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Good, Bad, and Ugly: Clippers Surging Into 2018

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The Clippers have won 5 of their last 6 games, and are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Where do they go from here?

Charlotte Hornets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Good:

Lou Williams:

Sweet Lou just dropped 40 points off the bench to defeat the Hornets almost single-handedly yesterday… and that’s not even his highest scoring game of the season. He’s scoring 21.4 points per game on incredible efficiency, is a better passer than Clippers’ fans possibly could have imagined, and has proven himself a leader in the locker room. Even a month ago I think a lot of Clippers’ fans believed that trading Lou at some point was probably the best course of action. Now, he’s quite possibly the most beloved player on this team, and someone everyone wants to keep as a Clipper for years to come. Lou has been magnificent. Forget 6th man of the year (which he’s all but locked up already, in my humble opinion); Lou is an All Star.

Blake Griffin Returns:

Blake returned almost a month early from his knee injury, worrying Clippers’ fans who have seen him injured for the better part of the past three seasons. Fortunately, he’s looked healthy the past two games— playing 30+ minutes in each, and showing no signs of hesitancy in attacking the basket or hitting the glass. His defense still isn’t great, yet the real thing he should be working on is moving the ball a bit quicker on offense. He’s the Clippers number one option, and they are going to feed him early and often, but too often the ball sticks to his hands. The Clippers’ offense has finally reverted to their early season ball-movement, and it would be a shame for Blake to hinder that. Hopefully all he needs is some time to get re-acclimated to his teammates and to the team’s new identity that has been forged in the past month.

Playoffs Within Reach:

The Clippers are one loss back from the 8th seeded Pelicans, and just two losses back from the 5th seed. They are currently a better team than the Blazers or Pelicans, and I think they have a more talented roster when healthy than either of those teams. I don’t think they can feasibly surpass the Nuggets or Thunder, but the 7 seed is certainly within the realm of possibility. The 8 seed would mean a date with the Golden State Warriors in the 1st round of the playoffs, and that’s something to be avoided if at all possible. However, a postseason berth of any kind would be incredibly impressive for a team that has dealt with many injuries to crucial players. A few weeks ago, a lottery pick seemed more valuable than a probable first round playoff loss. While that still might be the case in the long term, I think the players on this team deserve to make the playoffs. And maybe, just maybe, the fight and heart shown by this team will be an attraction in free agency.

Clippers Officially Good:

On the NBA’s stats page, the Clippers officially have a positive Net Rating on the season (0.2), meaning they have outscored their opponents despite a 16-19 record. That has them at 15th best in the league, ahead of teams like the Pistons, Trailblazers, and Heat, all of whom have better win-loss records than the Clips. Somehow, despite all the injuries, the Clippers are 10th in offensive rating, and a not too shabby 16th on defense. Credit to the Clippers’ players for giving effort and scrapping wins even with so many players out, and to Doc Rivers for giving one heck of a coaching performance this season. He needs to be getting a lot more love from national media sources, because this is his best season as a coach in a long time.

Bad:

Time Running Out on Jamil Wilson, CJ Wiliams:

Jamil Wilson sat on the bench against the Lakers on Friday, when Blake Griffin came back, and didn’t return from the G-League alongside CJ on Sunday morning for the Hornets game—his time with the Clippers, for the short term anyway, appears over. CJ has a few more days out of his 45 left, and the Clippers’ home-heavy schedule means he could stick around for a while, but sooner rather than later his limit will be reached as well. It looks like when CJ’s days are over, Gallo should be ready to reappear, cleaning up the rotation. However, CJ and Jamil have done enough to remain in the rotation. CJ is steady, dependable, and a great guy to have for a handful of minutes a game in various situations. Jamil might be the best pure catch-and-shoot three-point shooter on the team, and that is invaluable. Wes Johnson has basically taken Jamil’s spot as the 4th forward in the Clippers’ rotation behind Blake, CJ, and Sam Dekker. As much as Wes seems like a great teammate and person, and as useful as his help defense can be, he simply doesn’t do as much on the basketball court as either of the two-way players. I don’t know if the Clippers are waiting for other shoes to drop, or if teams don’t want Brice Johnson even with a 2nd round pick, but I hope they clear room for CJ and Jamil on their roster sometime soon.

Ugly:

Austin Rivers’ Injury:

The MRI on Austin’s Achilles might have come back negative, but I can’t help but feel that the Clippers are rushing him back. Achilles injuries are dangerous things, and I’d prefer that he take another few days off before returning to action. If the Clippers are the team we think they are, they shouldn’t need Austin against the Grizzlies on Tuesday. The Thunder game on Thursday is a different story, but I wouldn’t mind if Austin sat that one out too. The Clippers need Austin healthy for the rest of the season, and getting him back one or two games early isn’t worth the risk of a more serious injury. I just hope his Achilles is as strong as he thinks it is.