fouls. The bench needs to find some sort of rotation cohesion. Yes, it is preseason and the Clippers will improve. But yes, there are reasons to worry.