The Clippers’ resounding victory over the defending champs was, by all accounts, impressive, but any sense of momentum was quickly zapped by a second perplexing loss to the Pacers last night. While the loss is an indication that the team hasn’t completely regained their footing, they are now through the worst of an extraordinarily busy schedule that, while players and coaches won’t admit it, has surely taken a toll on their play.
This week’s batch of power rankings reflects the notion that though the Clippers proved that they can compete with the league’s elite, we still don’t know exactly what to expect from this team on a game-to-game basis. Even great teams are allowed the occasional off night, but a stretch of six games that includes four losses to the Pacers, Nets, and Pistons (who granted, have won five of their last seven) has cast an undeniable shadow of doubt over this team moving forward. Wednesday’s matchup with Golden State is the perfect stage for the Clippers to answer many of the questions that have arisen during this rocky stretch.
ESPN (Marc Stein) - 5 Last Week: 4
Turns out that halting their recent three-game slide with a stirring rout of the Cavs in Cleveland on TNT didn't completely fix the Clippers. Yet it seems safe to suggest Clips fans will be happy come Thursday no matter what happens Wednesday night in their first meeting of the season with the Warriors. Reason being: Thursday marks the five-year anniversary of David Stern blocking the three-way trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, which enabled the Clippers to acquire CP3 days later and change the course of franchise history.
NBA.com (John Schuhmann) - 4 LW: 4
The Clippers beat the Cavs and will surely get up for their first meeting with the Warriors on Wednesday. But that game has lost a little luster with the Clips' post-Thanksgiving swoon that has included two losses to Indiana and two more to Detroit and Brooklyn. They rank 17th offensively since the holiday, Chris Paul has had more turnover issues (four or more in six of his last nine games), and their early-season bench magic has worn off. They've been outscored by 21 points per 100 possessions with DeAndre Jordan off the floor over their last six games.
NBC Sports (Kurt Helin) - 3 LW: 4
Thursday’s win in Cleveland was the kind of game Los Angeles lost in recent years — three losses in a row coming in, they didn’t point fingers but regrouped and blew out the defending champs. It looked like the Clippers had matured and taken a step forward, then they came home and had a sloppy loss with lots of complaining to the officials in a loss to Indiana. Which Clipper team do we get when the Warriors come to town Wednesday?
CBS Sports (Matt Moore) - 10 LW: 4
The Cavaliers win was so good, but they've lost four of six and twice in big ways to the Pacers. I was ready to forgive the losing streak and declare it over after the two wins, but the Pacers loss set them back. That, coupled with the Cavs' struggles taking the shine off the Clippers' victory over them, drops them here. Just when you think the Clippers have turned it around...
Sports Illustrated (Jeremy Woo) - 4 LW: 3
Consider a brief spot of trouble somewhat navigated: the Clips bounced back from that weird double-OT loss in Brooklyn by handily sweeping a road back-to-back against the Cavs (impressive) and the Pelicans (eh, less impressive), then lost a bad one to the Pacers for the second Sunday in a row. The first of four meetings with the Warriors looms Wednesday.
Bad losses and all, last week’s win over the Cavaliers clearly did enough in the eyes of the national media for the Clippers to maintain their spot in the Top 5. With the exception of Matt Moore, who seems less than impressed with the victory over Cleveland given the Cavs’ recent slump, all of the other rankers dropped the Clippers no more than a single spot, and Kurt Helin even bumped them up a notch. Given the Warriors terrifying offense (114.8 off. rating, 60.9% true-shooting pct.), the Raptors current winning streak (seven in a row) and the Spurs still-perfect road record (11-0), the Clippers sitting somewhere between 3-5, nestled near the Cavs, is spot-on in my estimation.
While they haven’t been able to maintain the stifling defense that propelled them to a league-best record through the first month of the season, ranking them behind teams like the Bulls, Bucks, and Celtics, as Matt Moore did, unfairly minimizes the 16-6 record that the Clippers have amassed over formidable competition. Is there room for improvement? Of course. And with only two games on the slate this week, the squad will be able to rest up and find some practice time to work through issues that have plagued them in recent weeks. Fatigue is likely the biggest factor in their defensive regression and fresh legs just might help a few more of those in-and-out shots find the bottom of the net, as opposed to rolling off the rim.
If the Clippers really want to alleviate concerns regarding their uneven play though, they’ll show up and play Golden State tough for 48 minutes on a Wednesday night where all eyes will be on Staples Center. Win or lose, a hard-fought battle will do wonders to further legitimize this team as a contender.