Blake Griffin is back: The Clippers have missed Blake Griffin this season. The brilliance of Chris Paul has kept them in the 4th seed in the Western Conference for most of the year, but Griffin sitting out 20+ games has kept them from a top-3 seed, and has also led to some truly brutal losses. Paul is out now, but at least Griffin is back, and he appears healthy. After a pretty miserable game against Philadelphia, Griffin was the one bright spot against the Warriors, scoring at ease and playing with energy the whole time. It is vital that he plays at a high level the next month while CP is out, because the Clippers are only just ahead of Utah, and are a couple losses behind Houston. Reaching that three seed is hugely important to avoid the Warriors in the 2nd round, and even the dangerous Jazz in the first. The Clippers have a favorable schedule the last month of the season, but to make that worth anything, they need to keep within striking distance. Blake playing at an All-NBA is necessary to accomplish that.
Austin Rivers: With trade rumors swirling around the Clippers, Austin Rivers has become the Clippers top trade asset (that is even somewhat likely to be traded). In the midst of an injury-stricken and up-and-down Clippers’ season, Austin has been the one consistent bright spot. He’s still shooting over 40% from three, and is averaging by far a career high in points per game (11.8). The outside shooting is still streaky, and Austin’s decision making will never be fantastic, but Austin now looks locked in as a top-tier reserve guard, a player that any team would want coming off their bench. He gets to the basket, he plays solid defense (though it has dipped this season), and he now makes outside shots. There are many problems with the Clippers, but Austin Rivers isn’t one.
Chris Paul’s return still weeks away: It seems like an eternity since Chris Paul went down with a torn ligament in his thumb, but it’s only been two weeks. That’s partially because the Clippers’ schedule has finally lightened up: they have only played five games in that period of time. Unfortunately, February is a brutal month for the Clippers, as they take on numerous contending teams, many of them on the road. Chris Paul will almost assuredly miss the entire month, though there is a possibility he returns after the All Star Break, which would be around five weeks since he went down (the original timetable was six-eight weeks). Either way, while the Clippers desperately need to stay afloat without him, the team has been dreadful without Paul so far this year. Hopefully Blake Griffin’s presence will alleviate the loss, but CP can’t return soon enough. Hopefully we will have a better sense of his arrival time in two weeks.
The Warriors drubbing: The Clippers were never going to beat a healthy Warriors team without Chris Paul. It was probably never going to be close. But I don’t think many people were expecting a 46 point thrashing, especially since the Warriors did most of their damage from the paint, and not behind the three point line. The Clippers never even seemed to put up much of a fight—they appeared defeated from tip-off to the final buzzer. Blake did his best, but the Clips could never get stops, and the Warriors consistently did whatever they wanted on the court. The Clippers aren’t as good a team as the Warriors. No team in the NBA is right now. But the Clippers seem to have developed a mental deficit against the Warriors as well, and playing against their own heads as well as the Warriors is a recipe for disaster. Things will look better when Chris Paul is back, but it is very hard to see this Clippers team taking more than a game or two off the Warriors in the playoffs.
The defense: In the five games since Chris Paul’s injury, the Clippers have gone 1-4. That’s mostly due to their defense, which has given up an average of 119.4 points per game in that span. Even though that’s skewed by the massacre at the hands of the Warriors, the Clippers haven’t held an opponent to less than 100 points in that stretch. In other words, the defense is a trash fire. The Clippers started out the season with a strong month of possessing the top defense in the NBA. They are now 11th, and plummeting quickly. Chris Paul is obviously a huge loss: he’s the best defensive point guard of his era. But the Clippers still have solid or better defensive players across their roster, including two All-Defense candidates in Luc Mbah a Moute and DeAndre Jordan. The offense is going to struggle without the guiding hand of Chris Paul. The defense can’t fall as well, at least not to the extent which it has so far. Smothering the awful Phoenix Suns tonight would be a good start.