Boy, does that impressive win over a red-hot Atlanta Hawks squad feel like it was a lot longer than a week ago or what? The Clippers folded like a flimsy lawn chair against the Philadelphia 76ers (sans Joel Embiid, by the way), squandering a 19-point lead in an all-around apathetic effort, and took a gigantic dump on the Oracle Arena hardwood to the tune of a 46-point blowout loss (46!) to the Golden State Warriors.
Expectations need to be tempered until Chris Paul returns, but there is undeniably a lot of room to improve in his absence, particularly on the defensive end. Blake Griffin still looks like he’s getting his legs back underneath him, but he shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for a team that has been outscored 130-54 in the paint over their last two games. That isn’t a symptom of one player not pulling his weight, it’s a sign of a general sense of indifference that has been unmistakably clear since CP’s injury. They have the luxury of not having to worry about falling out of the playoff picture, but in order to maintain a level of competitiveness that will keep them in the contender conversation, it’s going to need to start with a major uptick in defensive intensity.
ESPN (Marc Stein) - 13 Last Week: 11
The All-Star selection of DeAndre Jordan surprised lots of people, since Jordan generated very little buzz as a potential reserve candidate from media know-it-alls. Let's not forget, though, that he's bidding to lead the league in rebounding for the third time in four seasons while also on course to lead the league in field goal percentage for the fifth successive season. Coaches notice those things. The challenge for the Clippers, mind you, is enjoying Jordan's maiden All-Star selection ... or anything else these days. They fell to 3-9 this season without the injured Chris Paul thanks to that 46-point humbling in Golden State and remain right in the heart of an 11-game stretch that features 10 dates on the road ... with the only home game in that span coming Thursday against (gulp) Golden State. Blake Griffin is back now, but the Clips have had their three best players together just 26 times in 48 games this season.
NBA.com (John Schuhmann) - 10 LW: 8
Blake Griffin returned from an 18-game absence on Tuesday, but the Clippers fell to 3-9 without Chris Paul with a loss to the Embiid-less Sixers and a thrashing at the hands of the Warriors (to whom they've lost eight straight games). The bigger difference between the Clippers with and without Paul has been on defense, where they held their opponent under a point per possession in each of the last four games he played, and where they've allowed 121 per 100 in the five games since (though the Golden State skews that number a bit).
NBC Sports (Kurt Helin) - 13 LW: 9
As noted by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann on twitter, the surprising thing is that with Chris Paul out the Clippers get dramatically worse on defense — in the dozen games he missed this season they have allowed 115.2 points per 100 possessions. It’s a bigger issue than the offense. Oh, and trading for Carmelo Anthony is not going to help their defense. The Clippers have six of their next seven on the road, and the one home game is Golden State on Thursday night.
CBS Sports (Matt Moore) - 12 LW: 10
Wow, that 46-point loss to the Warriors was embarrassing. Again. But at least they don't have to see them again for ... three days. Maybe the Clippers will actually play with some spine this time. (That probably won't happen.)
Sports Illustrated (Jeremy Woo) - 13 LW: 13
I’m not sure a Carmelo deal that sacrifices backcourt depth will make L.A. better, but it might help them re-sign Chris Paul and stay relevant next season. If I’m the Clippers I go for it, but realistically it may not change much. Then again, Super Teams.
After the poor effort that they showed in their last two appearances, there’s no reason for the Clippers, in their current state, to be ranked anywhere besides just outside the top-10. Both Schuhmann and Helin touch on a stat that points to the surprising revelation that Chris Paul’s absence has affected the team’s defensive efficiency so much more drastically than the offensive efficiency. Though he’s a notoriously tough defender, I would have assumed the opposite to be true, but it just goes to show what a vital cog CP is to the entire Clippers machine.
Around the league, the Miami Heat are winners of seven in a row and are skyrocketing up the ranks after Dion Waiters reportedly made a deal with the devil, and the Milwaukee Bucks are the big losers of the week, as their once staunch defense seems to have gone by the wayside.
Given the Clippers talent level, barring any more major injuries (knock on wood) they seem to have a floor in the power rankings. They’re never going to fall much farther than the mid-teens, as they’ll tend to be given the benefit of the doubt over most other middling teams. That said, they have another tough slate of games this week against the Suns, Warriors, and Celtics. If they’re able to take care of the ball and control the paint, they should beat Phoenix, hang tougher with the Dubs, and possibly pull out a victory again Boston, but that’s looking like a much bigger “if” than it has at any other point this season. Blake Griffin was the lone bright spot of Saturday’s beatdown (20 points on 9/14 shooting) and they’ll be looking for him to carry the team to victories during this difficult stretch.