Jamal Crawford: The saying “can shoot you into or out of games” needs a picture of Jamal hanging above it the basketball dictionary. And there’s no doubt that Jamal has shot the Clippers out of many games over the past five years. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that he has won them a bunch of games as well. This week, he happened to snag them two: he exploded for back-to-back gems against the Bulls and Celtics. They were both vintage Jamal performances— replete with 4-point plays, high-arcing 30 footers, and tough floaters. He snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in both games, and that can’t be underestimated. If those games were losses, the Clippers may well have lost 5 in a row, a disastrous stretch this late in the season. While not a massive contributor against the Grizzlies, he played well, staying within the flow of the offense and picking his spots judiciously. Jamal has never been at his best for the Clippers in the playoffs. Now, he seems to be improving as the year goes on after a horrid middle of the season, and hopefully he will be in a good rhythm come the postseason. His high variance style of play can harm the Clippers, but it’s also one of the ways they can beat teams when the rest of the squad is having an off night.
Raymond Felton: Ray’s stats over the past week don’t jump off the page. The same could be said of his line for the season. It doesn’t matter. Ray has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the Clippers’ season, and has won fans’ hearts with the intensity of his play and the toughness of his drives to the basket. He has provided a steady hand at point guard, a nice contrast to the hectic play of Jamal and Austin Rivers. His defense is not fantastic but is mostly solid—again, he’s a sturdy rock, always calm. This week, Ray was a major contributor to the comeback win over the Celtics, collecting steals, blocks, and his usual diet of difficult layups at the rim. Felton also played well in the victory over the Grizzlies, and is the perfect weapon to use against older and slower teams such as them (and the Spurs). The only real issue is that he’s playing himself well out of the Clippers’ price range this summer. If he does leave, it will be a sad day indeed.
The current standings: There are still 17 games left in the season for the Clippers, and a lot can change. But right now, they are in the worst position possible. Seeded 5th, they would be taking on a strong Utah Jazz team without homecourt advantage in the 1st round. While the Clippers match up well with the Jazz, they are going to be a tough out, and any series against them would be bruising. If the Clippers do make it past the Jazz, they would be matched up against the Golden State Warriors, a team that the Clippers have shown zero indication that they can beat over the last two years. Barring a setback, Kevin Durant would be fully healthy by the 2nd round of the playoffs, just exacerbating the Clippers’ woes. Again, there’s a lot of time left. Maybe the Clippers click and put it all together. Maybe the Warriors’ downward slide continues. Yet as of this moment, it’s virtually impossible the Clips could topple the Dubs in a seven game series.
Game to Game Inconsistency: The only consistent thing about the Clippers is how inconsistent they are. Taking on a mediocre at best Wolves team with a day’s rest? Blowout loss. The very next day, facing a much better Grizzlies team? Dominant win. They can get destroyed by 10th seeded Milwaukee, and then come back from a significant deficit against the 2nd seeded Celtics. There are some games where they just don’t have it in them, and while that happens to every NBA team from time to time, the frequency with which this malaise happens to the Clippers is worrying. It’s not just one aspect of the game either. Sometimes it’s the transition defense that fails to show up. Sometimes everyone is just standing around on offense, unwilling to actually attack the basket or make plays. Other times it’s the effort on the glass. And occasionally, it’s all three and more. For a veteran team that has had its core together for almost half a decade, and that has such star-power, this inconsistency is maddening. Yes, the Clippers have dealt with injuries, and had to reset their rotations many times during the season. But that’s an excuse, and, at this point, a frankly unacceptable one.