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Good, Bad, and Ugly: Clippers Can’t Stay Healthy

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Due to injuries and the worsening play of a couple rotation players, the Clippers are thinner than ever before, and it’s starting to show. Can they survive the injuries and remain firmly in the playoff hunt through the All Star break?

Minnesota Timberwolves v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Good:

Team Continues to Play Hard:

Even though the Clippers have lost their last two games (both in rather dismal fashion), they have, for the most part, continued to play at the intense level that won them so many games in December and early January. The Timberwolves game was just a nightmare for many reasons, but the Clippers certainly put a lot of effort into winning that game—it was the execution that went awry. The good news is that playing hard is enough to win a decent amount of NBA games even without too much talent. Just look at teams like the Cavaliers and Wizards, who have all the talent in the world, yet can’t bring themselves to try enough to beat lesser teams, and suffer terrible losses because of it. While the Clippers are in a bit of a funk right now, they can hopefully hang around the bottom of the playoff bracket as long as their energy and effort level remain high.

Tyrone Wallace:

Tyrone Wallace is not a perfect player. For a guy whose overall skill set leans more towards being a combo guard in the NBA, he’s not a great passer, and doesn’t always see the court as well as he might (though that should improve over time). Despite his seemingly good 40% three-point shooting, he is a complete non-threat from outside the paint: his shot takes forever to load, and he is unwilling to take all but the most open shots from more than 15 feet away from the hoop. However, those things haven’t mattered (too much, anyway) thus far this season. Wallace has been a revelation, even more than previous two-way signees CJ Williams and Jamil Wilson. He’s averaging 11.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game on 50% shooting, and is even getting to the line nearly four times a game. His defense is remarkably sound for a rookie, and he has shown that he can cover a range of guard type players. Moreover, he’s simply a smart player. He has superb timing on his cuts to the hoop, he generally moves well without the ball, and he has made heady, game-winning plays in crunch time. Only 23 years old, Wallace has already edged himself into the conversation of “most promising Clippers’ youngster”, and is someone they absolutely need to keep around for the long-haul.

Bad:

Fading of Sam Dekker and Sindarius Thornwell:

One of the reasons the Clippers were so fun for much of the past month and a half was because everyone on the roster was contributing in a positive way. Considering the expectations of most of the rotation players in that period (consisting largely of two-way players, rookies, and deep bench pieces), they were positively exceptional. That has changed somewhat in recent weeks, particularly with Sam Dekker and Sindarius Thornwell. Dekker’s rebounding has fallen off, and that was the one area he consistently made an impact when he clawed his way back into the rotation in December. His aggression on offense is also down in January—he’s getting to the free throw line less, taking fewer shots in general, and has completely stopped firing from deep. Even though he wasn’t making those jumpers, at least he was a threat to shoot them. No more. Many of the same problems also hold true for Thornwell, though lack of aggression is not one. If anything, Sindarius is often too determined to drive to the basket. It’s like he has a program set that once he takes two dribbles to the hoop, he has to try and finish there. In the grand scheme of things, that aggression and attitude is positive. In the now, his shots are often wild, and he is passing up open jumpers for contested layups at the basket, which is just bad basketball. Thornwell is a capable defender who, even among the try-hard Clippers, brings a consistently high level of effort. However, he’s bordering on becoming unplayable due to his lack of offensive game. These two need to get back on track, because the Clippers’ injury situation doesn’t appear to be getting better any time soon, and they need every healthy player to be contributing.

Ugly:

Injury Situation:

The Clippers can not catch a break. DeAndre Jordan, Mr. Indestructible himself, has been out for four games, though his return is imminent (and not a moment too soon). Jawun Evans missed the Wolves game with a sore abdominal injury, and those can be incredibly painful. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Evans sit out a few games as well. Austin Rivers is, according to Doc, two weeks away from a return at the very least, which is a mighty blow. Rivers was so good for the Clippers early this season, and his shooting and shot-creating has been needed badly in recent games. CJ Williams, the Clippers’ stalwart two-way player, is still rehabbing a bad ankle injury in the G-League. And Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers’ big free agent signing this summer, remains out. He is also “getting closer” to a return, but his timetable appears more closely aligned to Austin’s than DJ’s. In other words, Austin and Gallo might well be out through the All Star break. While the individual injury situations could be worse, the Clippers really, really need to get healthy soon if they are to make the playoffs.

Timberwolves Game:

This game, as mentioned above, was akin to watching the Hindenburg go down and being unable to do anything about it. The refereeing was horrible, and did the Clippers no favors, but they lost themselves a very winnable game against a team ahead of them in the standings, which is a really bad result at this point in the season. There were a myriad of reasons they lost this game, each more depressing than the next. First, the Clippers took a shocking number of horrible shots, mostly early in the clock. A surprising culprit in this was Wes Johnson, who took three (!!!) pull-up midrange jumpshots in semi-transition, as well as a somewhat contested three. It’s good to see that Wes is feeling confident, but those are not good shots from anyone on the team besides maybe Lou Williams. Second, the team had some baffling turnovers, this time mostly the fault of Milos Teodosic and Blake Griffin. Blake’s two turnovers in the last minute were truly horrid, and costly, but Milos made a completely unnecessary behind the back pass with a few minutes left that gave up a layup as well. Third, the Clippers were just dominated on the defensive glass, giving up 18 offensive rebounds, which led to 21 second-chance points for the Wolves. Blake had 12 rebounds, but no one else had more than 6, and even Blake was out-hustled for several gettable boards. This is an area where DeAndre Jordan is desperately missed, and this was a game that in general perfectly illustrated his value to this team.

The final big issue with the team was defense, as the Wolves shot 39 free throws, and made their way into the paint time and again. Milos was completely shredded by Jeff Teague, once more showing the absence of DJ, who has covered for Milos (and the Clippers’ other poor perimeter defenders) so much this season. The Clippers also had no answer for Andrew Wiggins, but that was more about one player getting hot than anything. The defense on him could have been better, but the Clippers’ don’t have that level of wing stopper on their roster right now. The cherry on top of the garbage sundae were the two boneheaded technical fouls in the 4th quarter on Blake Griffin and Sam Cassell, free points for the Wolves that made a real difference in a close game. This was one of the first games all season where the Clippers lost their composure, and the consequence was ugly indeed.