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Good, Bad, and Ugly: Clips Turning the Corner?

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After three brutal losses last week, the Clippers have come right back with a tidy three game winning streak. There are a couple positive indicators that could bode well for them down the stretch, but another two that might not.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Good:

Strong defensive performances: The Clippers have fallen to 18th in defensive rating on the season. It’s been a long, slow decline since they started the season as by far the best defensive squad in the NBA, and something they need to rectify if they want any hope of a Western Conference Finals appearance. Since their atrocious performance in Denver almost a week ago, they have been strong on that end, allowing only 78, 105, and 109 points, with most of the latter coming in garbage time. Most importantly, their effort has been present after JJ Redick called it out publicly, saying that he “didn’t know what to expect from the team anymore”. Effort, not ability or scheme, has been the big issue on defense this year, and if the Clippers have decided they are ready and able to consistently check that box, they should be much improved for the duration of the season. And, maybe, they can fully lock in once the playoffs begin.

J.J. Redick back on track: This has probably been JJ’s worst season as a Clipper. His shooting has dropped from the past two years, and his scoring output is at its lowest rate in the red, white, and blue. Even his defense has fallen off. However, the past week could be a sign that JJ is rounding into form down the stretch, as he has shot a ridiculous 61/62/100 over the past four games while taking 21 three pointers and 13 free throws. Those are the kinds of lights-out performances that Clippers’ fans have come to expect from JJ over the past three plus years. That just goes to show just how good he has been for the Clips—expecting that type of shooting consistently seems absurd, but JJ has proven time and again that he is on that level. While his overall game might continue to slip away slowly as JJ enters his mid-30s, his shooting should remain at a top-tier level. Hopefully he can carry this lava-like shooting into the playoffs. The Clippers could certainly use it.

Bad:

Feasting on an easy schedule: There’s nothing wrong with beating down opponents that should be breezy victories. In fact, that’s the mark of a good team. It’s also something that the Clippers have struggled with during the current iteration of the team, as they have consistently had serious let-downs against weak teams over the past few seasons. It’s never a bad thing to win games, especially for a team in late March that’s trying to make a real run in the playoffs. However, it can be unwise to take too much away from wins against the dregs of the NBA. The 2017 Los Angeles Lakers are an awful, awful team, and limiting them to 40 points in a half might not be a stalwart defensive performance so much as the equivalent of taking candy from a baby. Facing Cleveland’s B-team isn’t any better, nor is the remnants of the Knicks’ “superteam”. Those are all teams the Clippers should have beaten, and beaten handily. That they did so is a good sign. But while we can hope that this is a corner turned, there are a lot of reasons to doubt as well.

Ugly:

Paul Pierce getting minutes: After over a month of not checking into a game, Paul Pierce was finally dusted off. He played in the massacre at Denver, and his ability to “space the floor” along with a solid effort on the glass won him back a spot in the rotation. Wes Johnson has received only spot/garbage minutes in the three games since, and appears to be out for right now. It’s hard to really blame Doc for this. Wes has been brutally bad on offense this season, shooting a paltry 37/26 from the field, and providing virtually nothing in the way of passing or playmaking. The mere threat of Paul Pierce shooting from behind the arc, as bad as he has been the past couple seasons, is probably more useful than Wes’ offensive contributions. On the other hand… Pierce was an absolute trainwreck any time he took the court last season, and he’s only gotten a year older in the interim. Yes, his shooting stats are up a bit this season, but the sample size is so miniscule as to make the improvement irrelevant. He’s a disaster on defense, which is where Wes shines. Wes isn’t a lockdown defensive player, nor has he ever capitalized on the length and athleticism that made him an enticing prospect back in 2010. But he’s still a handy player on that end, someone who can force turnovers and be a presence on help defense. Pierce is not. He’s old, and slow, and doesn’t have a position to guard. I appreciate Paul’s Hall of Fame career, and what he presumably brings to the bench and locker room. He also shouldn’t be getting minutes in 2017, unless there are no other players able to play. Let’s hope this is just a brief experiment by Doc, and that Pierce will shortly return to the end of the bench.