Not everything can be put upon these players—a bunch of backups, dead on their feet and banged up as they complete a 7-games-in-10-nights stretch with tons of guys sitting out. Minutes have been high and rest has been low for this crew, and it’s probably unfair to hold too much about this lackluster performance against them. Still, you’d hope to win at least one of the last six games, and there’s no doubt that energy and effort have come in inconsistent spurts lately—spurts that have grown fewer and farther between as time has worn on.
It’s hard to absolve them of all culpability, though. Paul Pierce’s play continues to fail to warrant a sniff of the hardwood—or even a roster spot. Jamal Crawford overreacted to two laughably bad performances in his last two outings (combined 5-25 from the field) by shooting just four times tonight. At least he’s consistent—he missed all four. Austin Rivers has played relatively well over this stretch but he continues to look like he’s stat-hunting in extended minutes—he makes good plays on offense but has become disengaged defensively. Luc Mbah a Moute has developed enough of a game to be playable offensively when the Clippers’ starting unit is intact, but he’s a massive liability when the offense stops revolving around superstars and becomes a collective affair. And DeAndre Jordan, disillusioned with some combination of injuries, losses, and lack of touches, seems to be content to show up, grab 10 rebounds, and throw down a big dunk or two while exerting minimal effort.
As a result, the most effective Clippers in recent games have been the lower-profile ones. Minimum-contract veterans like Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton, and Alan Anderson have supplied what little fight the Clippers have had in the last 48 hours. It was nice, especially when Felton scored 26 points last night, or when Bass and Speights scored 18 apiece off the bench tonight. The silver lining is hopefully that Doc Rivers will reward their contributions with minutes once the team is fully healthy. L.A. would certainly benefit from a little more of Brandon Bass and a little less Paul Pierce and Wesley Johnson.
Some of this stretch can truly be chalked up to unavoidable circumstance. Blake Griffin had to have his minor knee surgery at some point, and there was no way to predict that within the next week, both Chris Paul and J.J. Redick would suffer injuries of their own. It’s certainly fair to say that the Clippers were dealt a rotten hand in the last two weeks of 2016. Hell, the entire year has been less than stellar, from a regrettable Blake Griffin punch in January to injuries to both Paul and Griffin in game 4 of the first round of the playoffs, all the way through to this 6-game losing streak, the longest of the Chris Paul era.
Still, let’s be careful of dismissing all of this to circumstance. There are effort and preparedness issues at hand, and they aren’t all capable of being written off by some sore hamstrings. Maybe Chris Paul is on the mend and the Clippers can start out 2017 right: getting some wins, getting Blake Griffin back, and going on a tear towards a post-season where they can actually stay healthy. For now, there isn’t much to do but cling to hopes of that future.