Well, that matchup with Golden State could have gone better. Though the Clippers may have played the Warriors even in quarters two through four, their sloppy first quarter might as well have been a template of how not compete with one of the most prolific offenses in NBA history. The starters looked completely out of sync and nine first-quarter turnovers effectively grounded the much-anticipated matchup before it had a chance to get off the ground. Clearly their throttling of the Pelicans didn’t do enough to mask the egg that the Clippers’ laid against the Warriors, as they saw a marked slide in this week’s batch of rankings. Let’s get to it.
ESPN (Marc Stein) - 7 Last Week: 5
We're not yet 25 games into the Clippers' schedule, and frankly, we're dizzy: They're a legit top-tier team on the Cavs/Warriors level! No, wait, they're a mirage! No, wait, they thrashed the Cavs in Cleveland, so they're back! No, wait, we shall never consider them title material again after the manner in which they lost at home to the Dubs again! The flawlessness of Chris Paul's 20-point, 20-assist, zero-turnover gem against New Orleans can't camouflage the sheer exasperation these guys inspire in a season where we really need a true challenger or two to emerge to challenge the Golden State/Cleveland duopoly.
NBA.com (John Schuhmann) - 6 LW: 4
The Clippers played the Warriors even over the last three quarters on Wednesday, but that didn't matter after a first period in which they had more turnovers (nine - seven that were live balls) than baskets (eight). That was their seventh straight loss to Golden State, but the first in which a former Warrior called out his current team for complaining too much. Chris Paul pushed his assist-to-turnover ratio back over 4.0 with 20 (an NBA season high) and zero in Saturday's win over New Orleans (played without Blake Griffin), the Clips' most efficient offensive game of the season.
NBC Sports (Kurt Helin) - 6 LW: 3
They are 5-5 in their last 10, and the issue (as it always seems to be) is depth. No lineup in the league has played more minutes this season than the Clippers starters — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have loved 411 minutes together (almost 20 a game) and are +18.6 points per 100 possessions. The second most used lineup by Doc Rivers is the all bench lineup at 143 minutes (and it’s +6.6 per 100).
CBS Sports (Matt Moore) - 11 LW: 10
I can't justify putting the teams below them above them, but I had to think about it. Not showing up, again, vs. the Warriors? OK. But that combined with the Pacers loss leaves a bad taste. The Clippers remain simultaneously an elite team and a disappointing one, in ways that seem different from that M.O from years past.
Sports Illustrated (Jeremy Woo) - 6 LW: 3
The Clips endure their annual smackdown by the Warriors, then Chris Paul comes back with 20 points, 20 assists and no turnovers the next game. Go figure.
As expected, the team’s narrative this week was determined almost wholly by their performance against the Warriors. A win would have cemented them as a legitimate contender and solidified their place in the upper echelon of these rankings, but a loss, particularly one as decisive as the beatdown we witnessed, has set the Clippers back yet again.
The general consensus seems to value the Clippers’ stock similar to that of the Houston Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies, who have been hot even without the services of their 153-million-dollar-man, Mike Conley. Both foes have been climbing the standings as of late, and at 17-7 and 17-8, respectively, they have certainly made things tighter at the top of the Western Conference. Disregarding Matt Moore’s rankings (we’ll get to him in a bit), this seems to be the clear third tier, as the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers sit by themselves atop the lists, while the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors slot into the three and four spots. I still view the Clippers as the most complete team of that group (9.8 net rating, tied for second in the NBA), but James Harden’s MVP-caliber play and the Grizzlies’ league-leading defense have rightfully vaulted those two teams into the conversation.
As for Matt Moore, his list seems to be more reactionary than any other. If you need evidence beyond the Clippers unfavorable ranking, look no further than his placement of the Rockets atop the entire league. Their offense with Harden at point guard is insanely dynamic, sure, but to rank them above the Spurs and Raptors, let alone the Cavs and Warriors, is misguided. The Clippers have fallen all the way to #11 on his list. I get that they haven’t looked impressive, but putting them behind the Chicago Bulls (13-10), the Utah Jazz team (only three wins against teams over .500), and the Oklahoma City Thunder/Russell Westbrook’s (13th in the NBA in net rating), three teams that they’ve beaten this season, is draconian.
After a leisurely week, the Clippers will play four games before next Monday to try and sway public opinion. All four are exceedingly winnable, with the biggest test likely being tonight’s battle with the Portland Trail Blazers. They’ll then go on the road to play three of the Eastern Conference’s bottom feeders (Magic, Heat, Wizards). A 4-0 week would certainly help prove that the Clippers are still the team we all thought they were, while anything else would likely be viewed as a disappointment.