Chris Paul: What a difference a Point God makes. Clippers fans have been despondent in recent weeks, and even a couple wins hadn’t done much to improve the overall mood. Then Chris Paul returned. The Clippers looked crisp again on both ends. They toughened up on defense. Most importantly, they stopped turning the ball over constantly, and thus ended the storm of fastbreak points that opponents had been raining down on them the past few weeks. Despite our constant protestations to the majority of NBA fans that they underrate and underestimate Chris Paul, I think that we Clippers fans tend to forget just how great he is sometimes as well. Nothing reminds us of his potency better than his absence. The Clippers without Chris Paul (and Blake Griffin of course) are a lottery team. With Paul, they are probably a 47-52 win team-- a solid playoff squad. Essentially, he’s worth around 25 wins a season. There aren’t five more valuable players in the whole league.
J.J. Redick: After struggling in his first two games back from injury, JJ was explosive in the Clippers’ four wins. His ability to take and make a multitude of three-point shots transforms the Clippers’ offense into an entirely different beast than it is without him. JJ doesn’t get many assists because he doesn’t penetrate the paint much, but he moves the ball around a lot—a nice sight to see after five games of primary guard play coming from Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. While not a stopper, JJ plays solid positional defense, which is also an improvement on some of the players who picked up minutes in his absence. He is simply a very good player, as we at Clips Nation have noted many times. The Clippers might consider resting him in certain games if they don’t make a push up the standings soon: he must be healthy for the playoff push this season.
DeAndre Jordan: While Chris Paul’s return has been the key catalyst to the last two Clippers’ victories, DJ’s strong play has been a huge reason for their four-game win streak. Averaging 13.5 points (on 70% shooting) and 16.8 rebounds, DJ has simply been a monster on both ends. He’s not the Clippers best player (Paul), or most important player offensively (JJ). But he might be the key to the team’s energy level. When DJ is energetic and active, the rest of the team generally is as well. When DJ is lethargic, everyone else looks just as sluggish as he does. The Clippers need this kind of DJ if they are to make a push in the standings and catch any of the top three seeds.
Current Standings: The Houston Rockets just keep winning games. They beat the Raptors in Toronto on Sunday, and just pulled off a victory at home in the final minutes against a good Hornets squad. Even though the Clippers have won four games in a row, they haven’t gained any ground in the standings—the Rockets have won nine in a row, and San Antonio and Golden State have won eight of their last 10 games. While the Clippers have created some breathing room against Memphis, Utah, and OKC for the 4th seed, this could actually be a bad thing. In the event that the Clips want to fall in the standings so they take on a non-Golden State team in the 2nd round, they need to be relatively close to teams behind them in seeding. While homecourt advantage in the 1st round is important, playing someone other than Golden State in the Semi-Finals might be more so. The Clippers need Houston (or San Antonio) to start losing games sometime soon, or the dream of a top three seed will fully slip away.
Jamal Crawford: Jamal has been awful since an excellent five game stretch in late December. He is shooting just 27.3% from the field and 20% from three over the last seven games while scoring a mere 9 points per game. He has increased his distributing, but not nearly enough to mitigate for all the bricks he is throwing up. Look, I like Jamal. I think he’s been a valuable player for the Clippers since he arrived over four years ago. However, there is no question that he is struggling badly right now, and Doc can’t continue to play him 25+ minutes a game. He either needs to sit until he feels healthy again (feasible now that CP and JJ are playing), or receive a severe cutback in minutes. Jamal can still play be an important part of this team, but it is time to scale back his role a bit.