The Big Picture
The Clippers are struggling right now—there’s no way around it. L.A. have lost 5 of their last 7, but there’s more to it than that. Their defense has notably dropped off in the last fifteen games, and in a season that’s 23 games old, it’s fair to ask, rather than not looking like themselves, if this is who these Clippers really are on the defensive end.
If you had looked at the Clippers’ last seven games before they were played, you might have predicted a 5-2 stretch, with losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Instead, the Clippers have gone just 2-5 in their last seven games and are now tied for the 3-seed with Houston at 16-7 (Memphis sits in 5th at 16-8). While it’s early to panic over something of this nature, it’s worthwhile to note that there are good teams nipping at the Clippers’ heels. And while every team (even the 73-9 Warriors last season) drop games that they should have won, those games do eventually add up—and when it comes time to start the post-season, a few of them could be the difference between home-court advantage in the second round and a date in Oakland.
Still, the Clippers have had a dense and difficult schedule so far, somewhat excusing their recent stumble. That doesn’t ease worries about the personality of this team. If worrying quotes from Chris Paul and a repeated lack of intensity in recent weeks wasn’t enough, a disheartening loss to the Warriors can only make things worse. A win could have fired up the Clippers’ confidence and given the season meaning—right now, it’s easy to buy into the narrative that this season’s title race is a foregone conclusion.
The Pelicans are bad. After an 0-8 start, New Orleans showed some signs of life: Jrue Holiday returned, the team logged encouraging wins against the likes of the Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers, and Charlotte Hornets, and the record jumped to 6-10 (still bad, but better!). Since then, they have lost 6 of their last 7 contests, including to last place team in each conference, with both losses coming in New Orleans. One of those games, against the Philadelphia 76ers, was the Pellies’ last outing, while the game before that, they lost at home to a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team when Troy Daniels put up 29 points.
Despite all of that, New Orleans isn’t a team without talent at the top of their rotation. The aforementioned Holiday is a former All-Star who is a very capable starting NBA point guard. Anthony Davis, one of the best individual talents in the league, averages 31.4 points a game to balloon an offense that would otherwise struggle to find points.
- Easy Stretch: The Clippers’ next six games are against New Orleans, Portland, Orlando, Miami, Washington, and Denver. In that stretch, all six are games that the Clippers should definitely win (Portland is the only surefire playoff opponent, and that game is in Los Angeles). Later in the month, the team plays New Orleans again and Denver again, as well as drawing the struggling Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. This is where they should be getting wins to make up for the rough going in recent weeks.
- First to 3,000 wins: Ralph Lawler will call his 3,000th game for the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night. I’ve been listening to Ralph call games since I was a little kid and no matter how corny some internet cynics might think his “Bingo!” and “Oh me, oh my!” calls are, he’ll always be my favorite announcer to listen to. Congrats on reaching this milestone, Ralph, and thank you. He’s the third active announcer to reach this mark with one team.
- Milestones: DeAndre Jordan needs 2 rebounds tonight for 6,000 in his career. He also needs 7 blocks to move into first place in Clippers franchise history. Paul Pierce needs 24 minutes played to move into 15th all-time (let’s hope he doesn’t get there tonight). Jamal Crawford is 28 points away from passing Steve Nash for 80th on the all-time scoring list.
- Rotation: Raymond Felton missed the Clippers’ last game due to a family emergency, prompting Alan Anderson’s inclusion in the second unit. Anderson was relatively quiet in 13 minutes of time, and while I’d like to see a larger sample size, the Clippers could definitely use Felton back sooner rather than later. Wesley Johnson also seems to have at least temporarily reclaimed his rotation spot from Paul Pierce, though we’ll have to track that moving forward.
- Connections: Chris Paul started his career in New Orleans. The Clippers traded the pick that became Austin Rivers to New Orleans. as part of their deal for Chris Paul, and now Austin Rivers plays for the Clippers. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has served as a Clippers assistant coach, head coach, and associate head coach—in that order, all in separate stints with the team in different decades. The Clippers and Pelicans swapped pick 33 (C Chieck Diallo) for picks 37 and 38 (C Diamond Stone and PG David Michineau) in a draft-day trade this summer.