After a slow and quiet first half, the Clippers went into the locker room with a 12-point lead. Even though both teams played with improved sharpness in the second half, they failed to provide much excitement for the Clippers’ 254th consecutive sellout crowd.
The Clippers’ offense sputtered early without Austin Rivers, who had scored 24 and 28 in each of L.A.’s last two games but did not play today due to the flu. Raymond Felton replaced the young guard in the starting lineup as Doc Rivers stuck with the 3-guard lineup that has had success of late. The team started slow with just 20 first-quarter points, but corrected that by scoring 32 in the second and 28 in the third before a lackluster performance in fourth quarter garbage time.
Led by Chris Paul (19 points, 18 assists, 6 rebounds) and J.J. Redick (25 points, 7 rebounds), the Clippers offense flowed smoothly despite a slot night for Jamal Crawford (2 points, 1-9 shooting). DeAndre Jordan kept on allowing the small lineup to thrive by taking care of the rebounding, with 18 boards tonight. Jamal Crawford (1-12 from the field tonight) has made just 23 of his last 84 shots (27.4%) over the last 7 games, which hurts a Clippers squad that leaned on him heavily during Blake Griffin’s absence last season. Recently, though, they’ve found different contributors from the second unit—Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass. Speights chipped in with 19 points tonight and Bass had 12 of his own.
Miami isn’t your normal 11-28 team. They aren’t filled with young players still learning the game, or selfish players refusing to play in the system. Instead, they’re just incredibly mediocre. Outside of Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and Tyler Johnson, it’s hard to find surefire NBA talent on the roster. Guys like Wayne Ellington (1-7 from the field) and Rodney McGruder (also 1-7 from the field) start on the wing, and the bench is littered with injured players and former D-League guys. They don’t play great basketball but they aren’t awful either—they just really, really lack NBA talent. For the game, Miami shot just 37% from the floor, and neither Dragic (24 points) or Whiteside (15 points) can score with enough volume to carry the rest of these guys.
Still, they don’t seem disinterested or discouraged by their shortcomings. The Heat played a fiesty game. They ran their offense and tried to get good shots, they just lack finishers. And they certainly didn’t lack passion—a flagrant 2 foul for Dion Waiters and a couple of technical fouls on Eric Spoelstra and James Johnson wouldn’t have happened if the Heat rolled over. Miami even kept the game from being a total rout—they margin was mostly kept in the teens, with the Clippers ultimately winning by 12.
Despite their effort, this shorthanded Miami team just couldn’t keep up with the Clippers. L.A.’s offense overwhelmed the Heat without really having to work too hard—the team totaled 27 assists on their 36 made field goals, and whenever Chris Paul was on the floor the team tended to get whatever looks they wanted.
This victory pushes the Clippers’ mini-streak (J.J. Redick says it’s not a streak until 5) to four games as they try to make a push for the 3-seed and make up for the six-game losing streak that they closed December with. Houston narrowly defeated Oklahoma City last week, 118-116, and visit the Toronto Raptors today as part of a dense 18-games-in-29-nights stretch of their schedule. A loss by Houston today would be just one of the five that the Clippers will need to make up between now and the end of the season. On L.A.’s upcoming schedule are six lottery teams and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Hopefully they’ll win all seven of those, but going less than 6-1 would likely grow the gap between them and Houston.