We got the Zach Lowe bump yesterday in his weekly column. Combined with a shoutout in Hardwood Paroxysm recently (linked to by Larson yesterday) and Matt Moore giving LA shine in his last Power Rankings, it's been a good few days for the Clippers in the national media.
Executives with rival teams in the West say they no longer "fear" the Clippers; the word "stale" comes up a lot in discussing the core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan in its fourth season together. Fans seem to find the Clippers either boring or villainous — a flopping, whining group of highlight-chasing prima donnas who fail in the biggest moments.
The difference between a Clippers win and loss is often just L.A. being a bit better at the little things on a given night — timing rotations correctly, keeping their hands up in passing lanes, and being on the same page in switching assignments. They got stingier as last season went on, and they’re confident they can tighten up when the games matter. They’d better, because teams are well-versed in attacking them now.
The Clippers are good enough to win the West if just a couple of variables flip their way. Their defense got better as last season went on. The combination of killer offense and a defense nipping at the top 10 can get you very far.
They need a little more juice on the wing to make themselves matchup-proof, and their limitations on defense will probably cost them in the end again this season. But an appearance in the Finals wouldn’t be an absolute, blow-away shock, and another loss before the conference finals wouldn’t be a signal the Clips need a full-scale rebuild — a move away from the Jordan-Griffin-Paul foundation. Such is life in the West, where any team can lose in the first round.
The Clippers just need a small boost to maximize their title odds during the last of Paul’s prime. That’s what makes the Rivers family situation so interesting. Overpay Austin Rivers and they will have fewer resources to beef up the wing both this summer and in the vaunted summer of 2016.
Don’t sleep on these guys — now, next season, or going forward. Everyone loves to hate them, but the Clippers are firmly in the championship picture. They just need a little more luck than a few of the other teams jostling for center stage.
I personally think he could still give the team a little more credit (although it probably depends on how extensive his list of championship contenders is), since they're probably the third-best team in the conference at worst. The only team you would put down as surefire favorites over them would be Golden State (Memphis is a toss-up).
Speaking of the Warriors, Ethan Sherwood Strauss has a great piece up on them today. Regardless of who it's about, you should probably read it.
Ben Bolch suggests that upcoming elite competition might be for the best.
"We have what, five games left and four of them on the road?" Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of his team's pre-All-Star break schedule. "That may be the good thing honestly because we have hard games left. If we look [ahead] at the All-Star break, we're going to lose any one of those games."
The Clippers (33-16) are 2-2 midway through their eight-game Grammy Awards trip, an even record resulting from uneven play. Their inconsistency has remained a season-long theme even though they held the fourth-best record in the Western Conference before Tuesday's games.
"We let two get away that we shouldn't have," small forward Matt Barnes said of the losses to New Orleans and Brooklyn, "but now we have to get them back. We have Cleveland, Toronto, OKC and Dallas. It's an uphill battle."
Their inconsistency against lesser teams might not necessarily be due to complacency, though. Consider Brookyln, it's not often you see teams hit their last four or five shots (including some very tough attempts) and get all the bounces to create a ten point swing in the last minute of the game.
Rivers said that it's not necessarily a mental slip or a lack of effort. "I swear these are humans playing and sometimes they want to play well and they miss shots," he said.
The schedule doesn't necessarily do them any favors, as the beginning of The Gauntlet™ has them embarking on a season-high eight-game road trip (in just 13 days!), including the incredibly challenging 4-in-5 we're about to see. Despite all that (caused in part by the extended All-Star Break), Doc Rivers likes the new changes to the season schedule.
"I like it. It’s great and needed. Next year, it’ll be better. It’s just this year, it’s been hard," he said. "… It’s one year. We’re not going to make a big deal of it. We kind of knew it; the whole league knew it. We all thought it was a good idea to extend the break. Next year, we’ll extend the season by five or six days and it’ll be taken care of."
Meanwhile, our beloved Austin ("Doogie") Rivers seems to have discovered that home is truly where the
heart pops is.
"When it first happened, of course (I heard it). People were like, ‘Why is he doing this? It’s not going to work. He’s just going there because whatever or whatever,’" Austin Rivers said. "It was a lot of negative. It was probably 70 percent negative and 30 percent positive. It’s crazy how much changes in two weeks.
With a rocky 2 1/2 half years in New Orleans behind him, Rivers is starting to feel like his old self.
"This is the happiest I’ve probably been in my life. I’m dead serious," he said. "I haven’t been this happy since I was in high school. It feels great just to play free and not worry about a mistake or a missed shot."
Even if the Clippers add another guard, Rivers insists he won’t be looking over his shoulder like he was in New Orleans. And it’s certainly reasonable to wonder if the short leash he felt there led to a zapping of one his greatest strengths.
"Confidence" shows up in the strengths section of at least three of Rivers’ scouting reports done by NBA draft experts. It’s how he played when he was named the high school player of the year. It’s how we played when he sank a buzzer-beater for Duke against North Carolina.
Just maybe, it’s how he’s starting to play now.
"Guys are playing for each other, focused on getting the win. I’ve never been a part of that. In New Orleans, we were just trying to keep our heads above water. I’ve never been a part of something like this."
Let's be honest here, and no disrespect to Bolch, Markazi, and anyone else out there. Dan Woike is head and shoulders the best Clippers beat writer out there and he's probably going to get a lot more visibility sooner than later.
Back to bloggers though. The renowned Ian Levy (known best for his work at the late Hickory High and Nylon Calculus) took a look at the Clippers' defensive progress over at the woefully underappreciated Vantage Sports.
One of the big factors in the past nine games has been the performance of the team's two key defensive cogs—DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes.
The table below shows a few of Jordan's key defensive metrics for this season, split into five segments.
Jordan is defending roughly the same quantity of shots, both per chance and in the aggregate, but with dramatically better results over the past nine games. Across the entire season, a mark of 0.83 Points Against per Shot would rank 4th in the league, trailing only Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, and K.J. McDaniels.
The work Jordan has been doing on the interior has been matched by a dramatically improved stretch from Barnes on the perimeter. Here are Barnes's numbers, divided into the same season segments.
The Clippers have hedged on 22.95 percent of their screens this season, the fourth-highest total in the league. The shot-defense numbers Jordan and Barnes have put up over the past few games may be partially a product of random swings in a small sample, but they also reflect a defense that is playing much better as a group.
Finally, Clippers hate is ubiquitous. This country is a hostile atmosphere for Clippers fans. What else can you expect in a world where the President doesn't give Chris Paul his just dues? Former aide Reggie Love reveals this shocking new tidbit in an excerpt from his upcoming book.
I’ll never forget the night I got an email from the future president of the United States consisting only of Tony Parker’s stat line.
I typed an email back to Barack Obama: “Those are good numbers. But it was against a weak team.” Then I added Chris Paul’s stats.
I had been Obama’s personal aide for a few months by then. But with that little exchange, something shifted in our relationship. I like to believe that learning to handle my responsibilities earned me Obama’s trust. But I also know that the strength of our friendship grew out of our shared love of basketball.
Basketball was our common ground—something we could talk about that didn’t drain him like his other daily conversations could. Basketball modified the tenor of our interactions and took us from boss and underling to something more like friends.
It began with that back-and-forth during the 2007 NBA playoffs. Who was going to be right? The debate went on for years. After Paul, a Los Angeles Clippers guard, won the All-Star Game MVP in 2013, Obama reluctantly conceded, though Parker’s collection of four championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs may make the president’s case for him a little better than mine for Paul.